ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: New Orleans Pelicans

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Last season: In their first year as the Pelicans, New Orleans spent big to bring in Tyreke Evans and traded for Jrue Holiday. On paper, they should have been a playoff team, with a deep backcourt and a franchise centerpiece in Anthony Davis who is rightly viewed as the heir to the LeBron/Durant “best player in the world/destroyer of the universe” mantle. But Holiday went down partway through the season with a knee injury, Ryan Anderson had back surgery, and Davis and Eric Gordon both missed some time. With that many injuries, their playoff hopes were doomed, and the Pelicans finished 34-48.

Signature highlight from last season: Davis got faked out by Deron Williams’ crossover and still recovered in time to block his shot and finish a fast-break dunk in about three seconds.

Key player changes: The Pelicans traded a bunch of non-guaranteed contracts for Omer Asik, finally giving them an actual center to put next to Davis. They also signed Jimmer Fredette and John Salmons, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Keys to the Pelicans’ season:

Will Davis take the next step defensively? The Brow is going to win multiple MVP awards during his career, and probably multiple Defensive Player of the Year awards too. Going into his third year and coming off a gold-medal run with Team USA in the FIBA World Cup, this should be the year he blows up. The addition of Asik will be huge for him on the defensive end, as Davis won’t have to guard centers anymore. He’s a shot-blocking monster, but he gets bullied by more physical big men. He’s bulked up this offseason. Hopefully that helps. Either way, he’s a terror.

Can everyone stay healthy? The Pelicans were done in by injuries last season, with Gordon, Holiday, Davis and Anderson all missing time. Their playoff hopes start and end with their most important players’ ability to stay on the floor. The health of Holiday and Gordon is especially important, because if they can’t play Evans at small forward, their starting three is John Salmons, which is…not ideal.

Is Monty Williams a good coach? If the Pelicans struggle early on, Williams is a good candidate to be one of the first coaches on the hot seat. The last few years, he’s had the cover of dealing with a badly injured roster, but there are real questions about his rotation management and X’s and O’s acumen.

Why you should watch the Pelicans: Again, Anthony Davis is pretty good at this. Here are some more highlights:

Prediction: 46-36. Assuming their injury luck isn’t as bad as it was last year, the Pelicans will at least be in the running for a playoff spot in the West. Whether they have enough to actually get there is a different discussion, and it’s hard to point to one team out of last year’s playoff crop that’s likely to fall out. But if Davis is as good as he’s going to be and everyone else stays relatively healthy, they’ve got a chance.