Playoffs or bust seems to be the mantra around this franchise. While GM Dell Demps acknowledged that the playoffs are a goal he did quite a bit of hedging around making absolute statements at media day. Making the playoffs in the Western Conference could require 50 wins this season; a 16 win improvement over last year.
The real goal is substantial improvement ; on the court and in the training room. In order to gel as a team these players must actually take the court together. That simply did not occur last season, setting the rebuild back a year despite the improvement in record.
2013-14 IN REVIEW
5th in Southwest Division - 12th in Western Conference
There are a lot of banged up teams every year that battle with nagging injuries throughout the season, but not quite to the extent of what the New Orleans Pelicans went through in 2013-14.
Ryan Anderson was diagnosed with a herniated cervical disc in a collision with Gerald Wallace in early January, which required him to undergo neck surgery and miss the rest of the season. It's a real shame that he had to go down like that, because he was having an outstanding season and was playing the best ball of his pro career. Through 22 games, Anderson was putting up 19.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game while knocking down three long-balls per contest at 41% shooting from deep.
Less than a week after Anderson got hurt, point guard Jrue Holiday suffered a stress fracture in his right tibia and would also miss the rest of the season following surgery. In his first year with the Pelicans, Holiday appeared in only 34 games where he put up roughly 14 points and eight assists per game. His backcourt partner Eric Gordon also sat out the last month of the season after he tweaked his left knee in a March contest against Atlanta. Gordon also unfortunately played the worst basketball as a pro, performing inconsistently and scoring a career low 15.4 points per game.
Around the same time as Anderson and Holiday's health issues, the Pelicans lost yet another key ingredient to Monty Williams' rotation. Jason Smith, who was on his way to a career year averaging just under 10 points and six rebounds per game, experienced a left knee injury that would require surgery and keep him out the remainder of the season. That's not the way you want your contract year to play out, to say the least.
New perimeter acquisition Tyreke Evans didn't necessarily fit with the construction of New Orleans' roster, but he didn't play half-bad individually. In his first year with the Pelicans, Evans put up 14.5 points, five assists and 4.5 rebounds per game as the team's sixth man, playing out of position at small forward the majority of the time.
The real exciting aspect of the season was, of course, rising superstar Anthony Davis. The Uniblocker came into the 2013-14 season with a bulkier transformed body, an improved mid-range jumper and a better touch around the rim. Davis earned his first of many Western Conference All-Star selections and put up 20.8 points and 10 rebounds per game along with a league-leading 2.8 blocks. Davis was one of five players to reach the 20-10 plateau, and the fact that he was doing that before he could legally purchase beer is just scary.
The Pelicans went through a lot of injuries, including Davis missing 15 games, and won only 34 games, but any time you have a talent like Anthony Davis in place, it's not so bad after all. The kid simply has a chance to go down as a Hall of Fame ballplayer if he can get through his career healthy. He's that good.
SUMMER OF 2014
Key Additions - Omer Asik, Jimmer Fredette, John Salmons, Patric Young
Key Losses - Al-Farouq Aminu, Jason Smith, Brian Roberts, Anthony Morrow, Greg Stiemsma
One of the Pelicans' biggest weaknesses last season was the fact that Anthony Davis had no help down low. Greg Stiemsma was solid in spurts but Jason Smith was out most of the year and Alexis Ajinca weighs approximately 33 lbs. soaking wet.
This summer, however, New Orleans changed that with a three-team deal that brought Omer Asik to the Pelicans. Asik was unhappy as Dwight Howard's backup last season, following his breakout year in 2012-13, and had been long overdue for a change of scenery. He finally got it this summer, and the interior defensive tandem of Davis and Asik could very well become the best in the league.
Not that this team needed another shoot-first guard, but the Pelicans added some offensive firepower by snatching up Jimmer Fredette to take on the backup point guard role. After not getting much of a change throughout his first three years with Sacramento and Chicago, let's hope Jimmer has found a home and get finally get a chance to produce.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
C - Omer Asik / Alexis Ajinca / Jeff Withey
PF - Anthony Davis / Ryan Anderson / Patric Young
SF - Darius Miller / Tyreke Evans / Luke Babbitt / John Salmons
SG - Eric Gordon / Austin Rivers / Dionte Christmas
PG - Jrue Holiday / Jimmer Fredette
X-FACTOR - Eric Gordon
Some things in life will never make sense, and Eric Gordon falls in that category. He has battled multiple injuries throughout his career, as he has missed an average of 27.5 games per year since being drafted in 2008, but that's not what concerns me. Ever since he was traded from the Clippers to New Orleans, Gordon seems often disinterested and unhappy on the court.
Everyone knows he didn't ask to be traded there and he even tried to bolt for Phoenix before New Orleans refused to allow the restricted free agent to take off, but his consistent disengagement makes you question his ticker to a certain degree. It's a shame, too, because when Gordon is locked in, he can be a lethal outside shooting threat with a very explosive first step.
If Gordon can stay healthy and keep himself motivated, he can be one of the top two-guards in the NBA and drastically improve New Orleans' chances of making the playoffs. If he can somehow find a way to maximize his potential, it could change the entire dynamic of the Pelicans offense.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2014-15
In the Eastern Conference, the 2014-15 Pelicans could probably earn a top five seed in the playoffs, but it's a different ballgame out west. You've got to win at least 50 games to secure a postseason berth in the Western Conference and while the Pelicans improved this summer, that's asking them to make a mighty large jump.
Anthony Davis will continue his rapid development into one of the best players in the NBA, and if the Pelicans can stay healthy, they might have a chance to make the playoff hunt interesting out west. With that said, there is a good chance that they fall just short of a postseason berth perhaps after finishing behind teams like Houston, Dallas, Denver and Memphis.
No matter what happens in the standings, it's going to be supremely fun watching Davis and Asik anchor the same defense. Stay tuned, basketball fans, the Pelicans are on the rise.
5th - Southwest Division
11th - Western Conference
Keep your eyes peeled for the Washington Wizards preview, coming tomorrow morning.