Is now the time for inconsistent Pelicans to make a big move?
One quarter of the way through the season, the New Orleans Pelicans sit at 10-10. What was supposed to be a new team, one built to be among the elite, has gotten off to another slow start.
Early season mediocrity is not something unfamiliar to the Pels. At this time a year ago, they were 11-9. In the two preceding seasons under Alvin Gentry, New Orleans started 7-13 (2016-17) and 5-15 (2015-16).
The slow start has left fans more confused, angered, and, in some cases, more fearful than in previous years.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Not with Anthony Davis coming off of an MVP-caliber season, Jrue Holiday finally realizing his star potential, a full season of Niko Mirotic and the additions of both Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton.
Fans aren’t happy.
There is tension building within an atmosphere swirling with the some of the same issues that have plagued the Pelicans for years; inconsistency, injury, depth and defense.
After going 24-17 on the road last season, New Orleans is just 2-9 so far this season. They need to go 22-8 over their remaining slate to match that mark. Seven of their next 10 road games are against teams .500 or better, meaning it doesn’t get easier anytime soon.
Davis has missed four games so far, and may sit out another Monday night against the Boston Celtics. Payton hasn’t played a meaningful minute since first injuring his ankle against Utah and isn’t expected back until mid to late-December with a broken finger. Mirotic is still struggling with a sprained ankle of his own, and Randle began the year fighting plantar fasciitis.
Jrue Holiday remains a terror on defense, but having to play the majority of his minutes as the only true ball handler on the floor in Payton’s absence has been a burden. Holiday has 76 turnovers this season, nearly four per game.
While New Orleans has one of the most productive starting lineups in the league, outside of Randle, not a single reserve is scoring more than 5.4 points per game.
Holdovers Darius Miller (5.4 ppg), Ian Clark (4.6 ppg), and Cheick Diallo (4.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg), have all seen a drop in production from a year ago.
Solomon Hill’s fall off has gained him residency status on the bench, as he hasn’t gotten a single minute of playing time in the last 12 games.
Wesley Johnson has been a slight upgrade over Hill, but he is a placeholder, not an impact player. Frank Jackson, Tim Frazier, and Jahlil Okafor have eaten minutes but have yet to contribute much else.
Defensively, New Orleans continues to rank among the worst in the league with a defensive rating of 112.6. The NBA’s second-best scoring offense (118.8) is barely outpacing its second-worst scoring defense (117.2).
The Pelicans don’t force turnovers and they don’t keep teams out of the paint. They do, however, allow teams to shoot the ball really well, especially from deep. The next time New Orleans defends the corner three might be the first.
Even with the Pelicans only 3.5 games out of first place, nothing feels right about the team. Davis has put up MVP-type numbers on plenty of nights, but he has also been noticeably disengaged on defense at times.
On its own, it might be overlooked. Not now. Not with Davis’ long-term future still a question mark.
The ongoing paranoia regarding Davis’ contract extension and/or him being traded still hasn’t reached its crescendo, while the pleadings for Dell Demps to make a move to improve his supporting have never been louder.
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) November 24, 2018
Interestingly enough, Saturday night the Pelicans completed their winless three-game road trip in the nation’s capitol against the Washington Wizards.
Before the game began, as the players lined up to face each other, you could see the Pelicans staring into the franchise’s worst case scenario.
The Wizards are an immensely talented team. However, even with six top-five draft picks, a combined 14 all-star games, nine All-NBA selections, and six All-Defense team appearances on its troster, Washington isn’t battling for playoff position in the lukewarm Eastern Conference.
Instead, the Wizards are battling to keep themselves from being the NBA’s biggest disappointment.
Since drafting John Wall with the number one pick of the 2010 draft, Washington has reached the postseason four times and has never won more than 49 games in a season or make it past the second round. Their overall record since the 2010-11 season is 302-347 (.465).
Today, the Wizards have one of the most bloated payrolls in the league. They’ve tried to get better through trades, free agency, and by holding on to draft picks, but Ernie Grunfeld has been unable to find the right mix. Now it seems that mix is causing an implosion.
Story on ESPN: Wizards signaling a willingness to consider trade overtures on entire roster, including All-Star guards John Wall and Bradley Beal. https://t.co/LM7PiQvweB
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) November 19, 2018
Enter the Pelicans.
Rumors continue to circulate about the Pelicans shaking up their lineup with a major trade. No team has been connected to New Orleans more than the Wizards.
Pelicans need to trade for John Wall. Hopefully a deal without Niko or Randle but ya know do what ya have to do.
— ⚜Logan Graffia⚜ (@thesoulman57) November 24, 2018
4 Teams That Should Trade for Bradley Beal
— NBART (@RetweetNBA) November 24, 2018
The Pelicans are in the place that the Wizards occupied just a couple of years ago, approaching a crossroad.
Is it wiser to swing for the fences now, by going after some combination of Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubré, Tomas Satoransky and Marcus Morris, or retain the current core and build around the edges of the roster with less expensive options?
If Davis were to leave, would Holiday, Randle or Mirotić plus one of the aforementioned Wizards be enough to keep the Pelicans in the hunt?
Would bringing on Wall, Beal or Porter be worth potentially leaving the team hamstrung financially for years to come?
Each of those questions are above the pay grade of the media or the fans. That won’t stop the speculation or quiet the chatter.
Only wins can do that. The Pelicans could use a few. Tonight, at home against the Boston Celtics would be a great place to start.
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David Grubb has more than a decade of experience in the sports industry. He began his career with KLAX-TV in Alexandria, La. and followed that up with a stint as an reporter and anchor with WGGB-TV in Springfield, Mass. After spending a few years away from the industry, David worked as sports information director for Southern University at New Orleans…