Burgeoning New Orleans Pelicans big man Anthony Davis is ready for everything.
Most importantly, Davis is ready to put the Pelicans on his back and fly—if he can find a co-pilot on this roster.
The front office has tried to deliver one. Several of them, actually.
Last summer, the Pellies parted with a pair of first-round picks to swipe All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday away from the Philadelphia 76ers. A three-team trade brought over former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans shortly thereafter.
With potential sidekicks Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon already in place, New Orleans appeared to have built something that had a chance to be special. How strong that chance is remains a mystery, as a brutal rash of injuries prevented the Pelicans from getting a clear look at their roster.
All five players lost at least 10 games to injury, and combined they racked up 151 absences. That number was higher than the minutes this quintet logged together (90).
Lessons weren't learned last season—other than the fact that Davis' hype is real, warranted and still not as high as it should be—and the only problems discovered were physical. Holiday (right tibia), Anderson (spine), Gordon (left knee) and Evans (right knee) have all gone under the knife since last hitting the hardwood.
Before the Pelicans can worry about Davis' wingman, they need to field a healthy roster around him. It sounds like that hurdle has either been cleared or is in the clearing process now:
That shifts the focus over to finding Davis' Robin, a steady supporter who consistently makes life easier as the league's next superstar.
Forget what the Pellies' 34-48 record suggests. There are a number of intriguing options to consider.
Outside of Davis, Gordon might have as much talent as anyone on the roster. He has a pair of 20-plus-points-per-game scoring averages on his resume and has averaged at least 3.3 assists in each of the past four seasons.
There's a reason he'll be collecting the highest salary on the team next season ($14.8 million).
Then again, there's also a reason Grantland's Bill Simmons ranked Gordon's contract as the seventh-worst in the league last season.
After missing four games his rookie year, he's missed an average of 32 games since. His old explosiveness has left his legs, and his formerly top-shelf (or somewhere near it) talent may be gone as well.
"The Eric Gordon of old is likely no more," wrote Joe Gerrity of Bourbon Street Shots, "and the Eric Gordon of new is hardly worth a fifth of his currently salary."
There's a chance the new Gordon is no longer even worthy of a starting spot. The buzz about the topic is loud enough that it's been brought to his attention, but he (predictably) said he wants nothing to do with the idea.
"I won't get into that because I thought they brought me here to lead and set the tone for the team," he told John Reid of The Times-Picayune. "I've got a lot to prove in my career and I'm still young (25). So the more durable I am will really show what I'm capable of."
If Gordon comes out of Monty Williams' starting lineup, Evans could find his way in.
The 24-year-old had a hard time finding his niche early on, but he broke out in a big way when injuries forced him into the opening lineup. For the first time in what felt like forever, he looked like the transcendent talent who once put up historically significant averages as a rookie.
|The Wide Splits of Tyreke Evans|
Those numbers won't be easy for Williams to look past and might be enough for Evans to get in with the starters.
They aren't, however, convincing enough to declare him ready for the wingman role. He has had extreme difficulty with repeating success—his scoring average has dropped in each of his last four seasons—and his lack of a reliable three-point shot (career 26.8 percent) can plague his production on any given night.
Davis' wingman won't come from the frontcourt, either. It's not that the players around him (Anderson and newcomer Omer Asik) are poor fits, but the two might work so well in tandem that it could be hard for either to stand out.
New Orleans' three-headed monster in the middle could be as ferocious as any in the business.
Asik is 7'0" and 255 pounds of physical interior defense and bone-rattling screen-setting. He'll wage some of the wars down low that Davis had been fighting on his own, providing some relentless rebounding (career 13.3 average per 36 minutes) in the process.
Anderson brings something entirely different, namely his reliable three-point cannon (38.6 percent for his career). With the 6'10" sniper spreading defenses thin, the floor is then open for the wildly productive pick-and-roll game that Davis already seems to have mastered.
Of course, someone will need to work that two-man game with the single-browed baller. And that someone just so happens to be the best bet for a two-way sidekick, Holiday.
"I think he's an elite point guard with size and strength," Pelicans general manager Dell Demps said of Holiday, via Reid. "I think he's going to be good for us for a long time."
Holiday is built perfectly for a Robin-type role. He can blend his game however the team needs on a nightly basis, and his talent extends to nearly every point on the stat sheet.
Only he and Washington Wizards All-Star John Wall have averaged at least 14 points, seven assists and four rebounds in both of the last two seasons. Holiday can run an offense, and his career 37.6 three-point percentage allows him to threaten a defense away from the ball.
For all of his offensive talent, though, his best work might come at the opposite end of the floor:
Holiday could be the key to the Pelicans bringing everything together.
As long as this roster stays healthy, the offense should take care of it itself. But this defense needs to make significant strides after finishing tied for 25th in efficiency last season.
That ranking should really improve with Holiday back in the fold. New Orleans allowed just 103.3 points per 100 possessions with him and Davis on the floor last season, which would have pushed the Pellies up from the bottom tier and into the upper half (would have ranked 13th).
Now that Asik has joined Holiday and Davis, New Orleans should climb even higher:
Davis is New Orleans' ticket to wherever it can go, so his supporting cast will be graded on well it can complement him.
No one will receive higher marks than Holiday. As Bourbon Street Shots' Michael Pellissier observed, Holiday's well-rounded game should help him check off nearly as many boxes as Davis:
Anthony Davis is often referred to as a unique superstar because he is able to make an impact on the game without scoring a point. Jrue is similar, though clearly to a much lesser extent. Jrue’s versatility allows him to make an impact as a scorer, facilitator, rebounder, or defender. Very few NBA players are immune to poor scoring nights, and it is of paramount importance to be able to make an impact elsewhere. Jrue can.
The Pelicans didn't have the chance to find an identity last season.
They were explosive offensively some nights and razor-sharp at the opposite end on others. More often than not, they fell somewhere in between, neither an unstoppable force nor an immovable object.
They were fortunate enough to employ one of the game's premier rising stars, but circumstances denied this club the opportunity to follow his lead.
If this team can stay healthy, good things should come in its future. But with a talent as tantalizing as defense, good isn't good enough.
Davis needs help for this franchise to find greatness. He needs Holiday to fill the critical wingman role.