Second Half Comeback
Pelicans need to rebound after All-Star break to make the postseason a reality
The pieces seem to be in place. There’s power forward Anthony Davis, center DeMarcus Cousins, guards Jrue Holiday, Rajon Rondo, E’Twaun Moore, and a supporting cast under the leadership of head coach Alvin Gentry. But, for whatever reason, the New Orleans Pelicans haven’t been able to put together a cohesive unit that can escape mediocrity.
As the NBA gets ready for its mid-winter All-Star break this month, fans and experts are wondering not only why the Pelicans haven’t achieved more success, but also if they are even capable of joining the ranks of the NBA’s best teams.
Davis, the 24-year-old, 6’11” wunderkind, excels in the lane and can shoot from 15 to 20 feet away from the basket and from beyond the arc when a three-point shot is open. Through early January, Davis is averaging 22.7 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 2.3 blocks, and 1.3 steals in 35.5 minutes per game. Many believe the former top overall draft pick is continuing his upward progression to his full potential.
Yet in his five professional seasons he has not won a playoff game.
Cousins is Davis’ twin tower. The duo may be the best big man combo in the association. He arrived in New Orleans too late last season to provide a postseason push, but in 17 games with the Pelicans he averaged 24.4 points, 12.4 rebounds, 1.1 blocks, and 1.5 steals in 33.8 minutes per game. He’s continued to be a dominating presence this season with 26 points, 12.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists, and 1.5 blocks and steals in 35.4 minutes per game.
Holiday has contributed mightily, with 18.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 5.2 assists, .5 blocks, and 1.3 steals in 36.5 minutes per game.
There has been reason to believe this trio can not only lead the Pelicans to the postseason, but also be on the brink of something special and make a deep run toward a championship. The early part of the 2017-18 season has been an enigma. The Pels have been able to beat some of the league’s best teams, then turn around and, inexplicably, lose to some of the worst.
For most of the season, the Pels have hovered around .500, having won as much as they’ve lost. That’s been much better than the 34-48 record they posted last season, and good enough to keep them around eighth place in the Western Conference, which would qualify the team for the postseason. Still, there’s a feeling this team could and should be doing much better.
Cousins admitted as much, saying the team has lacked consistency. “We might play the right way three games, then play the wrong way four games,” he told The Times-Picayune’s William Guillory. “That’s our biggest struggle.”
The team is competitive. When they’ve lost, the score has been close. That’s frustrating for the team and its fans. A closer look shows the Pels are doing it right when they have the ball. With 113.0 points per 100 possessions, they followed only the Houston Rockets (113.9) in offensive efficiency in December. But they’re not getting it done at the other end of the court. In the same span, the team was second to last in defensive efficiency, giving up 110.6 points per 100 possessions. For a team that was supposed to be improved on defense, that statistic is really disappointing.
The Pelicans haven’t been to the playoffs since 2015. Barring a catastrophic injury, that streak should end this season. But expectations are rising. An eighth seed might get the Pels in the playoffs, but it would mean the daunting task of playing the first seed. The franchise has only won one playoff series in 15 years, back when Chris Paul, David West, and Tyson Chandler dominated the Smoothie King Center’s hardwood.
For expectations to be met this season, the Pelicans need to come out of the All-Star break with a win-at-all-costs mentality. They need to collect wins, improve their rank in the conference, and position themselves for an easier postseason matchup.
Without an improvement, there is fear New Orleans could see Davis, Cousins, and others leave the team for a title contender much the same way Paul, West, and Chandler did previously. Legendary franchises, including the Boston Celtics, have inquired about trading for Davis. They’ve been denied thus far, surely, with the belief the Pelicans can be a winner. But another stumble and miss could give reason for players to demand trades to teams in contention, unraveling present hopes for a round ball winner in the Crescent City.