- The Pelicans have Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and a solid coach in Alvin Gentry. So why are they still one of the NBA's toughest teams to predict? Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver discuss on the Open Floor podcast.
The Western Conference is set to be as competitive as its ever been this year, with the Warriors, Rockets, Thunder and Lakers all led by superstars with NBA Finals hopes. Where does that land teams like the Pelicans? Like the aforementioned teams, they have a star in Anthony Davis, but the team around him is not quite as strong.
With that in mind, Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver of the Open Floor podcast discuss the future of the Pelicans, discussing the ceiling of Davis, health and consistency of Jrue Holiday and absence of DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo.
(Listen to the latest Open Floor Podcast here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Andrew Sharp: First we have Kane who says, "What team would you guys call hardest to predict next season? I think the Pelicans have an interesting case. Sure, Anthony Davis is a superstar, but are we counting on anyone around him for sure? Jrue Holiday is great at times and similar things can be said for Nicola Mirotic and Julius Randle. It could go great, but it could also go very wrong." And, Ben, I agree with this wholeheartedly. I'm curious for your read on the Pelicans as we sit here in mid-August.
Ben Golliver: Well, another pairing that worked just great together. I mentioned the Millsap-Jokic pairing. The Mirotic-Davis pairing was phenomenal down the stretch. Those two guys really just made for a great frontcourt tandem, and I think Randle potentially brings a new element into the mix as well. Mirotic and Davis actually played more effectively together than DeMarcus Cousins and Davis did if you look at the on/off numbers, which might be surprising to some people, but it also makes some level of sense, given that Mirotic doesn't need the ball, that he doesn't commit as many turnovers, that he can space the court, that he plays hard and rebounds well and does some of the little things.
So I think it all basically comes down to Holiday, and that's why they're going to be in this category every single year. If Holiday gives you a really good season and plays like a star and plays like a guy who's a top 30 player like he did during the playoffs, they should be awesome. That should be enough to sort of carry them through in the playoffs. If he doesn't or if he misses time or something else goes sideways, then they're going to be a very, very different team regardless of how well Davis plays or regardless of how well those frontcourt pieces fit.
So that's not all Holiday's fault, by the way, it's because of their other personnel; it just turns over so quickly in that backcourt. They're just constantly shuffling through reserve guards and guys who are sort of on the fringes of the NBA and not major contributors. It puts a lot of pressure on Holiday to basically play as well as he did down the stretch of last season to keep them afloat.
Sharp: That's my one worry with them. I just don't really understand, because they've spent a couple years trying to get the formula right with Jrue Holiday. And watching him be unleashed down the stretch last season, and obviously in the playoffs playing next to Rondo and playing kind of more of a two-guard role, I don't understand why they would turn around from them and say we're going to go replace Rondo with a cheaper version of him who has all the same weakness but none of the strengths in Elfrid Payton.
I wouldn't have rocked the boat. I would've brought back Rondo on the money they had earmarked for Boogie, and instead they got kind of a poor man’s Rondo and a poor man’s Boogie in Julius Randle. So to me those are red flags. Having said that, thinking through how next season is going to play and various MVP candidates, you could make a good case that Anthony Davis is the best player on the planet right now, and certainly through the first couple weeks of the playoffs last year he looked that way.
Golliver: Tone it down, come on.
Sharp: Look, he was incredible. There's a chance that he just plays out of this world and they win 54 games or 55 games and the Pelicans are fine, but there's enough red flags down there where I kind of expect them to regress, and if I were looking at a group of likely playoff teams in the West and looking for the one outlier who could fall out it would probably be New Orleans.
Golliver: You can very easily talk me into Anthony Davis as an MVP candidate, but don't tell me he's a better basketball player than LeBron James and Kevin Durant and your guy, 30, Steph Curry. Come on, Andrew.
Sharp: Well, look, this is dangerous because you've been doing this shadow boxing with Rob Mahoney talking about the best players in the world for the last three weeks, so I'm not as passionate as you are here. I'm just saying that the ceiling of Anthony Davis is as high as anyone in the league, and the best Anthony Davis game is just as good as the best LeBron game right now. That's my take.
Golliver: I don't know if that's true. I hate to do this because we're transferring the knot from Chris Paul to Anthony Davis, but let's see Anthon Davis make a conference finals and play his best game on the NBA's highest level before we start granting him thrones that belong to LeBron James, KD and Steph Curry.
Sharp: I'm not even sure I agree with all of these, but it's a conversation, OK.
Golliver: I think the conversation you're trying to get at is he could easily be the MVP this season. If you're going to be for someone besides LeBron to win the MVP, to me it's probably doing to be AD or Giannis. They're kind of next in line.
Sharp: I agree, and I also think about it like this: If you put Anthony Davis on that Lakers team with those young guys around him, whether it's Ingram—still not a huge Lonzo Ball guy—but if you gave him some of those pieces, I think that he could take that team fairly far and get them right around 50 wins. We just haven't seen him in a great basketball situation except for like the final three to four months of last year's Pelicans season. And when he had that team around him, they were great and had they not run into the Warriors they might have been able to push their way to the conference finals. The context with Anthony Davis makes it hard to gauge how great he is, because everyone else who's on his level is surrounded by other superstars and he's never had anything close.
Golliver: It's amazing to me how you find new ways to diss the Rockets left and right. They were not going to get through the Rockets in the Western Conference playoffs. Come on, Andrew. To answer your question on Rondo vs. Elfrid Payton, the Pelicans are banking on the fact that their success down the stretch was finding the right pace and style to put Davis in position to succeed and just letting him feast night after night, and banking that they can continue playing that way next season with or without Rondo because the most important aspects of it were pace and beating teams up and down the court, keeping the ball movement and you just basically don't stop and play this breakneck style. All of the guys that they've got, whether it's Mirotic and now Julius Randle, are going to fit that style. They should, anyway.
They're basically hoping that Rondo was getting too much share of the credit for last year's success and sort of replacing him with a guy who only has to run the ball up the court in Payton and never shoot and never do anything else and throw lobs to Davis and let him go up and finish all these incredible slam dunks and put backs around the rim. They're banking that that'll be a fairly simple task for a guy like Payton to fill in. We'll see.
I think it's a reasonable bet to be making because there was no doubt to me that Davis was driving that frenetic push down the stretch, and there was also no question to me that they finally found the right way to utilize him after like five or six years searching for it. I think Alvin Gentry's going to be able to survive as a coach. I think if I had to bet on it, the Pelicans will make the playoffs next season. But in terms of building on last year's success, I don't really see that. I think they're going to be a good team but a great team.
Sharp: And what I would say is they're scary to bet against but they're scary to bet on. So I would agree with your initial question, Kane. They are difficult to predict.