The New Orleans Pelicans took a horrifically mismatched roster and turned it into a playoff team in 2017-18.
Anthony Davis is what he is—a bona fide superstar who can drag a team to the playoffs by himself. But Rajon Rondo‘s selfish assists and the tendency of the New Orleans offense to turn into a clogged toilet whenever Davis had to share the floor with DeMarcus Cousins conspired to make the team worse than it should have been until Boogie’s injury unlocked their potential.
New Orleans was 27-21 in games Boogie played. They were 21-13 without him. That latter is a 51-win pace. The former’s good for 46-36. They went 48-34.
It also makes first rounds a lot more fun if Davis and friends somehow manage to draw the Lakers as their opponent.
Oh, and the Pellies have Julius Randle now, finally fulfilling the consistent demands of a certain Seattle-based writer that he’s too good for that no-good outfit in Tinseltown, Bron or no Bron.
The question now is whether the pieces fit together.
2017-18 record: 48-34
2018-19 over/under: 45.5
The season previews floating around the Internet these days seem to augur poorly for the Pellies, claiming that the loss of Cousins will depress their win total, treating the NBA as if it were a fantasy league and not a game of five-man team basketball.
And the plain and simple is that twin-towers lineups haven’t worked since David Robinson retired.
As such, I’m saying that the move from Cousins to Randle is going to be an upgrade.
Not because Julius Randle is a better player than Boogie Cousins. Hell no, not by a country mile.
But because Randle is a better fit in the New Orleans offense. And that’s the critical difference here.
Can Anthony Davis go just one full season in his entire career without getting wrecked? Drunk drivers have better track records with their cars than Davis has with his body.
Davis played 75 games last year, matching his 2016-17 total, but he’s missed an even 82 games—a full regular season’s worth—in his six years.
Then again, he has played at least 61 games every year, so losing him is bad and predictable but not catastrophic.
And he’s a five-VORP guy who made a leap last year and posted the best aggregate advanced stats since his big breakout year in 2014-15.
Oh, and he’s hitting 34 percent of his three-pointers now, climbing toward league average. Look out below.
The Best Player You’ve Never Heard Of
If you’re not a Pelicans fan already, you might not realize just how good E’Twaun Moore is.
How good? .508/.425/.706 shooting splits, good for a .585 (!) eFG% and a .593 True Shooting mark.
Granted, it’s the only thing Moore does; his PER of 12.1 and negative BPM speak to that, but we’re still talking a 1.2 VORP situational role player who is basically the poor man’s Klay Thompson.
You put a spot-up relief outlet like that on the perimeter and good things are going to happen for your team.
Speaking of spot-up shooters, how about Mirotic?
The Montenegrin sharpshooter isn’t as good as Moore from out there, hitting just 44.1 percent of his shots and 37.1 percent of his threes, and perhaps more alarming is his dropoff from 42.1 to 33.5 after going from Chicago to New Orleans.
All of his advanced stats plummeted with the Pellies, which makes him a question mark this season.
On the other hand, he’s still just 27, a career league-average shooter from long range, and a guy who isn’t such a total mess on defense.
Oh. Right. Defense.
Nobody on this team can guard anyone except Davis.
And while having a three-time league shotblocking champion who’s also a great rebounder does have its benefits, the simple fact remains that the rest of the lineup is minus defenders, the team overall was 14th in defense last year, and there aren’t a lot of reasons to believe they’ll improve rather than regress, especially with Boogie in Golden State.
So what we’re left with is a team that can score the ball but becomes a squad that has to outscore their opponents on the regular in order to consistently win.
Which is…not great. Not good, even.
Which means that the back-of-the-envelope math speaks to a very good one. The team inside the envelope is a fringe playoff team.
And splitting the difference, it remains to give them the benefit of the doubt. They’re not objectively worse than last year, so taking three wins away from them seems like a play I don’t want to make here.
Let’s call them Plausible…and give them the Over only because I have to pick one or the other. Don’t take that to Vegas. Because I don’t like the pick one bit in terms of level of certainty.