Many hoped that a new name would mean a new era in New Orleans, but despite being one of the most active teams during the offseason, the Pelicans missed the postseason for third year in a row. However, now armed with two lottery picks and an already impressive slew of young talent, the playoffs are on the horizon in NOLA.
The newly-branded Pelicans were one of the biggest movers last postseason, acquiring Tyreke Evans via a $44 million sign-and-trade and trading for Jrue Holiday from the Philadelphia 76ers on draft night.
However, injuries decimated New Orleans’ core group of players and they failed to reach the postseason for the third year in a row, finishing the season with a 34-48 record – the fourth-worst record in the Western Conference and 10th-worst in the league.
The Pelicans finished the year as a middle-of-the-pack offensive team (18th for points per game [99.7] and 13th in offensive rating [107.2]), but were a below average defensive unit, ranked 27th in the league for defensive efficiency (110.1).
Despite owning the sixth-best percentage from beyond the arc (37.3%), New Orleans were second worst in the league for makes and attempts from deep. Conversely, they made the fourth-most two-pointers from the third-most attempts, at the 17th-best rate (47.9%).
Similarly, NOLA was the best team in the league protecting the rim, with 6.4 blocks per game, but was 27th in fouls and two-point field goal percentage allowed and 28th in free throws made against.
To put it simply, there was no balance to the play of the former Hornets and it significantly hindered their playoff aspirations.
After bursting onto the scene with a Rookie of the Year-winning performance for the Sacramento Kings during the 2009-10 season (becoming only the fourth player in NBA history to average 20 points, five rebounds and five assists through their rookie season), Evans has failed to match the lofty standard he set for himself.
Evans struggled early in the season, averaging just 12.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists through his first 50 games. However, he finished the season strong after moving into the starting lineup, averaging 20.0 points, 5.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists over the last 22 games of the season.
Most impressively, through that late-season stretch, Evans’ shooting improved out of sight, jumping to 50.0% from the field and 30.8% from deep (up from 39.8% and a humorously-bad 16.1% through his first 50 games).
Fellow offseason acquisition, Holiday did not perform to the All-Star standard he set in his last season with the 76ers. Injuries marred his debut season in New Orleans and Holiday’s production fell to 14.3 points, 7.9 assists and 4.2 rebounds over only 34 games.
Likewise, sharpshooter Ryan Anderson had his season cut short by injuries, managing only 22 games. The blow was especially harsh for the Pelicans, with Anderson averaging a career-best 19.8 points (on 40.9% from downtown) and 6.5 rebounds per contest.
As if that wasn’t enough to dismantle New Orleans’ postseason push, wingman Eric Gordon (15.4 points, 3.3 assists and 39.1% 3FG) was limited to 64 games and backup centre Jason Smith (9.7 points and 5.8 rebounds) suited up only 31 times.
Second-year point guard Brian Roberts filled in admirably when called upon, averaging, 12.2 points and 4.0 assists in games he played at least 20 minutes – he also led the league in free thrown percentage at 94.0%.
Anthony Morrow (8.4 points and 45.1% 3FG) provided shooting off the bench, while Austin Rivers (7.7 points and 2.3 assists) continued to struggled adapting to NBA life.
Most Valuable Player
Pretty easy pick here.
Former first overall pick Anthony Davis officially announced his place amongst the NBA elite, averaging 20.8 points (15th in the league), 10.0 rebounds (10th), 2.8 blocks (first) per game, while he finished the season ranked fourth in Player Efficiency Rating (26.5) ahead of the likes of Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and James Harden.
Davis showed in his rookie season that he could be a rebounding and shot blocking beast, who was also an effective scorer in pick and roll situations, but in his sophomore campaign, he showed he also had added an effective midrange jump shot.
In his second season, Davis attempted 98 more jumpers from 10-16 feet (181 in total), hitting them at 43.1% (5.8% better than his rookie season). Likewise, he took 63 more shots (209 all up) between 16 feet and the three-point line, knocking down 36.8% of them (a 10.8% improvement from last season).
He also made his first All-Star appearance, delighting hometown fans with cameos in both the Rising Stars Challenge and the weekend’s premiere event during the league’s midseason break.
Unfortunately, Davis was yet another Pelicans player who’s season was effected by injuries, missing 15 games to setbacks with his shoulder, ankle and back.
Aside from his injury problems, Davis’, who only just turned 21 years old, rapid improvement across the board should have the rest of the competition worried.
Injuries absolutely decimated any chance the Pelicans had of making the playoffs.
Davis, Evans, Holiday, Gordon and Anderson alone missed 151 between them and not a single player on the roster appeared in all 82 games – heck, even their mascot required surgery during the season.
New Orleans put all their eggs in one basket when they traded Nerlens Noel and a 2014 first rounder for Holiday. A ballsy move when you consider the depth in the Western Conference and the youth of the Pelicans core, but with so many injuries interrupting that core’s season, it is hard to say if the move was worth it or not.
It will be fascinating to watch this team heading forward if they can get a clean bill of health and make a real push out West.
The aforementioned Holiday/Noel deal left New Orleans at risk of losing a valuable 2014 lottery pick, but the plan was for the Pelicans to be battling it out in the postseason, in which case they could afford to shed a late first round pick.
Unfortunately, the season did not pan out that way in Louisiana and Philadelphia found themselves in possession of a second lottery pick on draft night – the Sixers used that pick, 10th overall, in the deal that garnered them high-touted European big man Dario Saric.
In fact, New Orleans wont even have a second round pick this year after dealing their 2014 second rounder to the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2009.
Hindsight is 20/20.
There are also several big decisions to make in terms of current player personnel in the offseason.
Davis has a team option for next season, which should be a no-brainer for the front office to pick up, but there are several role players whose futures are still up in the air.
Al-Farouq Aminu, Greg Stiemsma, Roberts and Smith are all unrestricted free agents, while Morrow has a player option for next season and a decision needs to made on whether or not to pick up Rivers’ team option.
The Pelicans will have roughly $10 million in cap space to play with – after picking up Davis’ team option – and 5-6 roster spots to fill.
Like they proved last offseason, New Orleans are not afraid of making bold moves, so don’t be surprised if they try and shed some salary in an attempt at making a run at the likes of Greg Monroe or Luol Deng.
Meanwhile, simple savvy front office manoeuvres could net New Orleans some valuable veterans – they desperately need shooters and a reliable backup rim protector.
Regardless, New Orleans are a team on the rise and it will be interesting to watch their offseason unfold as they chase a playoff berth.
Find season reviews for every NBA team here.