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New Orleans Pelicans 2015-16 Preview

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Last year, New Orleans made the playoffs for the first time since 2011 and that's something you might have to get used to. Anthony Davis and company are on the rise.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

2014-15 IN REVIEW
45-37
5th in Southwest Division
8th in Western Conference

Heading into the 2014-15 season, New Orleans was coming off of a 34-win campaign and had went an abysmal 82-148 over the last three years combined. They had not made the playoffs since 2011 when Chris Paul was in the fold, and even though they were lucky enough to land a transcendent talent like Anthony Davis in the 2012 NBA draft, it was time for results.

One of the biggest factors regarding the team's success was, like any other squad, health. Versatile stretch-four Ryan Anderson was coming off of a gruesome neck injury that held him out of action for 60 games in 2013-14, while Eric Gordon had missed an accumulated 115 games throughout his three years with the organization from 2011-2014. On top of that, starting point guard Jrue Holiday was only able to suit up for 34 games in his first year with the Pelicans due to a stress fracture in his right tibia.

Last season, New Orleans still had some issues with health and were forced to fight off the injury bug on and off all year long. Holiday was healthy and productive throughout the first two and a half months of the season, putting up over 15 points and seven assists per game, but re-aggravated his right leg and would be forced to miss 41 consecutive games. While he was on the pine, Eric Gordon was forced to play a little bit out of position and take on some of the responsibility at the one-spot, alternating between both guard positions. Unfortunately, Gordon was inactive for the majority of the time that Holiday was healthy at the beginning of the season and missed 21 games last year due to a bum left shoulder.

Even Anthony Davis hurt his shoulder in early February, forcing him to miss seven of the next nine games and sit out of NBA All-Star weekend as he would go on to miss a total of 14 games throughout the season. When he was on the floor, however, he was as effective as any player in the league and absolutely took the next step forward to further solidify his superstardom. Davis put up 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and a league-leading 2.9 blocks per game on 53.5% shooting, earning him a spot on the All-NBA 1st Team and the All-Defensive 2nd Team. If you're into PER, he lead the league in that category as well, with a 30.8 Player Efficiency Rating.

Tyreke Evans stepped up to play some of his best basketball in years, starting in 76 of 79 games after coming off the bench for the majority of the previous season. The 25-year-old resurrected his individual perception to a certain degree, accumulating 16.6 points per game along with career highs 6.6 assists and 5.3 rebounds.

In his first year with New Orleans, center Omer Asik was more than happy to step back into a starting role and he helped Anthony Davis form one of the most effective defensive frontcourts in the NBA. Asik scored 7.3 points and cleaned the glass for 9.8 rebounds per contest, controlling the paint and giving opponents a devastating duo to face in the back line of the Pelicans defense.

Considering their injuries to multiple key players along with the fact that the Pelicans bench was fairly thin, even though Norris Cole and Quincy Pondexter did a nice job providing a spark after being acquired mid-season, you have to respect how the Pelicans put together a winning season. The impact of Davis is unquestioned, as the team went 39-29 with him in the lineup and finished the season 45-37, which tied Oklahoma City but the Pels controlled the tie-breaking, awarding the organization their first trip to the playoffs since Monty Williams' first year as head coach in 2010-11.

Of course, they would get smacked around in the first round against the top seeded eventual champion Golden State Warriors, who took them out with a clean four-game sweep. With that said, the Pelicans took a big step in the right direction and we got to witness an unbelievable postseason performance from Anthony Davis, who elevated his game to an even higher level. Davis put up 31.5 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks per game, getting to the line nine times per contest and burying 89% of his free throws in the series.

It's still going to take more time to accept the fact that their team name is the Pelicans, but get used to it because they are on the rise.

SUMMER OF 2015

Key Additions - Alvin Gentry, Kendrick Perkins

New Orleans didn't make a whole lot of moves with their roster this summer, but they made a splash in May when they fired head coach Monty Williams after five years on the sidelines. Williams made the playoffs in his first and last years as head coach, but suffered three losing seasons along the way and finished his tenure in New Orleans with a 173-221 overall record.

Replacing Williams is Alvin Gentry, who has experience as an on and off head coach since 1994, serving stints as head coach with Miami in 1994-95 (15-21), Detroit from 1997-2000 (73-72), the Los Angeles Clippers from 2000-2003 (89-133) and Phoenix from 2008-2013 (158-144). In 2009-10, Gentry helped lead the Suns to 54 wins and an outstanding run to the Western Conference Finals, where they lost to the Lakers 4-2 but exceeded expectations and even swept the Spurs in the second round.

The Pelicans were certainly headed in the right direction last season, but you never know what kind of impact a new voice and philosophy can have on a hungry up-and-coming squad.

As far as the roster is concerned, you won't see many new faces to open the 2015-16 season but starting center Omer Asik is now fresh off of a brand new five-year deal worth $60 million. You can expect the back line of New Orleans' defense to continue to improve as long as Asik and Anthony Davis are linked together as a duo that controls the glass and protects the paint better than most tandems around the league.

Davis, of course, locked up a five-year extension worth a jaw-dropping $145 million this summer. He's not going anywhere.

To add some extra depth at the five behind Asik and Alexis Ajinca, New Orleans brought in our guy Kendrick Perkins on a one-year deal to provide the experience, veteran leadership and toughness that any playoff team would welcome to their locker room.

PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
C
- Omer Asik / Alexis Ajinca / Kendrick Perkins
PF - Anthony Davis / Ryan Anderson / Dante Cunningham
SF - Tyreke Evans / Luke Babbit / Alonzo Gee
SG - Eric Gordon / Quincy Pondexter
PG - Jrue Holiday / Norris Cole

X-FACTOR - Eric Gordon
There is something about Eric Gordon that makes you scratch my head, because he is such a talented offensive weapon when he is healthy and fully engaged but at the same time, he seems to be made up of some of the same internal ingredients as Jeff Green. Gordon is capable of scoring around 20 points every night as a lethal outside shooter and under-utilized attack guard that can really put the ball in the basket in multiple ways.

Gordon played 78 games as a rookie for the Clippers in 2008-09, but hasn't appeared in more than 64 games in a single season since. He is just one of those guys that can never shake the injury bug, but even with that in mind, he's got to recognize his own talent and take it upon himself to maximize his attributes.

In each of the last three years, Gordon has dropped his scoring average by at least two points per game, going from a 20-point scorer from 2010-2012 to now producing just over 13 points per contest. If Alvin Gentry can light some kind of fire under Gordon and put him in a better position to make a bigger impact, it could really make the Pelicans a much more dynamic offensive threat.

On the bright side, he did shoot 45% from beyond the arc last season, which is sensational, but he also took a career low 11.4 shots per game. Gordon not only has to shoot the rock more often, he has to want it more often and give himself a chance to make his team better in 2016. He showed signs of this in last year's playoffs, scoring 18.8 points per game in the first round, and he's got to continue his career with a more aggressive mentality.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2015-16
The parity within the Western Conference calls for a tight race for the seventh and eighth playoff seeds, a battle likely to include Dallas, New Orleans and Phoenix. The Pelicans will be in contention to lock up one of those low seeds for a second consecutive year, especially if guys like Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon are sharp and stay healthy.

You can also expect Anthony Davis to perform at an even higher level, as the young superstar's ceiling seems borderline limitless at this point. Embrace his talent as much as you can, and tune in to as many Pelicans games as possible because The Uniblocker could go down in history.

PROJECTED STANDINGS
5th in Southwest Division
7th in Western Conference

New Orleans Pelicans 2015-16 Preview - The Bird Writes - SBNation.com

Besides improvements in the defense, building off the momentum of last year's improbable postseason run and implementing an uptempo offense without destroying efficiency.

Both management and players have recently referred to the notion of playing with a sense of urgency. For Demps, he likens it to having a blue-collar approach. For Evans, he wants to treat every regular season game as though it's a playoff battle. Individuals may have a lot of interpretations but it's all the same meaning: play as hard and intelligently as you can for as long as you can.

Anthony Davis' next task is to make the Pelicans contenders - SBNation.com

I think Anthony Davis could win the MVP this year. He's bigger and stronger, and he's got the coaches in place to push him to new heights. Alvin Gentry's offense is perfect for him and Darren Erman's defense should do wonders to close down the paint. I'm still not sold on the supporting cast being championship mettle, but they're better than people generally acknowledge. If they stay healthy, 50 wins isn't out of the question at all.