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Know Your Competition: The New Orleans Pelicans

Pelicans could be a dark horse in the West

NBA: Preseason-New Orleans Pelicans at New York Knicks Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.

2017-2018 Record: 48-34, 2nd in Southwest, 6th in Conference

Additions: Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton, Jahlil Okafor, Troy Williams, Kenrich Williams, Garlon Green, Jarrett Jack, Trevon Bluiett, Darius Morris, Brandon McCoy

Departures: DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo, Jordan Crawford, DeAndre Liggins, Emeka Okafor, Charles Cooke

At the same time that the New Orleans Pelicans look totally different, there’s still some familiarity. Due to this, there is a bit of uncertainty heading into 2018-2019.

Anthony Davis is leading the charge for the Pelicans, but for how long? While Davis is under contract until Summer 2020, he recently changed agents to Rich Paul of Klutch Sports. Which of course added speculation on his future. Some believe Davis is on his way to LA to join LeBron.

Of course, that means Davis would be traded at some point this season, saving New Orleans a boatload of cash, adding multiple pieces in return, and easing the stress of whether or not Davis re-signs in NOLA.

Davis’ 2017-2018 looked eerily similar to the previous campaign, with nearly identical stats in almost every category. Davis was 2nd in the NBA in scoring (behind James Harden) with 28.1 ppg, the highest Player Efficiency at 33, and 5th in the NBA in Total Rebounds. All of which was good enough for 3rd in the NBA MVP voting. Davis has now had back-to-back career seasons, and has managed to stay healthy the last two seasons as well.

With the Pelicans hoping to get back to the postseason again, they bolstered the frontcourt adding Julius Randle and Jahlil Okafor (I’ll get to these two in a minute) to help replace the departing DeMarcus Cousins. Nikola Mirotic, Alexis Ajinca, Cheick Diallo, and Solomon Hill are all back as well. Mirotic struggled some after his trade from Chicago but still proved valuable in the stretch run with the hole Cousins left on offense.

Now, about Julius Randle and Jahlil Okafor.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Okafor and Randle both are coming into NOLA with chips on their shoulders.

Okafor, the former #3 pick in 2015 by Philadelphia, only played 28 games last season and has never played more than 53 in his short career. Philly decided early last season that the injured Okafor wasn’t living up to expectations and declined his player option for this season, making him a free agent after finishing last season in Brooklyn.

Randle is a slightly different story. Julius had the best season of his career heading into this past offseason, but was let go by the Los Angeles Lakers when they renounced the qualifying offer they extended. Randle, the former 7th overall pick by LA in 2014 was probably a victim of LA clearing room for LeBron James and the retooling the Lakers did after his arrival. Julius should step right into the starting lineup and give the Pelicans another big that can do damage inside, allowing Anthony Davis to move around the floor offensively and defensively.

The backcourt saw some of it’s more experienced depth walk out the door with both Rajon Rondo and Jordan Crawford leaving after last season, but Elfrid Payton joins from Orlando to go along with the returning E’Twaun Moore, Memphian Ian Clark, Jrue Holliday, and Frank Jackson. Last season, Moore had arguably the best season of his career, setting career highs in PPG and Total Boards. Jrue Holliday had a much improved season as well, averaging his best points per game and shooting percentage of his career. Payton should have a good chance to flourish in this offense with not being depended on to be the starting point. Elfrid will have a lot less pressure on him in this role than what he’s had to shoulder in Orlando and the brief spell with Phoenix last season.

Outlook

As of now, it’s hard to consider the Pelicans in a rebuild. This team, to me, is the best team Davis has had around him since he’s been in the league. Dell Demps didn’t have an easy task ahead of him this past offseason, but it’s hard to say anything but positive things about what he did. With the Spurs presumably down Dejounte Murray for the year, this season could be a chance for New Orleans to take a step forward in the West and compete in the postseason. Either way, the Pelicans should be better than last season, and be in a better spot than last year heading into the playoffs.

Prediction: 52-30, 2nd in Southwest, 4th in Conference*

* = The previously posted preview for San Antonio listed them as 2nd in the division, but their win total and division ranking has changed due to the injury status of Dejounte Murray. Therefore I have placed New Orleans 2nd instead.

Stats provided by basketball-reference.com

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