Winners and Losers from New Orleans Pelicans' Week 3 of NBA Preseason
There's a lot to be learned about the New Orleans Pelicans after three weeks of preseason contests, and there's no better time to declare winners and losers, with cuts on the way around the league.
The Pelicans have been one of the top teams in the league this preseason, riding strong performances from several key players to victories. Buzz is continuing to build after an offseason of grandeur.
It's not all pretty, though, and soon the men you see playing meaningless fourth-quarter minutes will be relegated to their rightful spots on the pine. Get your pom-poms ready boys.
Let's weigh a few of the best and worst performers of the late exhibition season, as we all prepare for one of the more anticipated regular seasons in recent memory.
Winner: Eric Gordon
Rising from doghouse to the penthouse, Eric Gordon has mustered the strength to get off the trainer's table and turn in a solid showing in the closing weeks of the 2013 preseason.
In three games since returning from injury, Gordon has shot 18 of 32 from the field, tallying 18.5 points per game on 56 percent shooting. Considering the falling shooting numbers that have plagued him in recent years, including a ghastly 40.2 percent last season, coming out of the gate firing is a wonderful sign.
Gordon has also acknowledged that his health is of the utmost importance going forward. In a chat with John Reid of The Times-Picayune, Gordon said, "The good thing for me is to stay healthy throughout the rest of the season and I’m doing that now."
Part of preventing injuries is having the awareness to recognize that they loom as a threat. Gordon's proactive stance and steady play on the court is encouraging, and a point on which to build upon.
Loser: Brian Roberts
After solid early returns, Brian Roberts has seen his game fall back to Earth.
Roberts is a solid player and a fine backup, but his limitations become obvious when matched up against teams such as the Miami Heat. In the Pelicans' Oct. 23 matchup against Miami, Roberts was minus-18 overall—an indication of his lack of production on offense, as well as his struggles defensively.
If Roberts wants to continue getting playing minutes, he simply has to be better. There's little upside in playing a 27-year-old journeyman who isn't producing with Austin Rivers waiting in the wings. Given a player who might develop versus a player who already is what he is—assuming equal production from both—the franchise will lean towards upside almost every time.
The early season will be critical for Roberts, who hopes to keep his current spot as a backup.
Winner: Al-Farouq Aminu
Without having to do anything spectacular, Al-Farouq Aminu has solidified his spot in the starting lineup.
Aminu is the quintessential glue guy, the utility player who can fill a variety of roles depending upon what the moment calls for on any given night.
His performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Oct. 17 is a perfect example of his solid all-around play. With 12 points, 10 rebounds and a pair of steals, Aminu didn't set the world on fire, but he provided valuable support for his heralded teammates.
This is the type of dirty work that Aminu will be doing all season. He's the unsung hero that the Pelicans need.
Loser: Ryan Anderson
Where art thou, Ryan Anderson's jumper?
The rust is evident in Anderson's game, as the normally reliable bomber has shot under 40 percent from the field in his first four preseason games. Remove his 7-for-10 performance against the Atlanta Hawks, and he's a frigid 12-of-38 overall.
That seems almost impossible for someone who has shot 38 percent from three-point range for his career, let alone from the field, but Anderson is in the midst of a dry spell.
The good news is that Anderson has spent a lot of time with bench units, and the mix-and-match we see during the preseason isn't as prevalent during the regular season. With steady play next to the same teammates and a shortened rotation featuring the Pelicans' top players, Anderson will get better looks and his efficiency will rise.
Winner: Jrue Holiday
The Pelicans point guard of the future has done a pretty good job in the present, although it's not all rosy for Jrue Holiday.
Holiday showed flashes of his talent against the Washington Wizards on Oct. 19 in coming up just short of a triple-double with 19 points, eight assists and eight rebounds. It's the type of balanced effort that general manager Dell Demps expected when he traded for Holiday, and Demps will expect that production to carry over to the regular season.
Unfortunately, there was another eight in Holiday's stat line: eight turnovers. Holiday has had his pocket picked all too easily this preseason, including a series of embarrassments at the hands of Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverly.
The quarterback of the Pelicans straddles the line between aggressive and protective. He will need to find a balance that will unleash his talent without squandering possessions.
Loser: Austin Rivers
Brian Roberts has certainly struggled as a backup guard, but Austin Rivers has done nothing to prove he deserves the minutes over him either.
Rivers has seen more of the sideline than the hardwood over the past week-and-a-half, relegated to spot duty even during a time when players are given every opportunity to make a name for themselves. The preseason is where momentum starts to build for many NBA up-and-comers, and Rivers just can't seem to get anything going.
Even in a game against the Miami Heat, where Roberts struggled mightily, Rivers was barely able to get on the court, registering just 13:23 of game time. With the start of the regular season closing in, it's starting to look more and more like Rivers is the odd man out as an afterthought for Coach Monty Williams.
It would be a shame if the 21-year-old was buried so early in his young career, but all signs point in a negative direction. This looks like an uphill battle for the young Rivers.