Pelican Conundrum: What does NO do now?

Posted: 01/15/2014 by levcohen in Basketball

To put it simply, the New Orleans Pelicans are in trouble. They’ve lost six in a row, moving to 15-22 on the season. Early in the year, the Pelicans looked good. Despite having a variety of injuries, they were 11-10 and players were finally starting to get healthy. They haven’t had a winning record since. Mostly, this is a case of bad luck. Anthony Davis, the best player on the team, missed (just!) seven games with a broken hand. Eric Gordon has missed three games and Tyreke Evans has missed four. That’s not the worst of the injury news, though. Leading scorer Ryan Anderson missed the first nine games of the season. Then he came back, and the Pellies went 12-10 with Anderson in the lineup (they are just 3-12 without him). But then he got hurt again, and this one is major: a herniated disc that will require surgery and keep him out for at least two months. But there’s more! Jrue Holiday, who was acquired in a trade from Philadelphia on draft night and nearly doubled any other Pelican in assists (7.9). He was also fourth on the team in points. With Holiday, Anderson, and Davis together on the floor, New Orleans looked like a playoff team. They were 9-6 with the three in the lineup, a winning percentage that would put them seventh in the West. But Holiday went down shortly after Anderson, and it’s a bad one. He fractured his tibia, which will keep him out for a long time. So it’s obvious now that the team’s three best players will not be together for a long time. Making matters even worse, NOLA owes Philadelphia its first round pick as part of the Holiday trade. But the interesting thing is the pick is top five protected. If the Pelicans (I really want to call them the Hornets) finish as one of the five worst teams in the NBA, they will keep the pick. Frankly, the Pelicans as currently constructed have a slim- at best- chance at the playoffs. They are six games behind the Suns in 8th place, and there are three teams in between Phoenix and New Orleans who are all arguably better than NOLA. So the idea of the Pelicans with Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, and Tyreke Evans as their only three productive players making the playoffs is far fetched. Which gives them a few options.
1. They can seek a trade for a player/s that could get them over the hump
2. They can try to stay on the fringes until Holiday and Anderson come back and then try to make a late-season run
3. They can tank.

1. Look for a trade:

This would be a tough one. There are players available, like J.R. Smith, Andre Miller, Pau Gasol, and Omer Asik, but no single one of those players would be enough to vault them in to the playoffs. The Pelicans are also running dangerously low on assets. They don’t have a first round pick from this year or next, and last year’s (Davis) is obviously untouchable. They’d probably have to give a future first round pick, which is really dicey.

Verdict: Avoid

2. Hang around:

If we knew when exactly Anderson and Holiday were coming back, this would be an enticing option. Davis and the backcourt of Evans and Gordon would keep the team afloat, and assuming Anderson and Holiday were back before the stretch run, they could have a run at the playoffs. The problem is that we don’t know when, or even if, Anderson and Holiday will be back. Anderson’s back injury is dangerous, and you never know with a herniated disc. If there is no improvement over the next month or so, he will likely have to shut it down for the season. A fractured tibia is also a dicey injury. Holiday should be back before too long, but how will he play upon his return? You never know, and Jrue won’t have much of a grace period when he comes back. The Pelicans will likely be behind in the playoff race, and they’ll throw Holiday right back into the fray. This option also looks less than ideal.

Verdict: Less than suitable

3. Tank:

Austin Rivers has played 13, 25, 23, and 23 minutes in the last four games after averaging just 12 minutes per game before January. That could be a sign that the Pelicans are thinking about, and generally leaning towards, tanking. Rivers is not a good player. In fact, he’s probably one of the worst in the NBA. Last year, he shot 37% from the field, 33% from three point range, and 55% from the line (remember, this is a guard). In 23 minutes per game, he averaged 6 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1.2 turnovers per game. That’s a bad player. The Utah Jazz and Boston Celtics, both 13-26, are tied for the fourth worst record in the league right now. That’s just three games worse than the Pelicans, four teams separate New Orleans from Utah. Of those four teams, New York and Cleveland are genuinely trying to win. The Lakers and Kings, a game and a half worse than New Orleans, are question marks. A reasonable expectation for the fifth worst team in basketball would be 27 wins. The Pelicans have more than half that already, and would have to finish the season 12-32. To put that in perspective, they are 4-12 in their last 16 games. Multiply it by three and that’s 12-36. And that’s largely with Anderson and Holiday. And remember, the team is still theoretically trying to win at this point. 12-32 seems attainable. All they have to do is rest Anthony Davis more and play Austin Rivers 30 minutes per game.

Verdict: The way to go. If they try, the Pelicans can finish as one of the five worst teams in basketball and keep their pick in this deep draft.

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