Pelicans impressive during 5-0 preseason start
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
“Pelicans have looked great this preseason, and now here comes Eric Gordon looking like All-Star Eric Gordon. Start paying attention, folks.” – From the popular Twitter account @NBAGuru (105,000+ followers) on Thursday night
There are few things less predictive of regular-season success than preseason records, so it would be a stretch to say that the New Orleans Pelicans’ 5-0 mark is a tell-tale sign of how they’ll fare in 2013-14. Still, anyone who’s gotten a chance to watch the Pelicans during preseason can’t help but be excited by this team’s intriguing potential. Including Pelicans players themselves.
Compared to a 2012-13 season in which New Orleans often struggled to put up 90 points – failing to do so 30 times last season – the initial handful of preseason games have served as a stark contrast. The Pelicans are averaging 103.8 points, having scored at least 94 points in each game. A team that also had difficulty closing games – the then-Hornets were 8-18 in games decided by five points or less in ’12-13 – has won games by margins of one, two, three and four points.
Even setting aside the perfect-so-far, bottom-line results of New Orleans’ preseason, the way the Pelicans have looked, particularly on the offensive end, has begun to garner notice around the league. Second-year power forward Anthony Davis has been so effective that, by his standards, an 18-point, six-rebound, two-block outing vs. Oklahoma City rated as his least productive game of preseason. Feeding off each other’s ability to draw defensive attention, the Pelicans are repeatedly creating open looks from the perimeter, no small reason why they’re shooting a sizzling 44.9 percent on three-pointers. Brian Roberts (5-for-8), Anthony Morrow (7-for-14) and Jrue Holiday (6-for-12) have made at least half of their long-distance attempts, making Ryan Anderson (9-for-23) a straggler by comparison at “only” 39 percent.
Keep in mind that New Orleans has done this without two of their projected leading scorers, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans, for all but one game apiece. Gordon scored 21 points in 21 minutes during his preseason debut Thursday vs. OKC. Evans was only on the floor for 10 minutes at Houston on Oct. 5 prior to severely spraining his left ankle, but managed to score seven points in that abbreviated spell. Evans is hoping to join Gordon in returning to action soon, which will add a career 17.5 points per game scorer to a lineup that is already teeming with options.
“I don’t know where you want to start,” Holiday said while glancing around the locker room Thursday at his new teammates. “I guess you can start with (Anthony Davis), then Ryan (Anderson) coming in doing his thing off the bench, Eric coming back tonight. Once Tyreke comes back, it’s like firepower from everywhere.”
It’s no exaggeration to say that every Pelicans player who's been on the floor for significant minutes has shown encouraging signs. Starting small forward Al-Farouq Aminu’s improved outside shot is reflected in his 55.6 field-goal percentage. Reserve guard Austin Rivers looks like a better player and along with Roberts has delivered big plays in fourth quarters, including seven points late vs. Oklahoma City.
Beginning Saturday vs. Washington, the Pelicans still have three more preseason games to play – and everyone starts back at 0-0 when the NBA regular season opens Oct. 29. Still, given the Pelicans’ surprising-to-many depth, several opposing-team media members have commented that they’re now convinced New Orleans can beat out several hopefuls for a 2014 West playoff berth. Sure, it’s only preseason, but that’s how impressive the Pelicans have been in October.