Players, coaches, analysts, and fans enter the NBA season with high expectations every year. There are always teams that do not live up to the perceived hype placed upon them. Is it fair? Not necessarily, but it is the nature of sports.
Teams end up leaving fans and analysts wondering what went wrong after a disappointing campaign but were they ever truly as good as we thought? Some old mantras may ring true to some. For example, “A team is only good as their record.” For others, taking a deeper look at the statistics and situations of a team can tell more than records.
Here we come to the New Orleans Pelicans. A team that was a supposed playoff team before the 2016-17 season. However, injuries, circumstances, and simply undeveloped chemistry within the organization has them in the 12th seed with a record of 28-41.
With Tyreke Evans missing time with injury and Jrue Holiday taking the time to care for his wife to begin the season, the Pelicans dragged to a 0-8 start. Throw in various injuries to All-Star Anthony Davis and company. This has forced them to shuffle through rotation players on 10-day contracts. Now, the Pelicans are suddenly left with concerns.
Next, owner Tom Benson and GM Dell Demps made a mid-season splash. The Pelicans traded for the coveted DeMarcus Cousins. Now, they have Cousins and AD in the same frontcourt. Most thought this will surely be a pairing that can propel New Orleans into the eighth seed. Yet again, the Pelicans show they are not quite ready to sustain a winning stretch. New Orleans is 5-7 since acquiring Cousins, but two of those wins have come without him playing.
Naturally, in sports, the head coach is the first to blame when a team does not play to their potential. When the Pelicans fired Monty Williams to hire tenure coach Alvin Gentry, they expected a better, faster offense. Gentry has not been able to reach the playoffs in his first season and it seems like another season without a postseason appearance. There have been multiple reports floating around that Gentry will be fired if the team does not show progress.
Let’s dive into the statistics. The Pelicans are 27th in offensive rating and 21st in points per game, 103,3 while ranking in the top 10 in pace. For a coach that has the reputation of an offensive head coach then the organization starts to believe they are not getting what they paid for. Some say Gentry was the mind behind the Warriors offense when he served as the assistant coach under Steve Kerr. While Davis is having another monstrous season statistically, the team does not seem to coexist. Shockingly, the Pelicans are better on the defensive end. With a 106.8 defensive rating, which ranks sixth in the NBA, the Pelicans have proved that can perform on that side of the ball. They are fifth in blocks at 5.6 per game and they average 35.5 defensive rebounds per game, ranking first in the league.
Whether it is the injuries, trades, or identity, the Pelicans have left most scratching their heads. We are often left wondering with the same thought, “Shouldn’t this team be better?” The Pelicans need time. More time for Cousins and AD to gel, an offseason to build the correct roster around these two, and more time for Gentry to implement a successful season. If the New Orleans Pelicans were to fire their head coach, then that will create even more confusion. New Orleans needs to surround their bigs with perimeter shooters and play inside-out. As long as the Pelicans keep Cousins, Davis, and Holiday then they have something to work with.
Now come decisions. They must make decisions on their roster spots and head coach. Showing Cousins that they can win is another tough aspect to balance. Currently, the Pelicans find themselves 5.5 games behind the Nuggets for the eighth seed with only 13 games left on the schedule. Here we are with almost the same narrative as last season. New Orleans will enter the offseason with more uncertainty than answers.