Is This 2018 NBA Team Any Good?: New Orleans Pelicans

by Fox Doucette

One of this site’s biggest running catchphrases is the term “Scott-Hollins Syndrome”. Named after disgraced NBA coaches Byron Scott and Lionel Hollins, whose failure to embrace advanced analytics and the offensive tenets from which we draw our name here, it is our term for when a coach, team, or (Charles Barkley, looking at you) TV guy shoot themselves in the foot with their ignorance of modern basketball.

Well, if Scott-Hollins Syndrome put on an NBA uniform and trotted out a team, it would be the 2017-18 New Orleans Pelicans.

The Pellies feature DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis, who together would have been great in 1999 when big man play demanded a proper counter to Tim Duncan and David Robinson, instead serve only to gum up the low post with their plodding style.

Before the All-Star Break, during which the Pellies traded Buddy Hield and a used basketball to Sacramento to get Boogie, New Orleans was 23-34. Afterward, they were 11-14. Which, great, they went from being on pace for a 33-win season to playing at the pace of a 36-win team and split the difference to go 34-48.

Although we may have in the process answered the question of what happens when you Voltron two “great stats, bad team” guys into one super-suck package for winning basketball games?

Then again, New Orleans won four of those 11 games by 20 points or more while losing only two games by a margin at least that size, and the losses were to Golden State and Houston, and if they kick your ass, that just means you’re playing on a day that ends in Y.

What I’m saying is that there are potential hopeful signs. But is this team really any good? Stats via Basketball Reference and odds via Sports Insights:

2016-17 record: 34-48.
2018 over/under: 39.5.

Just What The Hell Are They Thinking?

Terminal case of selfish assists Rajon Rondo is the new point guard, even as the team is still on the hook for $25 million a year to Jrue Holiday’s physical therapist. They pay $12 million to Solomon Hill (.055 WS/48) and $10 million to Omer Asik (,100). At least Rondo (and his -0.4 Offensive Win Shares, so horrendously does he suck on that end of the floor) only cost them $3.3 million.

Did we mention that Rondo hit a career-low 40.8 percent of his shots last season?

Holiday did manage to play in 67 games last year, but how good can you really say someone is when his offensive rating has been greater than his defensive rating exactly once in his career? Holiday’s stats have never been even so much as decent once you adjust his scoring output for his volume shooting.

Quincy Pondexter is on the injured list, and his status after coming back from knee surgery is still up in the air.

When Players Ruin Each Other

Cousins in Sacramento: 40.9 pp100, 26.5 PER, .153 WS/48.
Cousins in New Orleans: 35.3 pp100, 23.2 PER, .136 WS/48.

Now mind you, Davis had no such dropoff, actually improving his raw plus/minus from minus-0.8 to plus-5.7. And it may yet be possible for two big men to run in an NBA offense again if the two guys in question are perennial All-Stars; if nothing else, the Pellies’ defense around the rim and their rebounding will be the best in basketball.

Well Sure, But You Still Need Outside Shooting…

New Orleans was 19th in the league in three-point accuracy (35.0 percent) as a team. They were 26th in Offensive Rating and ninth in Defensive Rating and still couldn’t make the playoffs (or indeed come close) despite that top-10 defense.

The team was 29th in offensive rebounding rate, leading to the question of why in the world would you run a motion, fast-break offense with the Doc Rivers school of offensive board crashing? New Orleans, a team that can’t shoot, should be looking for cleanup opportunities, not trying to get back on defense after yet another empty possession.

They were also eighth in pace. Your two best players are both big men. The Jazz got away with a lot last year because they slowed the ball down to a snail’s crawl to allow Rudy Gobert’s lack of blaze on the break not to beome a liability.

THE VERDICT!

So look, here’s what it comes down to. Can Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins coexist on the floor and in the flow of a 2017 offense when they’re so clearly a throwback demonstration of two-points-at-a-time high-efficiency basketball reborn.

Vegas says 39.5 wins. Davis was on a 45-win team once upon a time, and as bad as the supporting cast is at getting shots to drop, an all-out assault on the glass has the potential, especially in a league where rebounding skills are undervalued, to swing a few games just on the second-chance points.

Can they make the playoffs? Maybe. Could it all fall apart and they go 36-46? Also possible.

So let’s call this one Plausible. It’s just hard to see a team with Boogie and the Brow sucking for 82 games.

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