There's nothing like power rankings to drive conversation in the sports world. Looking at the New Orleans Pelicans roster, there's plenty of room for debate going into the 2013-14 season.
Though New Orleans doesn't necessarily have a cast of A-list stars like the Miami Heat, there's a nice ensemble of players by the bayou that plenty of teams around the league would love to have. Without a clear cut superstar to put at the top of the list, there's a fight for the top spot.
Increasing the difficulty of the task, the Pelicans are a young outfit with plenty of room to grow. Past production—or lack thereof—is not necessarily an indicator of what will transpire on the court this year. The fortunes of a few of their marquee players could swing wildly this season.
Taking into account the past, present and future, let's rank the New Orleans Pelicans going into the 2013-14 season.
12. Lance Thomas
Thomas is like a stripped down version of Al-Farouq Aminu, in that he can do a lot of things to help the Pelicans but nothing exceptional. There's not much more than an energy guy off the bench here, but that's a role that needs filling.
11. Jeff Withey
The big man out of Kansas hasn't gotten an extended look thus far, but Withey has impressed in short bursts and could end up being a nice fit next to Anthony Davis if he polishes his game a little bit. Withey has been productive on a per-minute basis, highlighted by a six point, six rebound output in 10 minutes against the Hawks.
13. Darius Miller
Miller is unlikely to get much burn on a team loaded with guards and wings, but should he have to step in he'll provide valuable shooting off the bench. In spot minutes last season, Miller shot almost 40 percent from three, and has the tools to be a solid defender at the NBA level.
14. Greg Stiemsma
Team doctors are perplexed as to whether Stiemsma still has a pulse, but Monty Williams continues to throw him on the court as a token starter anyway. There's just no other way to put this: he has been flat-out awful. Get comfy on the pine.
Sharpshooting import Anthony Morrow gets the meaningful portion of our list started at No. 10, largely off the strength of his shooting from downtown.
Morrow is a fairly one-dimensional player on offense, but his one dimension is a clear strength. A career 42.4 percent shooter from three-point land, Morrow is one of the best in the business at stretching the floor and knocking down open looks created by teammates.
The eighth year guard has filled in admirably for injured teammates during the preseason, clocking in at a staggering plus-40 through four exhibition contests. The return of players such as Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans will limit his minutes, but if Morrow can have an impact on games in short bursts, he'll continue to be a part of Monty Williams' rotation.
No one will confuse Jason Smith with an All-Star player, but he's a serviceable big man who will play an important role on this year's team.
Smith is the type of inside-out big with the flexibility to play alongside budding star Anthony Davis. If Davis is set up inside, Smith can knock down the open 18-foot jumper, an area he shot 47 percent from last season.
But Davis will also be working on the perimeter as he develops his mid-range game, leaving Smith room to operate in the painted area. Smith shot 64.2 percent at the rim last season, proving that he can do the dirty work when need dictates it.
Effective in a reserve role for last year's Pelicans, Brian Roberts is showing all the signs of building off a his rookie year this preseason.
Pelicans writer Jim Eichenhofer praised Roberts in a column for NBA.com, claiming that the 27-year-old's unorthodox road to the league prepared him to play various roles on this year's team.
In some respects, Roberts is a throwback guard, with a polished skill set that allows him to play either backcourt position, on or off the ball. During his ultra-successful career as a pro in Germany, he was a go-to scorer and relied upon to make critical baskets, invaluable experience that has helped him in the NBA.
Roberts may eventually get lost in the backcourt shuffle, with more talented and coveted players ahead of him in the rotation, but anyone with a 3.1 assist-to-turnover ratio will force their way onto the court.
After a brutal rookie season, it would have been easy not to rank Austin Rivers at all. But it's too early to give up on a player who only recently turned 21 years old.
Many of the woes that plagued Rivers during his rookie season were traits that all young players struggle with, such as poor shot selection and tunnel vision while dribbling the basketball. That led to him shooting 37.2 percent from the field, a dreadful number that borders on unplayable.
Rivers struggled to adjust to the NBA, where his suspect athleticism was exposed a bit. Without supreme physical gifts—he stands just 6'4" and weighs 200 pounds—Rivers now must rely on craftiness and fundamentals to be an effective player.
Thankfully, Rivers has worked tirelessly to improve during the offseason. Monty Williams recently talked to Nakia Hogan of The Times-Picayune about his second-year guard, and the type of scrutiny he's faced.
We've heard about Austin since he was in the seventh or eight grade and everybody wants him to be LeBron (James), but he is right where he should be.
He works his tail off. He's probably one of the most competitive guys in the league. He's hungry. He does some things you like from a young guy. He works hard. He's coachable. He's not afraid. To me, you can't ask for more than that.
All that coach speak is nice, but Rivers must deliver this year. He'll most likely see minutes at both guard spots, and his development is vital for depth purposes.
Al-Farouq Aminu's versatility is his biggest asset, and he'll be expected to fill a variety of roles this season for the Pelicans.
Aminu's physical gifts are tremendous. His 7'3" wingspan is reminiscent of the giant bird his team is now named after, and he uses his long frame to grab every ball within his reach. Whether he was racking up steals (1.2 per game), blocks (.7 per game) or rebounds (7.7 per game) last season, the young forward was relentless in creating possessions for his defensively-challenged brethren.
One area where Aminu must improve is on the offensive side of the ball. Though he was efficient from the field overall, Aminu was a non-factor from the outside, shooting just 21.1 percent from beyond the arc. This limits his flexibility and lessens the likelihood that he can play with other more talented non-shooters, such as Tyreke Evans.
That was a focus this summer, as he told Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune, "I think it has gotten better. I've just been working on it so I can make open shots."
Just 23 years old, Aminu's growing offensive game makes him a valuable asset now and in the future.
Known mostly for his prolific shooting from downtown, Ryan Anderson is a dangerous weapon that causes match-up problems for any opponent.
The logistics of defending someone like Ryan Anderson drive coaches nuts. When one of your big men is a legitimate three-point threat, a defender that might otherwise be stationed in the paint must play all the way out to the arc. This opens up valuable real estate for your offense, allowing players to drive without as much congestion in front of them.
Anderson was efficient from three, shooting 38 percent last season, but it's the volume of his attempts that makes that feat more impressive. Anderson hoisted 559 threes last season, good for 19th highest all-time. Maintaining reliability while putting up that many shots is a feat in itself.
There have been suggestions that Anderson should be traded for a traditional center to play next to the evolving Anthony Davis—perhaps Houston's Omer Asik—but for now, expect to see a lot of lineups featuring Anderson and Davis together. This is a pairing that could be scary good, real soon.
Eric Gordon is a player whose career thus far is littered with "what ifs", mostly regarding his ability to stay on the court.
Gordon was a scoring savant in high school and college, and flashed serious potential during his first three years with the Los Angeles Clippers. There aren't many guys in the league who can score 20-plus points a night on a variety of shots, inside and out, but Gordon did just that in his third year in the league.
Unfortunately for the Pelicans, Gordon's body has fallen to pieces the past couple seasons, and the crown jewel of the Chris Paul trade has done little to prove why he was coveted so highly to begin with. At this point, it's fair to wonder whether the idea of Eric Gordon has overtaken Eric Gordon the player.
Still, we're talking about a guy who doesn't turn 25 until this December. This isn't a big man whose joints take significant stress from carrying a large frame up and down the court. Gordon is a compact 6'3", tipping the scale at 222 pounds.
No one can say what the future holds for Gordon. The fourth spot on the list seems like a fair placeholder for the time being, but if he can stay on the court and improve his shot selection, watch out.
In the battle of infuriating, tantalizing players, Tyreke Evans ekes out Eric Gordon for the number three spot.
Evans is a more complete player than Gordon, and is working to close the biggest skill gap between the two: shooting. While Gordon has regressed lately, notching career lows in efficiency, Evans recorded his best season yet, shooting 47.8 percent overall and almost 34 percent from three, marked improvements on his career averages.
Aside from that progression, Evans' height and skill set lends to multi-role use, whereas Gordon is a shooting guard only. Evans averages 1.5 assists and almost three rebounds more than Gordon per game, making an impact even when his shot is not falling.
Mentally, Evans seems more focused on doing whatever it takes to get wins than anything else, and has told interviewers like Raul Barrigon of Hoops Hype that he would be happy in a, "Manu Ginobili kind of role." His willingness to do whatever the team needs is especially jarring compared to Gordon, who tried to leave as a restricted free agent to join the Phoenix Suns last offseason.
Who's No. 2? He may be the biggest name on the roster, but he's not the centerpiece of the Pelicans.
He's the only member of the bunch coming off of an All-Star appearance, but Jrue Holiday falls just short of No. 1.
That's not to downplay his significance to the team, because this is a player who is just scratching the surface of what he could become.
The 23-year-old has been saddled with poor big men for his entire NBA career, so the pick-and-roll game that should be his bread and butter has suffered. Without a safety valve to dump the ball to as he turned the corner, Holiday was often left on an island as a ball-handler in Philadelphia.
Even with the limitations of his supporting cast, Holiday was impressive last season, tallying 17 points and eight assists per game, the only player in the league to achieve those totals. His efficiency and turnover numbers were ugly at times, and he's been loose with his handle this preseason, but there's so much room for him to grow.
Where he'll make the most immediate impact is on the defensive end. Holiday may not ever sniff the top five at his position in a league loaded with point guards, but defensively he's already up there with the very best. He possesses length and speed in abundance, which he uses to harass opponents night in and night out.
Of course, that defensive profile fits nicely with the top player on this list.
Mark it on your calendars ladies and gentlemen: Anthony Davis will be an All-Star sooner rather than later.
It would have been tough for Anthony Davis to live up to the boundless hype in front of him last season, but the infusion of talent around him has helped ease the pressure on the young man. Coinciding with a strong offseason, The Unibrow looks bigger, stronger and mentally ready to make "the leap."
Davis and the organization made it clear on Media Day that it was time to let him loose, and it becomes clearer with each passing game why the offseason unfolded like it did.
The trade for Jrue Holiday was made by Dell Demps not so Holiday could be a savior, but because the franchise cornerstone was already in place. Davis is destroying everything in his path during the preseason, averaging 24.5 points while terrorizing any poor soul who wanders into the paint.
There's a reason this kid went No. 1 overall in the draft. He's a freak athlete and hyper-competitor who makes the players around him better. There are very few players more coveted than Davis around the league, and he's about to show why in his sophomore season. Pre-order your All-Star jerseys now before it's too late.