Promising pieces are in place between 2012 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis, a dynamic stretch 4 in Ryan Anderson, talented shooting guard Eric Gordon and All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday. Former Houston Rockets center Omer Asik was also acquired in a trade.
ESPN insider Marc Stein praised the move:
Although Anderson—a likely sixth man now—could be deployed at the 3 in occasional bigger lineups thanks to Davis' refined skill set, athleticism and overall versatility, the small forward spot is still a bit of a question mark. Tyreke Evans has occupied the position, but he's often been a combo guard and has struggled to find his NBA niche despite his explosive scoring ability.
Nevertheless, the future is bright in New Orleans—even though the Pelicans didn't have a first-round pick in what should prove to be an impressive 2014 draft class. They sacrificed their Round 1 choice in 2015 as part of the Asik deal, so there's a certain amount of pressure on this core of players to deliver.
Davis' continual development alone—coming off a season in which he averaged 20.8 points, 10 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per contest—will be fascinating to witness, especially since he's just 21 years old. That should have an impact on the rest of his teammates and help elevate the Pelicans to marked improvement.
But the West isn't easily won. Securing a playoff spot is difficult enough, and perhaps too tall an order for New Orleans. The Pelicans' championship odds, per OddsShark.com, are 100-1.
Now that the schedule has been released, we can examine the top games on the Pelicans' schedule and determine a decent estimate as to what their record will be.
You can view the full schedule here.
Analyzing Marquee Matchups
New Orleans Pelicans vs. Portland Trail Blazers (November 17 at 10 p.m. ET)
Now that Asik can go down low to protect the paint, Davis won't have to get quite so physical, applying his guard-like skills more often from the power forward spot. That should be a formidable tandem up front, creating an interesting matchup with Portland.
Pelicans assistant coach Dave Hanners described how Asik's presence will allow Davis to settle into a more ideal role, per NBA.com's Jim Eichenhofer:
I think it’s going to help Anthony tremendously, because in the past he’s had to defend guys that we wish maybe someone else could’ve guarded. On the offensive end, the other team’s best (frontcourt) defender was always on AD. I think Omer’s good enough offensively that you can’t do that. He’s big, strong and has a decent touch around the basket. If you leave him alone, he can really hurt you, especially if you have a four trying to box him out. That will take some pressure off of AD, to (not) have to be the guy on both ends of the floor. It’s going to make it a little freer for AD.
The Blazers are among the most promising young teams in the Association, based on their run to the Western Conference semifinals. What will be interesting to see is whether they can sustain that success, or if they're due to drop off.
Should Portland regress even slightly, that could create at least one opening that would allow New Orleans to slide into playoff contention. When these two squads face off, we'll have a better idea of where they are.
LaMarcus Aldridge going one-on-one with a defensive dynamo like Davis will be remarkable to behold, while Damian Lillard and Holiday battling it out at the point guard position figures to be thrilling, too. Whoever wins those head-to-heads will factor heavily into which team wins the game.
Bench scoring will also be key. Portland has guards Steve Blake and C.J. McCollum, who will have to prevent the likes of Jimmer Fredette and Austin Rivers from getting hot hands.
The player the Pelicans don't have much of an answer for on either end of the court is swingman Nicolas Batum. A big effort on defense by Evans will be required, and his knack for getting to the rim would help tire Batum out.
New Orleans Pelicans vs. Houston Rockets (December 18th at 8:30 p.m. ET)
The Asik revenge game. After languishing on the bench for much of his closing days in Houston, this is the chance Asik has to prove himself against his former team.
The fit with the Rockets was never good. Since Asik desires a starting role, he couldn't coexist with Dwight Howard from a pure basketball standpoint. Not to mention, it couldn't have felt good for Asik when Houston general manager Daryl Morey signed an upgrade at Asik's position in the 2013 offseason.
Davis, Holiday and Gordon have all publicly endorsed Asik coming to New Orleans, which has to be quite the morale boost for him:
After Asik was unwanted in Houston, that can't be underrated—and it isn't going to be cakewalk for Houston in 2014-15, either. The Rockets lost Chandler Parsons to the Dallas Mavericks, a 3.0 version of a "Glue Guy" if Howard and James Harden are indeed the biggest stars.
The decks have been somewhat cleared for Morey and Co. to be aggressive in free agency over the next two summers, but they also got rid of Jeremy Lin. That means Patrick Beverley is tasked to outplay Holiday and the other slew of formidable point guards this NBA era has to offer. Even Holiday is overlooked as one of the league's premier PGs, so he'll have something to prove.
Asik is going to be champing at the bit for a piece of Howard, while Gordon should feel the need to prove himself against a similarly prideful player in Harden. Both have similar talent levels, so that should be quite a clash to observe.
Don't forget that Davis will be likely matching up with Terrence Jones, his former Kentucky teammate, at the 4 spot. Thus, there's plenty for all of New Orleans' marquee players to fight for in this one. Don't miss it, because it should be a doozy.
The Pelicans could progress a substantial amount from their 2013-14 campaign yet still not see tangible results in the win-loss columns. They were 34-48 last year, though that is somewhat deceptive, since New Orleans closed with two wins, preceded by an eight-game losing streak.
That was the last of three such losing dry spells that the Pelicans endured—all of which came after the beginning of the calendar year. Thinking of it that way, exactly half (24) of the team's 48 losses came in three separate eight-game slides.
Some of the struggles can be attributed to injuries as well. Even at full strength, there was little time to forge chemistry.
Anderson played just 22 games, Holiday in a mere 34, and Gordon and Davis missed 18 and 15 of a possible 82 contests respectively. Such circumstances make it trickier to forecast New Orleans' upcoming season than almost any other NBA squad.
To look at it with an optimistic slant, this talented nucleus assembled by general manager Dell Demps can feed off each other. All of them have chips on their shoulders—save for maybe Davis—to prove themselves. They have the pieces in place to shock the world. It comes down to whether they can all mesh properly.
It's a bit too bold to say the postseason is in the Pelicans' immediate future. At the same time, it wouldn't be a total shock if it happens. Given the quality of the West, though, let's meet halfway or thereabouts with regard to the record prediction.
New Orleans should improve as long as its starting five can stay healthy most of the way, translating to a strong turnaround. Whether that's enough to secure a playoff berth in the West is another matter.
Regular-Season Record Prediction: 43-39
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