That news is a devastating blow to the Pelicans roster.
While New Orleans has struggled to climb into the Western Conference playoff picture with a 15-17 record, its offense has actually been quite solid. By averaging 102.3 points per game, the Pelicans rank 12th in the NBA. Anderson’s scoring output has been a major reason for that bright spot.
The sharpshooting power forward is averaging a team-leading 19.8 points per game, which is also a career high. He’s also shooting a career-high 40.9 percent on 7.5 three-point attempts per game. Anderson's offensive rating—team points scored per 100 possessions with him on the floor—sits at 110.8, according to stats.NBA.com.
His ability to stretch the floor around the guards' dribble penetration and Anthony Davis’ post play has been an invaluable part to head coach Monty Williams’ rotation.
The most impressive part about Anderson’s career year so far, though, has been his ability to score in bunches regardless of his role. The 25-year-old big man has played 22 games in 2013-14, 14 of them starts. He’s poured in points consistently off the bench and as a member of the starting lineup. That versatility simply can’t be replaced.
Anderson missed the first nine games of the season due to a chip fracture in his toe, per ESPN. In those nine, New Orleans finished with a 3-6 record and had an offensive rating of 100.7—more than 10 points per 100 possessions fewer than with Anderson, per stats.NBA.com. Its three wins came against the Charlotte Bobcats, Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Lakers—teams with a combined record of 44-58.
In the Pelicans latest loss to the Indiana Pacers, they mustered just 82 points, dropping their record without Anderson to 3-7. In 10 games without their stretch 4, the Pelicans are averaging just 95.4 points per game—considerably lower than their season average of 102.3.
Quite frankly, the Pelicans aren’t good enough defensively to lose such an integral cog within the offense. They rank 27th in the NBA by allowing 102.8 points per game, which is more than they score on average.
That isn’t a winning formula.
There’s no timetable for Anderson’s return to the court following a scary freak injury. As a result, Coach Williams will have to find other options that can get the job done.
The 27-year-old seven-footer Jason Smith has missed the past four games due to an injured left shoulder, but he’s expected to be back Tuesday against the Miami Heat, according to Jennifer Hale of Fox Sports via Twitter.
Smith doesn’t have anywhere near the outside shooting prowess of Anderson. In fact, he hasn’t even attempted a three-pointer all season.
What he does bring to the table, however, is mid-range shooting.
While Smith doesn’t spread the floor to the extent that Anderson does, he’s shooting a rock-solid 50 percent on 144 mid-range shots. He recorded a 22-point, 16-rebound performance earlier this season against the Detroit Pistons, so he can be a game-changer when given the minutes.
He won’t shoot the three-ball, but he can spread the floor by knocking down long jumpers within the offense.
Smith is averaging 10.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game.
Seldom-used center Alexis Ajinca got the starting nod on Saturday against the Indiana Pacers with Anderson and Smith sidelined due to injury. In just the eighth start of his career, the 25-year-old big man had arguably the best game of his life.
While putting Defensive Player of the Year candidate Roy Hibbert on a poster, it put Ajinca’s name in the headlines. His performance as a whole was no joke.
The former 20th overall pick finished with 17 points on 5-of-7 shooting to go with seven rebounds, a block and a steal in 32 minutes of action.
Fans shouldn’t expect this outburst as the new norm for Ajinca moving forward, but it was a solid stepping-stone.
If the 7’2” skyscraper can continue to build confidence, New Orleans may have found a diamond in the rough ready to contribute on a regular basis.
Replacing Anderson with Smith and/or Ajinca is sure to make fans nervous. The Pelicans were already struggling to win games with Anderson, and they’ve proven themselves to be a lackluster offensive team without him.
New Orleans isn’t disciplined enough on defense to win games without plenty of offense.
With Anderson sidelined for the foreseeable future, making the playoffs in 2014 is starting to look like a pipe dream for the new-look Pelicans.