One week and three games into the New Orleans Pelicans preseason, there are some clear winners and losers that have emerged from the pack.
After much speculation over the past few months, the rebranded, rebuilt Pelicans have given fans a taste of what's to come. Standing tall with a record of 3-0, the early returns are overwhelmingly positive.
And why not? This was perhaps one of the biggest offseasons in franchise history, between blockbuster trades, free-agent acquisitions and the completion of a gorgeous new practice facility. Crescent City residents had every reason to be excited about the young nucleus about to make its debut.
It wouldn't be preseason without some bumps and bruises, however, and the Pelicans have taken their share of lumps, individually and collectively. This team is far from a finished product, considering all the new additions that must mesh together, and some of the Pelicans must prove they can stay on the court.
Focus will always go to the big names, but a Pelicans backup is one of the biggest winners early on.
After missing the Pelicans' opening preseason game due to a sore ankle, Brian Roberts showed he will not become an afterthought in the guard conversation.
Roberts demonstrated that during the second game, notching all 17 of his points in the fourth quarter of the Pelicans' win over the Dallas Mavericks. Accounting for more than half of the Pelicans' points in the fourth quarter, he was unstoppable and a major factor in the victory.
In the encore to his sensational opening act, Roberts was a little less spectacular, but a 16-point, four-assist performance against the Orlando Magic was the type of steady production needed from a rotational guard.
Not everyone on a given team can be a star, and competition between the players fighting for minutes will only bring out the best in everyone. In this sense, both Roberts and the Pelicans are winners.
Tyreke Evans got off to a quick start in his Pelicans debut, but optimism generated by his play was dashed quickly when he crumpled to the ground against the Houston Rockets. While driving through the lane and getting to the basket with his patented Euro-step, Evans came down awkwardly on his ankle and had to come out of the game.
With Evans originally listed as day-to-day, Dell Demps (h/t John Reid of NOLA.com) announced that the guard would miss one to two weeks, limiting the time he'll get to spend on the court with his new teammates.
It's a shame that Evans had his preseason cut short. The injury deprives fans and more importantly his coach of seeing what he looks like in various lineups. Though it's easy to assume he'll be a jack-of-all-trades for the Pelicans, it would be a lot more comforting to see him on the floor than on the bench with ice wraps on his ankle.
Hopefully this is just a blip on the radar, but the next guy on this list benefited from the minutes that Evans' injury opened up in the rotation.
A sharpshooter who was largely forgotten last season, Morrow proved that he still has the dead-eye stroke that established his presence in the league.
He shot 7-of-11 from downtown in three contests, good for a scintillating 64 percent. That type of knockdown shooting is always welcome, especially considering some of the mediocre outside shooters—like Al-Farouq Aminu and Tyreke Evans—figuring to get heavy minutes in the rotation.
Gazing at the plus-minus figures thus far, lineups featuring Morrow have been effective thus far. He is plus-32 overall and has steadily been around plus-10 each game. While matchups can often skew these figures, the important conclusion is that his time on the court has been consistent.
On the flip side of the consistency coin, one Pelican has been consistently nonexistent.
An early candidate for the Kendrick Perkins Token Starter award, Greg Stiemsma has done little more than occupy space for the Pelicans.
He wasn't brought to New Orleans to score, as his three total points indicate, but the very least he could do as a 7-footer is grab rebounds. Apparently, that's outside of his skill set, as he has a whopping four to his credit so far.
To his credit, he recognizes that his play has been unacceptable. John Reid of The Times-Picayune talked to him about his early struggles.
I have to do something on the floor because I haven’t done much, Stiemsma said. But the preseason is for knocking some of the rust off and getting used to playing with these guys. I’m just trying to find my spot.
But rust alone can't explain why someone his size positioned under the rim fails to collect rebounds. If that's the case, his rust is approaching levels of a disheveled, post-apocalyptic world.
Stiemsma needs to pick up his game, lest he be replaced in the rotation completely, let alone the starting lineup. Jeff Withey has half as many rebounds in 2:53 of playing time. That's pathetic.
There's nothing like saving the best for last. Anthony Davis has been the unquestioned star in the early going for the Pelicans. His blossoming might come sooner rather than later.
It seems that all the musings at media day about Davis taking a bigger role were not just posturing. He has been a focal point of the offense during much of the time he's been on the court, evidenced by his 25-point average on 53 percent shooting.
His 29-point, nine-rebound outburst against Orlando was his most impressive game, despite it being his least efficient shooting night. He shot 11 free throws, using a mix of face-up speed and post moves to draw contact and produce easy points. Getting to the line is a hallmark of elite players, and Pelicans fans would love to see this trend continue.
His fantastic performance could be qualified with the disclaimer that "it's just the preseason," but it would ignore the positive signs that Davis has exhibited so far.
It's awfully telling that the only photos available of Eric Gordon in his new Pelicans threads are from press events. As is the case with much of his career in New Orleans, he has spent more time on the trainer's table than on the court.
Gordon told Jim Eichenhofer of Pelicans.com on September 30 that, "I’ve done just about everything – all the running and basketball workouts,” Gordon said. “Now it’s time for me to progress (during) this training camp.” All signs were pointing to him being right on schedule.
Or so we thought.
The next day, coach Monty Williams told Eichenhofer that Gordon wouldn't play for at least the first two weeks of the exhibition slate.
He’s ramping up, getting his conditioning back, since he just got his release from the doctors, Williams said. He’s moving toward the type of conditioning he needs to be in. I don’t want him to go out there full bore and pull a hamstring or something, because he hasn’t been going (physically) as long as the other guys have.
Either Gordon was initially too optimistic about the state of his body, or there's a fracture in the line of communication between him and his bosses. Regardless, Gordon needs to prove that he's not Samuel L. Jackson's character from Unbreakable, Mr. Glass.
This isn't a plea for Gordon to rush back at the sake of long-term health, but it's an expression of frustration that he's always "so close" to playing. It's in his best interest to get on the court and show he's happy and ready to produce or risk losing his spot in the team hierarchy.
UPDATE: Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune published a nice interview with Gordon, and Gordon shed a little light on why he hasn't played yet.
Last year was way different because I didn't do anything (in training camp). Last year I didn't know when, or anything about when I'd come back. Now, I know I was fine going into training camp. This was due to being precautionary and the organization is doing the right thing.
If precaution is all this is, Gordon is less of a loser than previously stated. Still a situation to keep an eye on.