Enemy Lines: A rival scout sizes up the Pelicans
2012-13 Record: 27-55
Coach: Monty Williams (fourth season with Pelicans)
Cracking the top eight in the Western Conference will be hard, but the Pelicans are one team that could do it. They have to stay healthy and get a lot out of Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon. They're one of those teams that could have a great year if everything falls into place.
Anthony Davis is a budding superstar. He reminds me of Tim Duncan. He's that same kind of calm leader. He's not one of those Hollywood guys. There's nothing spectacular to him, but he does everything: He has unbelievable hands and great length, he can pass and shoot, he blocks shots and rebounds. He's getting that little extra confidence to where he can take over the game.
Davis could be a once-in-a-generation player. He won't lead the league in scoring, but he has that kind of ability. He has to develop more of a back-to-the-basket game to go with his mid-range shooting. By next year, you'll see: When they're down by one with 10 seconds left, he's going to get the ball -- and he's going to get it every time.
He's stronger than he looks. He'll never have Kevin Garnett's fire, but he can be that kind of defensive leader because he is so unselfish. It's going to take him a couple of more years to know everything that Garnett does.
Gordon doesn't have to be an All-Star this year, but he needs to play 70-80 games and take some of the scoring pressure off Davis to give them a chance at the playoffs. He can shoot it well, but he also has great size, and you can give him the ball in pick-and-roll or isolation and he'll get a shot off. He's so strong that when he gets the edge on a guy, he can finish inside.
It was a hard thing for the Pelicans last year when Gordon was playing just about every other game as their go-to guy. There were so many times late in the game when it just wasn't flowing for them. They have to be worried that it's been so long since he's been able to play every day.
Holiday is the biggest question mark because he was so bad at the end of last year. For the Pelicans' sake, you hope that Philadelphia overreacted by trading him. Is that negative trend going to continue with the poor shooting and turnovers? Is he capable of being the third option offensively and getting the ball to Gordon and Davis? Is he going to struggle to get them into their sets because he's hunting for his own shot? Holiday needs to show that he is capable of being a point guard. Maybe getting traded sends a shock wave that helps him.
Tyreke Evans is better than Al-Farouq Aminu, who was starting at the 3 last year but just isn't good enough. At the same time, the Pelicans will be better off if they're able to bring Evans off the bench, which was the preseason plan. He could be a huge piece going against second units because he's so much stronger than those guys. As a sixth man, he could play both the 2 and 3. If they're smart they'll play him off the ball, and then later on, if things work out, he can play some at the point. The problem is that he's an inconsistent shooter and he doesn't have a great feel. He's a driver who can finish strong.
Evans will have less pressure on him now that he's out of Sacramento. The situation there had a lot to do with the setbacks in his development. It was bad for everybody there.
The hard part of this for them will be finding their rotation because they're loaded at the 2 and the 3 off the bench. Coach Monty Williams also has to find minutes for Anthony Morrow and Austin Rivers.
Brian Roberts had a good run last year, and I would think he'll be their backup at the point. Another option would be to go with Rivers; the hard part is he's similar to Evans and both will be coming off the bench.
Morrow's strength is simple: He makes shots. He could be the odd man out if Rivers and Evans both play great along with Roberts. The problem with depending on Morrow too much is that he is a major liability defensively.
Ryan Anderson is awesome in his role coming off the bench. Every team in the league would love to have him. It's a big advantage to bring him off the bench because he stretches the floor so much with his three-point shooting, which is going to give room for Rivers and Evans and those other guys to work. He's an excellent offensive rebounder, but he needs to improve on defense.
I love Jason Smith, but he has a problem staying healthy. He and Anderson are a pretty good duo off the bench. Smith makes mid-range shots and hustles his butt off.
They won't be record breakers at the defensive end, but I don't think they'll be terrible. Davis is going to help them be good. Greg Stiemsma is a pretty solid defender at center. Holiday can get up and pressure and do a decent job.
I don't think Davis will start at center. Maybe there aren't as many big centers anymore, but there's still enough of them that he can't be guarding those guys to start the game. They can start Stiemsma, play him six minutes and then bring in Anderson to play with Davis. And then Smith comes in when those other guys need a break. But in the end, Davis and Anderson will be the big-man combination that gets them through most games.