Culture of Hoops

2013-14 NBA Season Preview: New Orleans Pelicans

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Most Important Player: Anthony Davis
Who is Anthony Davis? Will he be the too-skinny center who lacks range and footwork in the post (on offense and defense alike) we saw last year? Or will he be more like the transcendent, fast-break starting and finishing matchup terror we witnessed in Team USA’s summer mini-camp? This year should determine if he really has the makings of a franchise centerpiece.

X-Factor: Eric Gordon
We have reason enough to believe Jrue Holiday will remain an All-Star and Tyreke Evans will hold his own as a sixth man. If the New Orleans Pelicans make it to the postseason this year, it will be because Eric Gordon stayed healthy and grew as a 2-guard. Look for E.J. to reverse the trend of declining shooting percentages and rising turnover rates, swinging the ball around and picking shots wisely within the Pelicans’ stacked back court.

Rotations: We can expect to see a starting five featuring Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Anthony Davis and Jason Smith. This lineup will inevitably flatline offensively when teams give Aminu and Smith space in order to clog the paint and jump passing lanes (much like the Chicago Bulls did when the Brooklyn Nets started Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans in last season’s playoffs). Once this happens, the Pelicans will have plenty of offensive firepower coming off the bench. Look for the Pelicans to focus on a dribble-drive attack when they have Holiday, Gordon and Evans on the floor together. Austin Rivers, Anthony Morrow and Ryan Anderson should get substantial minutes as they come in and spread the floor with corner threes.

When the Smith-Davis frontcourt falters against big Western Conference foes like the Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies, reigning NCAA co-Defensive Player of the Year Jeff Withey and battle-tested big man Greg Stiemsma will come in to hold down the block.

What Needs to Go Right: The Pelicans core is built on players who thrive on the fast break. The problem is that the 2012-13 Hornets were dead last in steals and bottom-five in turnovers forced. Backcourt additions Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday are going to have to apply pressure to force turnovers and push the ball up the floor.

It’s Really Bad If: Eric Gordon forgets he’s not alone. Let’s just hope last season’s habit of forcing ugly, impatient shots goes away now that he has more options in the half-court offense.

Bold Prediction: The Pelicans sweep the season series against the Los Angeles Lakers, who don’t have the muscle to exploit the Pelicans’ unimpressive post D. The Lakers’ old legs will have trouble keeping up with the Pellies’ young studs.


Al-Farouq Aminu, SF
Strengths: Perimeter defense and rebounding.
Weaknesses: Middle-school-dance levels of awkwardness in half-court offense.
Season Prediction: Aminu loses his spot in the starting lineup to Tyreke Evans before All-Star Weekend.

Ryan Anderson, PF
Strengths: Made more threes than any other forward last season. Stretches the floor with corner threes.
Weaknesses: It’s uncomfortable to watch him play defense.
Season Prediction: After his third attempt in three years, Anderson will win the All-Star Weekend’s three-point shootout.

Anthony Davis, PF/C
Strengths: The Brow is a quicker and more capable ball-handler than any other big man in the league. Swats everything.
Weaknesses: Skinny. Not much of a post-up repertoire. Limited range. Often swats himself out of position defensively.
Season Prediction: Davis brings his scoring up from 13.5 to 17 points per game due to the 20-footer he’s been flexing this summer.

Tyreke Evans, SG/SF
Strengths: Filthy crossovers and frequent flashy finishes at the rim.
Weaknesses: Creating and exploiting opportunities for teammates.
Season Prediction: Evans will win the Sixth Man of the Year Award, thriving in his liberation from DeMarcus Cousins.

Eric Gordon, SG
Strengths: Great shooter and dribbler.
Weaknesses: Shoots and dribbles too much. Interrupts the flow of the offense.
Season Prediction: Look for Gordon’s shooting percentages to surpass his career bests from the Los Angeles Clippers days now that he, like Holiday, will be drawing less attention from the D.

Jrue Holiday, PG
Strengths: Great shot-creator with a quick first step.
Weaknesses: Doesn’t excel in pick-and-roll offense.
Season Prediction: Jrue will repeat as an All-Star and improve his shooting efficiency.

Darius Miller, SF
Strengths: Good all-around skill set with a knack for the three-pointer.
Weaknesses: Not quick enough to keep up with backdoor-cutting 2 guards.
Season Prediction: Miller will be getting more minutes than Aminu by the end of the season.

Anthony Morrow, SG/SF
Strengths: Expert marksman.
Weaknesses: His weakness is his weakness, which prevents him from getting closer shots and bumping players out of position on D.
Season Prediction: Morrow is more dependable off the bench than Rivers or Brian Roberts. He will get the most minutes of the three.

Arinze Onuaku, PF/C
Strengths: Tough, scrappy rebounder on both ends.
Weaknesses: Weighing in at a hefty 270 pounds, Onuaku will have trouble against lankier face-up forwards and centers.
Season Prediction: Onuaku will get splinters in his ass from his time on the bench.

Austin Rivers, SG
Strengths: Athleticism and the ability to get to the foul line.
Weaknesses: Shot 54% on free throws last season. Generally timid on offense.
Season Prediction: Rivers was stronger and more confident in the Summer League, averaging 18 points over five games. Then again, when was the last time you heard of someone who showed up to Summer League weaker and less confident? He will likely get buried deep on the bench. When the oft-injured Evans and Gordon miss a few games, Rivers will go off for 20+ points on multiple occasions.

Brian Roberts, PG
Strengths: Court vision and shooting. Roberts had an 18-assist game late last season and shot 39 percent from deep.
Weaknesses: Lacks the strength to fight through pick-and-rolls on defense.
Season Prediction: Though he will certainly improve from competing against the Pelicans’ influx of guards, Roberts will not play nearly as much as last year. He’ll find himself buried in the depth chart on a team that suddenly doesn’t dole out garbage minutes every other night.

Jason Smith, C
Strengths: Best post defender on the team.
Weaknesses: Everything else is as eye-catching as his name.
Season Prediction: Smith will retain his starting spot throughout the season due to the Pelicans’ glaring weakness in the defensive post. Smith will get used to setting plenty of off-ball screens on the weak side.

Greg Stiemsma, C
Strengths: Excellent shot-blocker—has averaged 3.2 blocks per 36 minutes in his first two years in the league.
Weaknesses: Not much versatility on offense.
Season Prediction: More of the same. Stiemsma could see increased minutes this year as the team’s best defender on the second unit.

Lance Thomas, PF
Strengths: Rebounds! Lots!
Weaknesses: Too skinny.
Season Prediction: Immensely bored by their lack of playing time, Thomas and Okuaku begin crocheting headbands and wristbands for their teammates.

Jeff Withey, C
Strengths: Elite shot-blocker in college. After four years at Kansas, he is one of the most polished big men from the 2013 draft.
Weaknesses: He will need to bulk up before he can tolerate the force of Zach Randolph’s ass in the post.
Season Prediction: He’ll be riding the pine in his first season, but should develop under the tutelage of Jason Smith and Greg Stiemsma.

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