The New-Look New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans were certainly the story of All-Star weekend, and not just because they hosted the event and Anthony Davis went off for a record 52 points in last night’s defensively-challenged display. The Pelicans made the league’s big move off the court as well, acquiring Demarcus Cousins from Sacramento in exchange for a modest package highlighted by rookie shooter Buddy Hield. Talk in the media was alive this morning that the Pelicans are on their way to the playoffs and even that Golden State needs to be concerned about a potential 1 vs. 8 matchup in the first round.
I won’t engage the final point, which is more than a little silly—a healthy Warriors team is clearly not going to lose a best-of-seven series to the Pelicans or even come close to it. But the sentiment behind the enthusiasm is worthy of discussion—namely, will this New Orleans team turn into a moneymaker now that Cousins is on board? Will they improve on their 27-29-21 ATS mark? Will they make up the 2½ game margin currently between them and the Western Conference’s final playoff berth. And could they be the kind of feisty 8-seed that manages to pull off one outright win and a couple other close ATS covers, thereby becoming profitable in the playoffs?
Let’s start by looking at what the Pelicans have been without Cousins. They play at one of the faster paces in the league, something that’s managed to make them look better offensively and worse defensively than they really are. If you focus on efficiency, which measures production a per-possession basis, New Orleans has one of the NBA’s most inefficient offenses, while having its eighth-best defense. The latter is largely due to Davis’ exceptional ability as a shotblocker.
Offensively, the problems are a lack of three-point shooting—nobody on the roster hits 40 percent from behind the arc, and a one-and-done attack. The Pelicans are the second-worst rebounding team in the league and that comes exclusively on the offensive side. They actually do a nice job closing out defensive possessions, but the ability to get second shots has been a big problem.
Another part of the efficiency problem on offense deals with point guard Jrue Holiday’s tendency to turn the ball over. It’s something he does a little more than three times per game and in the bottom ten of the NBA. That’s not the end of the world—James Harden, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook are also in the bottom ten. Holiday is more of a poor man’s John Wall. For the most part that’s a compliment, but it has its down side.
Enter Cousins. He can have the most immediate impact by rebounding and getting after the offensive glass. He averages two offensive rebounds per game—not awful, but not a game-changer. He’s also a part of the bottom ten in turnovers. There’s no question he can score and he can rebound, but it bears wondering if he’ll be able to really fix this team’s biggest problems—and given his past problems with coaches, if he won’t become the biggest problem.
In fairness to Cousins, he’s been in a horrid organization and situation for his entire career. I want to see how this develops, particularly a game this Sunday at Oklahoma City. It’s the kind of game New Orleans needs to win if they’re going to make the playoffs and be a moneymaker down the stretch.