It took more than three quarters of the season, for better or for worse, but I am finally conceding my hopes of the Pelicans making the playoffs. I know that I am likely a couple of months late to the party, but I have officially seen enough to draw the line.
The Pelicans dropped back to back games on Friday and Saturday to the Memphis Grizzlies (121-114) and the Milwaukee Bucks (103-92), dropping their record to 24-41. The way they have been playing, they simply do not deserve to be a playoff team. Injuries have been a story all season long, and that certainly has not helped matters, but looking back on that does nothing in the standings.Mar 12, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) takes a shot against Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) in the first quarter at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
It is no coincidence that I have jumped ship this weekend, with the NCAA Division I conference tournaments taking place and the 68 team bracket being filled up. Before Friday night, I had only watched two college games this season: Yale vs. Duke on November 25th and the Kansas-Oklahoma triple overtime thriller back on January 4th.
Maybe it was fate that I was able to watch two potential Pelicans draft picks in Duke’s Brandon Ingram and Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield.
If drafting a sure-fire difference maker was easy, NBA GMs would never lose their jobs. But any fan that has watched a few games this season knows that the Pelicans are in dire need of an impact player, regardless of where they end up in the draft.
The Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday duo continues to impress despite the team’s overall shortcomings. In the overtime loss to Memphis they combined for 59 points, 34 of which came from Holiday.
The only time this season that Holiday scored more? The game before on Wednesday against the Hornets, where he dropped 38.
I don’t think there is any question that he and Davis are capable of being a 1-2 punch for a successful NBA team. It is the pieces around them that have yet to fall into place.Oct 23, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) shakes hands with guard Jrue Holiday (11) during the fourth quarter against the Miami Heat at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans won 93-90. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Omer Asik, Tyreke Evans, Alexis Ajinca, Dante Cunningham and Alexis Ajinca are all under contract for next season. While each of these players has a place in this league, none of them scream, or even whimper, third option on a solid NBA team.
While expecting a rookie to step into that role by next season may be unfair, there are a handful of players who have the potential to do so within a couple of seasons. Winning the lottery would substantially increase the odds of landing a “sure thing”, but even at the sixth spot, where the Pelicans currently stand, there are some names to be had.
As I have mentioned, my knowledge of this draft class is lacking. But that has not stopped me from clicking my way through the NBA Lottery Mock Draft on ESPN.com, an experience that has helped guide the early stages of my research.
If it feels like New Orleans has not had a difference maker on the wing in a long time, it’s because they haven’t. Trevor Ariza underperformed for a few seasons, and Al-Farouq Aminu was just as if not more unreliable.
Tyreke Evans never really had a chance to become a reliable threat at the three, and Alonzo Gee and Luke Babbitt are too one dimensional to be fundamental building blocks.Mar 5, 2016; Lexington, KY, USA; LSU Tigers forward Ben Simmons (25) dribbles the ball against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second half at Rupp Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram, who are likely to go 1 and 2 in the draft, are both 6′ 10″ but bring a rare athleticism and versatility with their large frames.
Buddy Hield projects to play shooting guard in the NBA at 6′ 4″, but the likely departure of Eric Gordon opens up a lot of minutes their as well.
I cannot yet say who I would like to have most, but there are at the very least options to choose from among the top prospects, something the Pelicans have not been able to experience in the last couple of seasons.
Now that I am tossing the stress of a playoff race out the window, I can watch Holiday and Davis continue to improve, watch some potential Pelicans in March Madness, and ultimately, just enjoy watching basketball.
The Pelicans season may be all but over, but the best of the basketball season has just begun…..