Are the New Orleans Pelicans a playoff team?

The New Orleans Pelicans are a sleeper team worth paying attention to this upcoming season. They also have a good chance of making the playoffs. One may beg to differ, as last season was a brutal one. On paper, the 2013-2014 Pelicans had promise. With a new name, and acquisitions of All-Star Jrue Holiday and former rookie of the year Tyreke Evans, the Pelicans looked like a potential force to be reckoned with. So why did they finish with such an unimpressive record of 34-48?

Acquiring a game-changing player or even two is always exciting and can take a swing in the right direction for a struggling team. However, if you don’t have depth, your team can only go so far. Although they had an impressive five in Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis the rest of their team did not help carry the load. Coming off the bench, Austin Rivers looked nothing like his father this season, shooting the ball at 40.5%. If you are one of the slower young point guards, and you’re not incredibly strong, then you better have a redeeming quality such as shooting or crafty defense if you want to have a long career. Austin Rivers brings neither of those things. Hopefully he’ll be seeing less minutes going into this season.

The Pelicans are bringing in seven foot shot blocker Omer Asik who will play valuable minutes off the bench. He consistently plays good defense and rebounds, which is a luxury to have off the bench. They also acquired swingman John Salmons. He’s arguably in the twilight of his career, but he’s proven to be a good shooter and role player who can hang out in the corner and shoot threes off of Holiday and Evans’ dishes. These two additions should help the Pelicans’ lack of depth.

Another factor that forced the Pelicans to underachieve is the deep western conference and even deeper Southwest division in which they are forced to play. The Phoenix Suns finished in the west as a 9th seed, missing the playoffs with a record of 48-34. Just to put that in perspective, if the Suns were in the Eastern Conference, they would have tied the 3rd and 4th seed Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls with the same record. Yeah, the West is deep. The Pelicans are forced to play 52 games against their conference, giving them only 30 games to enjoy teams that try to lose for a good draft pick, like The Philadelphia 76ers. To add insult to injury, every team is required to play four games against their division. Try playing four games each against the Spurs, Rockets, Mavericks and Grizzlies. That does not sound like fun. No wonder the Pelicans were tied with four other teams for the second worst division record in the league at 4-12 last season.

Perhaps the biggest reason the Pelicans had a tough season last year was due to injuries across the boards. According to http://www.mangameslost.com/end-2013-2014-regular-season-nba-games-missed-april-17-2014/, the Pelicans ranked 6th in players missing games due to injury at 199 games.

Ryan Anderson was having a career year averaging 20 points and 6.5 rebounds before he collided with Gerald Wallace, forcing his neck to snap back in a way it’s not supposed to. He was taken out of that game on a stretcher. View at your own discretion.

With only 22 games played into the season, Anderson was forced to undergo a season-ending neck surgery. Anderson brings an element to the Pelicans that makes them extremely dangerous. With his ability to knock down the three at the power forward position, it opens the floor for Jrue Holiday to attack, and Anthony Davis to isolate. Although Anderson’s defense may be shaky at times, being alongside Anthony Davis’ uncanny ability to block through help defense makes it not hurt the team tremendously on the defensive end. The Pelicans were 12-10 before Anderson’s injury.

Jrue Holiday, Anthony Davis, Evan Turner

Fast forward 12 games later, and Jrue Holiday went down with a stress fracture in his right tibia. The 2013 all-star has fallen off the radar, but I would say that it’s mostly due to how stacked the point guard position is now. With guys like Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry coming into their own, you don’t hear much about Holiday these days, but he is a serious threat against any team. With his quickness and ability to get to the rim, matched with a good shot off the dribble, he’s a nightmare for any defense. He was also ranked 7th in the league in assists per game last season, proving he can spread the ball and get other players involved.

Sharpshooter Eric Gordon is another candidate for a season-ending injury. He will be rejuvenated this season alongside Holiday. This is definitely one of the better backcourts in the league. Gordon is a heat check guy, and when he’s feeling it, he can go off for 30+ points.

My biggest wildcard for this Pelicans team is Tyreke Evans. I’ve always been a Tyreke Evans fan due to his ability to play good defense, share the ball, and the fact that he’s an athletic and versatile player who can play the 1, 2 and 3. Many have criticized him for taking poor shots and shying away from big games when the weight was on him back when he was a Sacramento King. Luckily for him, his role isn’t as big on the Pelicans. Jrue Holiday will be doing most of the ball handling, enabling Evans to open up his game to other things. The reason I feel he’s important for the Pelicans success is that he will be the guy to guard the opposing team’s best wing.

How did I go this long without dedicating a paragraph to Anthony Davis? He is the biggest reason this Pelicans team will do well season, and sneak into the playoffs. Going into his third year, fresh out of the FIBA World Cup, I expect the 21-year-old big man to go off. Fantasy owners: expect exceptional numbers from this guy. When people think of Anthony Davis, they think of a lanky dude with a unibrow who gets a lot of blocks. Although that is true and shouldn’t be neglected, there’s so much more to him. Davis is such a polarizing player due to his unmatched athleticism and wingspan. He is singlehandedly changing the NBA due to his ability to run. His speed is insane for a guy who plays the 5. Seriously, he runs like a guard. Not to mention he has a dangerous mid-range game, and can face-up against heavy footed centers like Kendrick Perkins. Expect Anthony Davis to be a top 5 candidate for the MVP race this upcoming season.

Pelicans stock is on the rise and incredibly cheap. Their core is incredibly young, and will only get better. I would advise anyone reading this to buy in now.

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