Additions: Julius Randle, Jahlil Okafor, Elfrid Payton, Ian Clark
Subtractions: DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Jrue Holiday
SG: E’Twaun Moore
SF: Nikola Mirotic
PF: Julius Randle
C: Anthony Davis
Key Bench Players: Darius Miller, Ian Clark, Solomon Hill, Elfrid Payton, Jahlil Okafor
One person will dictate the success of the New Orleans Pelicans this season: Anthony Davis. The 25 year old is the best big man in all of basketball and is in my top three players in all of the NBA, ranking just behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Heading into his seventh season, “The Brow” is one of the top scorers in the league while also being a top three defensive player in the NBA. A season ago, Davis averaged 28 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.5 steals, and 2.6 blocks. Outside of LeBron, AD might be the most dominant player in the game today. As long as Davis is in New Orleans, the Pelicans will be a perennial playoff contender. If they add another star to the mix (not another center like DeMarcus Cousins), the Pelicans could be a championship contender if it weren’t for the Warriors.
Surprisingly, the loss of Rajon Rondo actually hurts the Pelicans. Jrue Holiday had his best season since his days as a Philadelphia 76er in 2012-13 when he was an All Star, racking up 19 points, 6 assists, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.5 steals per game as a shooting guard. Holiday will be moved back to the point guard position unless head coach Alvin Gentry decided Elfrid Payton will start at point guard. Without another capable point guard off the bench (unless Frank Jackson is deemed a quality backup point guard), I fully expect Holiday to return to point guard with Payton manning the second unit floor general role.
Three of the four best players in this roster are big men: Davis, Nikola Mirotic, and newly acquired Julius Randle. As a team, you want to have your best players on the court the most. That is simply how a successful team operates. With Davis primarily being a center, Mirotic and Randle’s natural position is power forward. Alvin Gentry could experiment and slot Mirotic at the small forward position, a role he has played in the past due to his shooting ability. The problem would be defense. In the Western Conference, Mirotic would be tasked with guarding the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Paul George, Luka Doncic, and Tobias Harris, all much quicker wings that the Montenegrin would struggle with. Randle is quicker than Mirotic but lacks the shooting range that the former Bull excels in. Then again, with a top-three rim protector behind them in Anthony Davis, maybe they’ll be fine. I expect to see all three of them in the starting lineup. If not, Gentry will probably slide Darius Miller into the opening five and relegate Julius Randle into a super-sub role.
The Pelicans wing rotation is very weak. E’Twaun Moore and Darius Miller are both sharpshooters that shot over 40% from three last season, but are only average defenders and are not known for playmaking. Solomon Hill missed 70 games last year with injury but is an average two-way player when healthy. Ian Clark, who was signed over the offseason, is another strong shooter and decent defender coming off the bench who has been a key bench player during the Warriors dynasty over the past four seasons. With Moore starting at shooting guard, Clark should be the primary backup along with Darius Miller at small forward. Solomon Hill should be the third string wing until he can prove he can contribute on a nightly basis. The Pelicans would be smart to go after a quality starting wing at the trade deadline and over the next offseason to pair with Davis and Holiday.
The rest of the bench is still nothing to get too excited about unless one of Mirotic or Randle takes the sixth man role. Davis’ primary backup will most likely be Jahlil Okafor, the former number three overall pick for the 76ers. Since being drafted Okafor has slimmed down considerably in an attempt to gain some quickness and athleticism. Could he become a quality backup center with New Orleans? I honestly believe he can. Defense will still be his kryptonite, thus hurting the second unit’s overall defensive ability, but he has always been a tremendous scorer in the low post. He did score over 17 PPG in his rookie year in Philly, and followed that up with 11.8 PPG in 22 minutes as Joel Embiid’s backup. He can’t stretch the floor, but his free throw percentage has increased every year since his rookie season. His turnovers could continue to hurt him as he is not a great post playmaker. He isn’t a great rim protector or defender, but he does block shots with his lengthy wingspan. If Jah is in shape and determined to prove his haters wrong, he could really be a great pickup for a Pelicans team in need of bench production.
The Pelicans will be a playoff team behind the freak of nature that is Anthony Davis and his supporting cast in Holiday, Mirotic, and Randle. They could reach as far as a four or five seed, which I currently have them ranked (Warriors, Rockets, Thunder, Lakers, Pelicans), but without another bonafide star or depth, it is hard to envision them going on a lengthy postseason run. Then again, with Anthony Davis and his superhuman abilities, it could be possible.
Picture Courtesy of SB Nation
*For yesterday’s article on the Minnesota Timberwolves, click here
Up next tomorrow: New York Knicks
University of South Carolina ’21