With college students everywhere sweating their fall semester grades, it seems an appropriate time to dole out some early grades to the New Orleans Pelicans, many of whom are of college age themselves.
It has been an up-and-down start for the newly-formed Pelicans, who are just getting one of their key cogs back from injury. Offseason optimism has turned into doubt and uncertainty, and questions concerning the job security of coach Monty Williams have already arisen.
Expectations and responsibility have a huge bearing on a team's perception, and that same idea carries over to player grades. Like honor students in high school, starters are held to higher standards than their bench-dwelling teammates, and their grades will reflect that scrutiny.
Keep that in mind, and let's comb through the 10 leaders in minutes on the Pelicans roster with a critical eye.
Even with the caveat that he's not expected to carry a huge burden for the Pelicans, Greg Stiemsma has been objectively terrible in the early part of the campaign.
After starting at the pivot during the preseason, Stiemsma has found his rightful home at the end of the pine, where he can't do too much damage. Unfortunately for the team, Monty Williams is forced to reanimate his corpse for 15 minutes a night, causing parents everywhere to cover the eyes of their children.
Hyperbole aside, Stiemsma has done little to impact the game when on the floor, carrying averages of just two points and 4.6 rebounds per contest. The per-36 numbers and advanced stats—including a ghastly 7.1 PER—don't paint a friendlier picture.
If there was a grade lower than F, Stiemsma would get it. Maybe NG—traditionally given to people who never show up for class—would do the trick, but we'll stick with the traditional mark of futility.
As recently as last summer, guard Austin Rivers was seen as a key part of the long-term plans in New Orleans. Because of Brian Roberts, that feels like a galaxy far, far away now.
Roberts has entrenched himself in the rotation, and perhaps more importantly, gained the trust of his coach. Though he doesn't refer to him by name, Monty Williams alluded to why Brian Roberts has taken Rivers' spot in the rotation in an interview with John Reid of The Times-Picayune:
We play the guys that are going to help us win. That’s the bottom line. I’ve got to do my job. So I can’t worry about all that other stuff.
Point taken. Roberts has been the steadier hand at the helm of the Pelicans. With just 0.6 turnovers per game—equal to Rivers' numbers in twice the minutes—and robust per-36 figures (14.9 points, six assists), the 27-year-old has made it hard for Williams to sit him at times.
By that same token, Williams has to learn when to sit Roberts. There have been stretches where he has been ineffective offensively and a liability on defense, in which case he should be sent back to the pine. If player and coach can embrace his role as a spark plug, he'll be a valuable contributor to this team.
Look past the fanfare of the Pelicans' big offseason acquisitions and you'll find what may have been the steal of the offseason: Anthony Morrow, locked in on a two-year deal worth just over a million per.
After a tumultuous year that saw him split time between a team disinterested in him (Atlanta) and a team that buried him on the bench (Dallas), Morrow is back on the floor doing what he does best. In the absence of sharpshooter Ryan Anderson, Morrow has been the team's resident floor-spacer.
Morrow is shooting 55.6 percent from behind the arc, leaving him atop the league rankings through the team's first 10 games. It's a remarkable achievement for someone who was brought in as an afterthought, and a testament to Morrow being ready when the time came for him to shine.
Brought in to knock down open shots, Morrow has done that as well as you possibly can. This is the epitome of knowing your role.
Al-Farouq Aminu is your classic glue guy, someone who does a little bit of everything to contribute to victories. Unfortunately, the paltry numbers are a tad disappointing for a player who came to New Orleans with promises of potential.
To be fair, Aminu still possesses youth at age 23 that suggests his career could trend upward. But the lengthy forward has exhibited some troubling signs offensively since leaving Los Angeles three seasons ago.
For one, Aminu has completely abandoned the three-point shot as part of his arsenal. After jacking up 143 of them in his rookie season, Aminu has attempted 66 in the last two years combined. It goes beyond a lack of attempts, which could be attributed to play design, and extends to timidity on the perimeter.
Aminu still contributes in a variety of ways with his length, and he remains the team's only viable wing-stopper. It just feels like, with the tools at his disposal, he could be so much more.
Brought in to add more firepower to an already loaded Pelicans backcourt, Tyreke Evans has looked more like a Revolutionary War era musket than a modern-day weapon.
As the featured man on the Pelicans bench, Evans has been the focal point of the second unit, many times receiving the brunt of the attention from opposing defenses. Without a true secondary option to serve as a pressure-release valve, Evans and his numbers have suffered.
Though the drop of his counting stats was to be expected with his reduced role in New Orleans, Evans' PER of 10.8 would be a career low, and his offensive rating of 88 is stupefying for someone with his offensive talent.
The good news for Pelicans fans is that Evans has shaken off the rough start, scoring at least 11 points in the team's last three games. Even better, he is the biggest benefactor of Ryan Anderson's return. Anderson's presence gives him a great pick-and-pop partner who will shade defenders away from the paint and open up lanes for Evans to penetrate through.
Evans came close to failing his back-to-school exam, but he's got plenty of time (and assignments) to turn it around as the season rolls along.
Having just made his first appearance of the regular season on Saturday, Nov. 16th, Ryan Anderson is not getting a grade for the time being.
With that said, if he plays like he did Saturday, this Pelicans team is not only gaining a player, but another dimension to their team with his return.
Anderson launched 10—10!—threes in his debut against the Philadelphia 76ers, draining six of them en route to a 135-98 Pelicans victory. Between Anderson and Evans, the Pelicans got 41 points out of their top two bench guys. When you can bring that kind of offense off the bench in unison with the likes of Jrue Holiday, Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon, you're going to strike fear into the hearts of other teams.
We'll revisit this in the coming weeks as Anderson gets more reps and we see how sustainable that type of performance is.
Relegated to the bench for Greg Stiemsma in the preseason, Jason Smith has shown who deserves to be the starting center for the Pelicans.
Smith is every superlative you could ask him to be—efficient, productive and most importantly, a nice compliment to Anthony Davis offensively. His numbers won't wow you (10.7 points and 4.8 rebounds) and he's not going to make many highlight reels, but that's not what he's in the lineup to provide.
The one big knock on Smith is something that plagues many of the teams' top players: He's lacking on the defensive end. It's the reason why the Ryan Anderson for Omer Asik rumors continue to hang around like an unwelcome guest, and it's a situation to monitor going forward.
It hasn't been all roses for the Pelicans, but the return of a healthy Eric Gordon is one of the pleasant surprises of the early going.
Gordon has seen his ballyhooed stroke return and even surpass previous iterations, shooting 43.9 percent from three through 10 games. After seeing his outside shot regress since his rookie year, the return of his dead-eye abilities is a welcome sight.
More encouraging are signs of the burst that made Gordon a tantalizing talent to begin with. His legs finally stable underneath him, Gordon is getting out in transition and scoring easy baskets. According to MySynergySports.com (subscription required), Gordon ranks in the top 30 in points per possession on the break.
That's a trend the Pelicans will hope to see continue. With all the young legs on the team, the mandate should be for New Orleans to run at any and every opportunity. For that to happen, however, the team's primary ball-handler, and our next target, has to pick up his game.
Jrue Holiday is still tormented by the turnover beast, and it's beginning to become a long-term concern.
It was easy to shake off Holiday's loose handle in the preseason, when Patrick Beverley stole everything short of his lunch money, but now that the real grind is underway, it's a little harder to explain away the issue. Sporting a usage percentage of 24.5—2.1 percent less than last season—Holiday is still turning the ball over almost four times per game.
Better decision-making should come with time, and Holiday is still a productive player with averages of 13.8 points and 7.3 assists, but the price it cost to acquire him is looking questionable at this juncture. Acquired with the playoffs in mind, Holiday has not yet been the man to push the Pelicans over the top, and his new team may end up regretting dealing away their pick in the 2014 draft.
That being said, if our final player continues at his current pace, there's no telling what the ceiling of this team is.
Take a look at any coverage of the Pelicans and you'll notice a common theme in the headlines.
Okay, so the last one's made up. But the early returns on the Unibomber are extraordinary, and make preseason predictions of his impending stardom look brilliant.
His 20.9 points, 11 rebounds and 3.6 blocks per game? Those are cartoon numbers. The difference is Davis is doing that without anvils dropping on his opponents, instead relying on his own considerable talent to impact the game.
Touted as a defensive anchor coming out of Kentucky, Davis has been as good as advertised. On a team filled with poor defenders, Davis boasts a 97 defensive rating, a seven-point drop from the next closest regular in the rotation. This guy isn't just an impact defender, he's a force of nature. His Gumby-like arms have been giving opponents nightmares.
If the slogan for the Milwaukee Bucks is Fear the Deer, the Pelicans catchphrase should be Beware the Brow. This kid is for real, and he's not going anywhere anytime soon.