It's everyone's favorite time of year! Gifts are shared, the work force gets some deserved days off, and the wishes of millions are granted by loved ones.
Why not extend that courtesy to the New Orleans Pelicans?
Sure, the NBA's athletes are afforded privileges that most around the world would love to have, but they have needs just like every one of us. The 82-game season is a long, tumultuous road, so a boost during the holiday season can go a long way toward getting through the grind.
Shiny new toys aren't the only thing to wish for, however. Sometimes, just holding onto what you have is the best gift of all. The Pelicans have gotten stellar play from a few key contributors this season, and they'll be hoping for continued success as the year winds on.
So what's on the wish list for the Pelicans and their fans?
*All stats current as of Dec. 18th
The No. 1 wish for Pelicans fans is to see their superstar-in-training return to the court.
Before succumbing to a hand injury on Dec. 1 against the New York Knicks, Davis was showing why he was so highly regarded coming out of the University of Kentucky. His 28.2 player efficiency rating was among the league's best, trailing only LeBron James and Chris Paul among regular players.
Even that doesn't display the full impact of Davis on his team's season. Surrounded by minus defenders, he is just about the only thing that has kept the Pelicans defense from falling apart at the seams. His DRTG of 100 doesn't scream "impact defender," but watch any game that he's played and you'll see why NBA junkies rave about his impact.
Using his length to disrupt passes and alter shots, Davis sometimes creates defensive plays out of thin air by taking advantage of his almost impossible athleticism. There's a reason he's close to joining the two blocks/two steals club—an extremely exclusive group.
Everyone is wishing for your health, Mr. Davis. Use the holidays to complete the healing process.
One of the silver linings that has emerged from Anthony Davis' absence is the improved efficiency of the team's franchise point guard.
Jrue Holiday has shot at a much more efficient rate with his unibrowed teammate riding the pine, boasting a 49.5 shooting percentage over seven games in December. That represents a significant bump from his career average (44.2) and season average (45.4).
The Pelicans could use that sort of steady play from Holiday, as the team's other primary guards are significantly less efficient. Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans are shooting 42.8 and 41.4 percent for the season, respectively.
Though Holiday's raw production is slightly down from last year's All-Star campaign, that can be attributed to him not having to shoulder as big of a load as he did in Philadelphia. Starring in a secondary role should be his focus going forward.
If Holiday can keep up his recent hot streak, the future will be brighter than expected for the Pelicans.
"Competent" is the right goal to strive for in New Orleans, because the Pelicans defense has been bad no matter how you slice it.
If you're a fan of more traditional measures of team defense, the Pelicans are allowing 102.2 points per game, which is third worst in the NBA. When you're failing to hold teams under the century mark, that's a surefire way to make winning more difficult.
For the advanced metrics crowd, the numbers are even more troubling. The Pelicans' defensive rating of 107.6 reveals that if they didn't play at the league's 12th-slowest pace, they would likely give up even more points per game.
The good news is that the offense is in the top 10 in efficiency with an ORTG of 108.0, which places them in the echelon of the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs. If New Orleans can get its defense to even an average level, this team is a lot closer to playoff success than initial results have revealed.
Of course, that's easier said than done. Wish hard for this one, Pelicans fans.
Al-Farouq Aminu shot chart
Take a look at that shot chart, which is a compilation of all the shots Al-Farouq Aminu has taken this season. Notice anything strange?
I'll ruin the surprise for you: Aminu, a small forward, has taken eight shots from three-point range. That results in a paltry 0.4 attempts per game.
To put that in perspective, he is tied with with players such as Al Horford, Pau Gasol and Blake Griffin. Those are not exactly elite sharpshooters. Aminu is practically allergic to the three-point shot, which is problematic for the Pelicans.
Aminu's inability to shoot makes playing him in crunch time impossible, despite the fact that he's one of the team's only viable wing defenders. When the opponent can just leave him alone on the perimeter because he won't even attempt a shot from deep, versatility and defensive chops get thrown out the window.
Whether it comes from a shot guru, a holiday miracle or old-fashioned hard work, a respectable stroke from Aminu would open a world of possibilities for the Pelicans.
If it's not too much to ask for, the ultimate wish is for the Pelicans to fulfill the lofty expectations of the offseason.
The new era of New Orleans basketball got off to a shaky start as the Pelicans struggled to find a groove early on, and Anthony Davis' injury shook them up shortly after the return of Ryan Anderson. That is to say, we've yet to see what the ceiling of this team looks like.
Sure, there have been flashes—like this 135-98 beatdown of the Philadelphia 76ers—but they've come in fits and starts. The Pelicans have battled the injury bug and Lady Luck as hard as they're fighting against the rest of the NBA Southwest.
Don't look now, but the Pelicans are just 2.5 games out of the playoff picture, with the majority of the 2013-14 season still to play. With teams like the bipolar Los Angeles Lakers and the defensively challenged Dallas Mavericks ahead of them, it's reasonable to suggest they'll improve as the season rolls on.
Remember, this is the first year with a new group of guys learning how to play together. After some time and experience, dreaming of the playoffs will seem quaint in retrospect.
In the meantime, cross your fingers and hope that the young guns can get it together sooner rather than later. The Western Conference makes no exceptions for women and children—a reality the Pelicans are aware of.
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