The New Orleans Pelicans don’t just have a new name, they have a very different looking team this year with the arrival of Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Greg Stemsma, and rookie Jeff Withey. Meanwhile, head coach Monty Williams remains, just two years removed from guiding New Orleans to the playoffs. The veterans are all very good additions and the youngsters from the last two seasons have had more time to grow.
If this team can stay healthy and get some more production off their bench, the Pelicans have a great chance to improve on their 27 wins last season by a significant amount but the playoffs don’t appear in their immediate future just yet. Let’s take a look at how the inaugural Pelicans team is shaping up.
Points Per Game: 25th
Points Allowed Per Game: 14th
Rebounds Per Game: 17th
Point Guards: Jrue Holiday, Brian Roberts – Grade: A-
At just 23, Holiday enters his fifth year in the league and really established himself as an elite point guard in 2012-13. Last season, he posted a career highs in points (17.7), assists (8.0), rebounds (4.2), and three-pointers (1.2). Although his 43 percent shooting and 3.7 turnovers a game leave something to be desired, Holiday is a very good get for a team that finished 25th in points and 23rd in assists last season.
As a 27-year-old rookie last season, Roberts proved to be a serviceable backup. Although he only played 17 MPG, his averages were 15.1 points, 6.0 assists, one steal, and 1.6 three-pointers made per 36 minutes. His .417 field-goal percentage isn’t stellar but his .386 shooting from deep is very solid.
Limited by injuries over the last two seasons, Gordon’s production took a downturn in 2012-13. After two seasons with 20+ points and 45 percent shooting, Gordon averaged just 17 points and shot a paltry 40 percent from the floor and 32 percent from three-point range. If healthy, perhaps we can see the Gordon of old but, after yet another ankle surgery, it’s hard to expect him to hold up.
Rivers was New Orleans’ second first-round pick in 2012 and disappointed on every level in his rookie season. He averaged just 6.2 points and 2.1 assists over 23 minutes per game. Worse, he shot just 37 percent from the floor. The Pelicans will need Gordon to hold up just to keep Rivers off the floor.
Morrow split last season with the Hawks and Mavericks and saw a greatly reduced role as he dealt with injuries all season. He averaged just 9.3 minutes last year but, if healthy, could see more time in New Orleans. His 44 percent shooting last season is a significant improvement over his 41 percent in 2011-12 but, outside of a solid three-point game, he’s nothing to write home about.
After looking like a downright terrible shooter over his first two seasons (39-41 percent shooting), he took better shots last season and improved his field-goal percentage to 47.5. He’s also become a very reliable defensive forward, averaging 7.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game, improving his Defensive Win Shares to 2.4 on the season.
Evans also improved his shooting last season as he posted a career-high 47.8 FG%. He averaged a solid 15.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.4 steals for Sacramento last year and turned the ball over far less than in previous years. His long range game remains suspect but is coming together and, at 24, he is a good looking forward to split time in the front court.
Millers was New Orleans’ second-round pick last season and played just 13 minutes per game, averaging just 2.3 points and shooting a miserable 40.7 percent (though he improved to a solid 45 percent after the All-Star break). I wouldn’t expect to see much of him again this season.
Although Davis had his rookie moments, last season’s first-overall pick looked incredibly promising. The 19-year-old shot a strong 51.6 percent while averaging 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, and 1.2 steals. He looked even better following the All-Star break, averaging 15.3 points and 9.3 rebounds. He is a menace in the paint and has a good chance to put up 17 points and 10+ rebounds per game this season.
Anderson is a big man three-point specialist and not a bad one. He averaged 16.2 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.6 three-pointers per game last season and led the league in three-pointers in 2011-12. His 42 percent shooting is rough for a big guy but his 38 percent three-point shooting is good enough to make up for it.
Thomas didn’t factor in much last season and faded even more as the season went along. I wouldn’t expect to see much of him once again.
Centers: Greg Stiemsma, Jason Smith, Jeff Withey – Grade: C to C+
Stiemsma is a solid defensive rotation guy but certainly not a starting caliber player. He averaged 16 minutes per game for the TWolves last season, averaging just four points but a solid 3.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. His 46 percent shooting, as a big man who seldom takes a jumper, is rough but his defense should make up for it.
Smith is a serviceable backup who averaged 8.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, and one block while playing just 17 minutes per game. That’s 17.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per 36 minutes.
Withey was a second rounder this year despite a strong season in Kansas last year. The seven-footer blocked a ridiculous 3.9 shots per game while averaging 13.7 points, 8.5 rebounds, and shooting a very impressive 58 percent. At the very least, every big guy on this team has some serious shot blocking ability.
Coach: Monty Williams – Grade: C+
Williams is entering his fourth season as the New Orleans head coach despite winning just 48 games over the last two seasons combined. At the very least, the front office has gone out and gotten him solid draft picks and veterans to work with this season. If he can get his young team to produce more consistently on offense, the Pelicans have a chance to sneak into the playoffs in their inaugural year.
Team Grade: C+ to B-