Projected Record: 38-44 (11th in West)
Head coach: Monty Williams
2013-14 record: 34-48
2013-14 ORtg: 104.7 (13th)
2013-14 DRtg: 107.3 (T-25th)
Players in: Omer Asik, Jimmer Fredette, John Salmons, Russ Smith, Patric Young
Players out: Al-Farouq Aminu, Brendan Haywood, Anthony Morrow, Brian Roberts, Jason Smith, James Southerland, Greg Stiemsma, D.J. White, rights to Dwight Powell
Projected Starting Lineup: Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Anthony Davis, Omer Asik
Some teams have variance because of injuries. (Hello, Brooklyn!) Some teams have variance because of rookie head coaches. (Hello, Milwaukee!) But the New Orleans Pelicans have variance based almost exclusively on one factor: how far is Anthony Davis ready to climb?
Davis has already had an unprecedented stretch in his first two seasons. His player efficiency rating through his first two seasons of 24.4 is the highest of any player through the age of 20. That’s higher than Shaquille O’Neal, higher than LeBron James, higher than Chris Paul, higher than everyone who’s played that young. Davis put up a 20-10 season in just his second year and led the league in blocks, swatting away 2.8 shots per game. If his improvement from year 1 to year 2 is any indication, he could cement himself as the best big man in the game this season.
But he and the Pelicans still play in the Wild Wild West, where the Phoenix Suns won 48 games last year and still couldn’t make the playoffs. It’ll take more than Davis’s heroics to vault the Pelicans, who have won fewer games in the last two seasons (61) than the Spurs did last season alone (62), into the best of the West.
They’ve got talent. Ryan Anderson is back after a scary neck injury that sidelined him for a full season, and the shooter that was once a throw-in by the Nets in a trade to shed Vince Carter’s salary has become one of the league’s best deep threats, hitting over 38 percent of his three-pointers in each of the last four seasons. Omer Asik is one of the league’s preeminent interior defenders, and the Pelicans got him for a pick, meaning no immediate tradeoff on the floor. Jrue Holiday was an All-Star in the East and could develop some serious chemistry with Davis in the pick-and-roll, Eric Gordon can shoot, and Tyreke Evans is also a basketball player with some discernible skills.
But all five of those guys surrounding Davis have serious injuries in their past, and just one or two bad strokes of luck could torpedo their season.
If health permits, It’ll all come back to Davis, who could develop into a top-3 player this season and catapult this roster into the playoffs. But beyond their talented front six, New Orleans’s bench leaves much to be desired; Austin Rivers struggled mightily in his rookie season and didn’t fare much better in the follow-up, Alexis Ajinca and Jeff Withey aren’t cutting it as backup centers, and Jimmer Fredette and John Salmons will fight for the title of “biggest ballhog that once torpedoed Sacramento’s offense.”
It’s easy to be high on their talent. If their top six guys can stay healthy all year, they could sneak into the bottom rung of the playoffs. But with so many talented teams in the West, it’s an uphill climb for any team, and one with enough questions as New Orleans most likely won’t make the cut.