Oct 7, 2013; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks center Brandan Wright (34) guards New Orleans Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis (23) during the first half at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Pelicans: A 2013-14 NBA Preview

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Throughout September and October, we’ll be examining all 30 teams in the NBA and previewing the 2013-14 season through the lens of each particular organization. I’ll be going through each team’s roster and expected outcome for the upcoming campaign in reverse order of predicted finish, starting with the worst team in the NBA. At the bottom of each preview there will be a table with each division that will link to already-completed previews.

After a second consecutive season with a win total short of 30, the New Orleans Pelicans had an aggressive off-season while gearing up to make a run at cracking the top-eight in the Western Conference and a potential playoff berth.

The Pelicans drafted University of Kentucky standout Nerlens Noel with the sixth overall pick this past June and immediately flipped him to the rebuilding Philadelphia 76ers for All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday. Just two days prior, New Orleans had traded their point guard from the previous season, Greivas Vasquez, to the Sacramento Kings as part of a three-team deal that netted the Pelicans combo guard Tyreke Evans.

In other words, after a flurry of moves over the course of a few days, the Pelicans swapped out Vasquez, Robin Lopez, Pierre Jackson, Terrel Harris, the pick that was Noel, and the team nickname “Hornets” for Holiday, Evans, and “Pelicans”. Probably an upgrade, but by how much?

It remains to be seen how Holiday, Evans, and the hopefully-healthy Eric Gordon will mesh in the back court. Throw in Al-Farouq Aminu, Anthony Morrow, and Austin Rivers, and the Pelicans have quite an intriguing rotation at guard and on the wings. Of course, the top three guards are all very scoring-minded, and the old “only one ball to go around” saying may be a legitimate issue down in New Orleans.

Holiday averaged 16.5 shots per game last year in Philadelphia, and while Evans’ shot volume has decreased over the course of his four years in the league, he still is known for his ability to put pressure on opposing defenders not through his passing, but through his scoring. And Gordon, with his career scoring average of 18 points per game, is obviously the best “pure scorer” of the three guards.

This brings up the question of why the Pelicans felt the need to move both Vasquez and Lopez for Evans, when the actual on-court upgrade is probably marginal? In theory, Evans should provide more value on the defensive end of the court, but he’s going to have to either a) play some small forward, or b) get used to a three-guard rotation.

The front court remains solid, with Anthony Davis poised to make a giant leap in his second year in the league, and Ryan Anderson nearly a perfect fit alongside him. The bench depth down low is the main weakness of this roster, beyond the overlapping skills in the back court. Jason Smith, Greg Stiemsma, and rookie Jeff Withey are the main backups to Davis and Anderson, so their health and durability will be a major storyline in the coming season.

The place where the Pelicans improved markedly is their less-noticed moves of the off-season. Picking up Anthony Morrow on the cheap and bringing back Aminu on a very reasonable $3.7 million one-year deal were very important depth moves, and Aminu’s defense on the wing will be crucial to shoring up an otherwise shaky perimeter defense.

Overall, this roster has improved. Assuming Davis enjoys better health than he did in his rookie season and Holiday can repeat on his success for the Sixers last year, this team should see improvement in the win column as well. Jelling in the back court, as well as health in the front court, are the main keys to the season. The exact total of wins and the Pelicans’ playoff chances rest largely on the shoulders of Davis, of course, and it will be exciting to see just how great of an improvement he’s able to make in his sophomore year.

Best Case Scenario

This is another one of those teams that is simply in the wrong conference. It wouldn’t be hard to slot the Pelicans in as the #6-8 seed in the Eastern Conference, but the West is simply too tough. Given the front court depth issues, 43-46 wins is probably the best we’d see out of New Orleans.

Worst Case Scenario

If Davis stays relatively healthy, this team really shouldn’t have too terrible of a worst-case. He’s a solid all-around player flanked by one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA in Anderson, and they have enough depth in the back court that this team really should remain solid at worst. It’s difficult to see the Pelicans winning any less than 34-37 games in 2013-14, barring major injury to Davis or Anderson.

Most Likely Outcome

The Pelicans should win a good chunk of their games against the Eastern Conference, but their division is absolutely brutal, with San Antonio, Memphis, and Houston all with their sights set on a title. Dallas shouldn’t be too terrible, either, and the Pelicans will have their hands full all season long with a tough schedule.

I think their lack of depth up front will catch up to them, and I definitely foresee some offensive kinks to work out in the early going with so many guards looking to score their own points. 41-44 wins is where New Orleans will end up, and they’ll have a chance to elbow their way into a playoff spot down the stretch, but I wouldn’t bet on them succeeding.

Atlantic

Central

Southeast

 Toronto Raptors (22) Cleveland Cavaliers (17) Washington Wizards (19)
 Boston Celtics (24)  Detroit Pistons (18)  Charlotte Bobcats (26)

Philadelphia 76ers (30)

 Milwaukee Bucks (20)  Orlando Magic (27)

Northwest

Pacific

Southwest

 Denver Nuggets (15)  Los Angeles Lakers (23)
 Portland Trail Blazers (16)  Sacramento Kings (25)  New Orleans Pelicans (14)

Utah Jazz (29)

Phoenix Suns (28)

 Dallas Mavericks (21)
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Tags: Anthony Davis Eric Gordon Jrue Holiday NBA New Orleans Hornets New Orleans Pelicans Ryan Anderson Tyreke Evans

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