New Orleans Pelicans midseason review (1/23/14)

by Jim Eichenhofer

Anthony Davis and Roy Hibbert vie for the ball during the first-ever Pelicans opening tip-off Oct. 30 in New Orleans

New Orleans Pelicans midseason review

By: Jim Eichenhofer,, @Jim_Eichenhofer

Exactly halfway through the New Orleans Pelicans’ 2013-14 season, here’s a look back at some of the highs and lows so far:
Despite injuries that have kept both players off the floor for stretches of games, the team’s two leading scorers, Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson, played fantastic basketball during the first half of the season. Davis is a likely All-Star pick, as well as a candidate for Most Improved Player (and Defensive Player of the Year?). At just 20, Davis cemented himself as one of the NBA’s brightest young stars, making an enormous leap in production that has confirmed why there was a staggering amount of pre-draft anticipation surrounding the No. 1 overall pick of 2012. Meanwhile, after an offseason of unimaginable personal tragedy, Anderson was a major catalyst in helping New Orleans rebound from a slow start to the season without him, and briefly climb over the .500 mark in December. In his second season with the franchise, the forward reached another level of production, averaging a career high in scoring and again ranking among the league leaders in three-point and free-throw percentage.

In hindsight, it was a bad omen for the Pelicans when in the first half of the team’s very first preseason game, Tyreke Evans had to be helped off the court in Houston with a severely sprained left ankle. Just days before the regular season opener, Anderson too was ruled out of action and ended up missing the first nine games (the Pelicans started 2013-14 at 3-6). Davis broke his left hand during a Dec. 1 game at New York; Evans has been out for intermittent stretches with the same ankle injury; Jrue Holiday sustained a stress fracture in his right tibia and is out indefinitely; Jason Smith is also out indefinitely with a knee injury. In the most traumatic of the team’s injuries, on Jan. 3 in Boston, Anderson took the brunt of an accidental collision with Gerald Wallace, which forced Anderson to leave the TD Garden on a stretcher. The injury may be a season-ender for Anderson, who had been playing some of the best basketball of his career. Add it all up, and the Pelicans have barely seen the five-man unit of Davis, Anderson, Evans, Holiday and Eric Gordon on the floor together. The high-powered quintet was an exciting watch in the all-too-brief stretches it was intact.

The first Pelicans season likely will be most remembered as a breakthrough one for Davis, who leads New Orleans in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots. He’s also second on the club in steals. The Chicago native has impressed opposing coaches and players not just with his rare natural ability, but also with the fact that he worked diligently to improve in the summer. In one offseason, Davis added muscle to his frame, improved his outside shot, added to his offensive arsenal and improved his conditioning in comparison to his rookie season. It’s frightening to think how good Davis can become if he continues to apply the same work ethic to his game.

The game of basketball has endless statistical measures to assess a player’s value to his team, but Anderson’s impact on the 2013-14 Pelicans can be summed up with an exceptionally simple one: New Orleans went 12-10 when he played, but is just 4-15 when he’s been out of action. Sure, there have been other factors (and unfortunately, other key injuries), but the sharpshooter has often seemed indispensable on a team that needs the floor spacing he provides. On Dec. 1-2, Anderson had his finest two-game stretch as a pro, scoring 31 and 36 points in road victories at New York and Chicago.

In Anderson’s season debut vs. Philadelphia on Nov. 16, the Pelicans racked up 135 points in a 37-point rout of the 76ers. Everything clicked for New Orleans, which had eight players reach double figures in scoring and shot 61 percent. Perhaps not coincidentally, the first time the Pelicans had their five best scorers in uniform at the same time, the result was one of the best offensive performances by any NBA team in 2013-14.

An instant classic Dec. 2 in Chicago had everything: Three overtime periods, 259 total points, countless clutch baskets by both teams and finally, a game-winning three-point play by Holiday on a daring drive to the rim into and over Bulls defender Taj Gibson. New Orleans prevailed 131-128 over Chicago, behind marathon performances by Anderson (time on the floor: 56 minutes, 30 seconds) and Holiday (49:12).