A long time ago in a parish far, far away, New Orleans had a good basketball team. In those days, Oprah was set to air her final show, Justin Bieber's 'Baby' was blowing up the airwaves, and Barack Obama was president. Oh, how time flies.
Okay, so maybe it wasn't as far in the past as I thought, but three years is a pretty long time in basketball years. By my calculations, one human year is equivalent to about 30 basketball years (at least that's how my summer felt being a Spurs fan). Fortunately for New Orleans, their wait to return to relevancy might be over.
The New Orleans (insert name change joke here) Pelicans
Prediction: The Pelicans will make it to the playoffs this season.
Barring any major injuries (which certainly isn't out of question with Eric Gordon on your team), I honestly don't see how this is even a bold prediction. Of course, as I type this Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans are both out for most of, if not the entire preseason. However, everyone should be healthy going into the regular season and when healthy, this team is dangerous.
At the beginning of last season, I decided to start picking one dark horse every year that will surprise the NBA. For the 2012-13 season I picked the Warriors. The Pelicans should be this year's version of the 2012-13 Warriors, and they are even built quite similarly. Both teams rely on their guards a lot for offense (Curry-Thompson and Evans-Holiday-Gordon), have solid, young small forwards (Harrison Barnes and Al-Farouq Aminu), have battled injury problems, and have a former Spur on their roster (RJ and Lance Thomas). While New Orleans may lack the type of fantastic nicknames that Golden State has with Kent Bazemore (the Bazedgod), they make up for it with a big, scary unibrow.
What really sets the 2013 Pelicans apart from the 2012 Hornets is the bench. "But Peter," you may ask, "it's not like the Pelicans signed Air Bud or discovered a pair of Michael Jordan's electrically charged shoes this summer--how do you expect them to be any better than their 27-55 season just last season?" I can't disagree with the first part - Air Bud can straight up ball. However, it's not even mildly true that New Orleans hasn't improved. When healthy, their starting lineup last season was usually something along the lines of Al-Farouq Aminu, Anthony Davis, Robin Lopez, Eric Gordon, and Greivis Vasquez.
This season, their ideal starting lineup is Aminu, Davis, Greg Stiemsma, Eric Gordon and Jrue Holiday. Stiemsma may be a downgrade from Lopez, but Davis looks like he's improved since last season and Holiday is a significant upgrade over Vasquez. It's like comparing apples to--well, I don't know--it's kind of a strange comparison. All you need to know is that Holiday should be able to contribute a lot offensively to an attack that was pretty flat last season.
Now, that's just the starting lineup. What really sets the 2013 Pelicans apart from the 2012 Hornets in my mind is the bench. Aside from a few great games from Brian Roberts last season, Ryan Anderson was the primary and - often the only - offensive contributor off of the bench for New Orleans last season. With the additions of Tyreke and Anthony Morrow, a lot of pressure can be taken off of Anderson's shoulders when the bench is on the offensive side of the floor.
Then there's Austin Rivers. Believe me, I know how atrocious Austin Rivers has been. In his rookie season, he was better at knocking his own teammates out than knocking down his shots. It's amazing what a little time - and some confidence - can do. Rivers was able to dominate in high school, and occasionally in college, with some streaky shooting and his ability to easily beat his man off the dribble and get to the rim quickly. Growing pains were expected for Rivers, but nobody could have predicted his rookie season to be so horrendous; it was arguably the worst rookie season in the history of the NBA.
Rivers may be turning a corner in his second year, though. It appears as if he's finally found his confidence this offseason with some fantastic play in the summer league and a few preseason games. Granted these games mean little to nothing, but he is driving to the rim and making things happen now, which was something unimaginable just a few months ago.
Last season, the Pelicans had one of the least talented rosters I have ever seen. Monty Williams was able to work wonders with that team and push them all to their limits, and I see no reason why he can't do the same with a more talented group of players.
The only things that could hold this team back from a playoff spot are confidence and their unimpressive centers. Oh, and injuries.
Other Pelican Predictions:
- Ryan Anderson will win the three-point shooting contest this year.
- The Pelican's Brian Roberts, Baltimore Orioles' Brian Roberts, and CEO of Comcast Brian Roberts will have a Mexican standoff for the proper ownership of the name.
- Jason Smith will continue his ongoing saga with Blake Griffin.