Last year, the New Orleans Pelicans were plagued by injuries and stumbled to a 34-48 record, good for 12th place in the Western Conference. Despite the team's struggles, shooting guard Eric Gordon sees the Pelicans as a "for sure" playoff team, if everyone's healthy.
Gordon told Basketball Insiders, "We never got a chance to play a full season together. We know we’re a very talented team and [have] a lot of talented individuals, but we just have to put it together and have a good healthy season... If we’re healthy, we’re for sure a playoff team. It’s all about us getting together and playing because the West is tough. We know that and realize that. It’s all about having a full season together."
Gordon has been one of New Orleans' most frequently injured players since signing a four-year, $58 million deal with the team in the summer of 2012. Last season, he missed 18 games, and in the two prior seasons combined, he managed to play in just 51 games.
All-Star forward Anthony Davis missed 15 games last season, though he did lead the NBA in blocks, with 2.8 per game.
Sharp-shooting forward Ryan Anderson missed 60 games after sustaining a serious neck injury that required surgery. Before he was injured on Jan. 3, Anderson was averaging 19.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game on 40.9 percent three-point shooting.
Last summer, the Pelicans traded two first-round draft picks for 76ers former All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday, who played in just 34 games for his new team. Holiday went down shortly after Anderson with a stress fracture in his right leg, and didn't play after Jan. 8. The picks New Orleans gave up were used to draft Nerlens Noel and Dario Saric.
In the summer of 2013, New Orleans also signed former Sacramento Kings guard and top-five draft pick Tyreke Evans to a four-year, $44 million deal. Evans was the healthiest of the group, but he still missed 10 games with various ailments, including knee and rib injuries. In the 72 games he did play, Evans averaged 14.5 points, 5.0 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game.
Forward Jason Smith, who signed with the New York Knicks this offseason, played in just 31 games. The Pelicans traded for Houston Rockets center Omer Asik this offseason to replace some of Smith's minutes at center.
Though the Pelicans rarely fielded their full roster, Gordon may have a reason to be optimistic. When they shared the floor, the Holiday-Gordon-Evans-Davis-Anderson lineup scored 123.5 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. The Los Angeles Clippers, who led the NBA in that category, scored 109.4 points per 100 possessions as a team. That lineup for the Pelicans was the 7th-most efficient offensive combo in the league, and of the six five-man groups ahead of them, only the Phoenix Suns unit of Goran Dragic-Channing Frye-Gerald Green-Markieff Morris-Marcus Morris logged more minutes.
New Orleans does face an uphill battle to make the playoffs in the West. The eight-seed Dallas Mavericks were 49-33, 15 wins better than the Pelicans.
- Alex Hampl