Questions arise as Pelicans limp home from rough road trip
When we looked at the New Orleans Pelicans schedule prior to the start of the season, the sight of a five-game road trip after five home games to open the season was ominous.
It was clear that New Orleans needed to get off to a good start, defined by winning four of the five home games to open the season.
They accomplished that feat. Then came the deluge of injuries.
Anthony Davis went down with an damaged elbow. Elfrid Payton remains out with an ankle problem. Darius Miller was out as well.
On a team that lacks real depth, this was simply too much to overcome against five good teams, all of whom were playoff teams a year ago, all of whom figure to be playoff teams again this season.
The result was predictable.
After a 4-0 start and getting love nationally, the Pelicans have disappeared from national radar and faded back into the shadows locally.
LSU was 7-1, third in the playoff rankings and was playing Alabama. The Saints have now won seven straight games and are considered by many to be the best team in the NFL. Tulane won back-to-back road games. The high school football playoff brackets were released and the second season begins this weekend.
For the Pelicans to garner real interest and attention prior to January, they have to be relevant. The translation of that is they have to win.
With six straight losses, New Orleans is now tied for 10th in the deep, competitive Western conference.
One thing is clear—you cannot dig yourself too deep of a hole and expect to make the playoffs.
Since returning from his elbow injury, Davis has been a mere mortal, posing decent numbers but nowhere near the superstar numbers he opened the season with and nowhere the numbers needed for this Pelicans team to win.
Clearly, his elbow is bothering him.
In his last four games, Davis has averaged a mere 18 points and 10.5 rebounds, good numbers for most players but not for an MVP candidate. More concerning is the fact that he has gone just 24-of-68 (35%) from the field in those four games. There is no way New Orleans can win with these numbers.
Julius Randle has been consistently good off the bench with his bully-brand of hoops. He is a strong young man who can play.
Jrue Holiday has had to step in at point guard to carry the weight for Payton and has done an admirable job. Of course, he flourished off the ball last season in a breakout season.
E’Twaun Moore was quiet at Oklahoma City but he remains a solid player.
Niko Mirotic is eighth in the league in rebounding at 11.4 boards per game while averaging 21.8 points per game. You cannot ask for more out of him, though he is just 9-for-35 (26%) from 3-point range in his five games
Payton was playing well before getting hurt. He could return as early as this weekend. He is sorely missed on a team that lacks true depth.
Ian Clark is averaging 5.8 points per game. Miller is at four points per contest.
Vastly overpaid Solomon Hill has played himself out of the rotation, at least for now. He is nearly invisible when on the floor and completely ineffective, shooting under 28 percent from the field while averaging 2.8 points per game despite averaging nearly 18 minutes per game.
Wesley Johnson has gotten a pair of starts with little moving of the needle. He likely gets more shots because he has some length and can shoot the corner 3-pointer.
Cheick Diallo is getting some minutes of late after several DNP’s.
Jahlil Okafor has played in six games and is averaging five points and three rebounds.
Tim Frazier has gotten a couple of starts but has not been effective at all.
Frank Jackson looked promising in consecutive games against Utah and Denver but has disappeared of late.
While injuries have been the biggest contributor to the losing streak, thee bench remains a huge concern for the Pelicans.
Randle is a stud but New Orleans whiffed on getting a veteran point guard to spell Payton or push him. Jarrett Jack was signed but did not make the team. Jackson does not look like a point guard and Clark is not a point guard.
Turnovers have a been a huge issue of late as well.
Then, there is the defense.
The Pelicans want to play fast and they should. That is great.
They should want to defend as well. They do not.
New Orleans is allowing 120.7 points per game, tied for the most in the league with Washington. While the Pelicans are fifth in the league, averaging 118.6 points per contest, they are ranked 27th in defensive rating metrics in the league.
To put it in perspective, the bottom 10 teams in points allowed (Detroit, Phoenix, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Minnesota, Sacramento, L.A. Lakers, Atlanta, Washington, New Orleans) all have losing records with the exception of the Kings (6-4). If you cannot at least slow teams down a bit, you cannot win.
With three games at home this week, New Orleans must get back on track against Chicago on Wednesday and Phoenix on Saturday. The Bulls and Suns are no good, a combined 5-15 overall.
Then comes a game against an elite team in Toronto (10-1) on Monday. New Orleans will have to raise his level of play dramatically to have a chance to beat the Raptors.
To get back on track, the Pelicans must reduce turnovers, get some level of bench productivity beyond Randle, get Davis back to full health and being Davis and get Payton back on the floor. Those are the answers to the questions surrounding this team. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…