Pelicans social media Q and A: National analysts project New Orleans to reach playoffs

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

This week we solicited questions from fans on Pelicans Instagram, for a 19-minute video posted on the team’s official Facebook page, hosted by Cindy Robinson.

Time constraints did not allow us the chance to respond to all of the dozens of comments that were submitted, but here are several notable topics we didn’t have a chance to address during Wednesday’s Facebook Live session. The following are comments and questions from Instagram followers of the Pelicans’ official account. Check back for more of these bonus Q&A’s on Pelicans.com, prior to New Orleans opening training camp Sept. 25:

From @Stephen_2345, @alee_almale and nola.nirdek

Are the Pelicans going to the playoffs this year?

Most national observers are predicting that New Orleans will make the playoffs as a lower seed. For example, ESPN.com’s power rankings in July listed the Pelicans eighth in the Western Conference (No. 12 overall), just ahead of San Antonio and Minnesota. John Schuhmann of NBA.com picked New Orleans seventh in the West, projecting them between sixth-place Denver and the eighth-place Lakers. In other summer power rankings that were released over the past two months, SportingNews.com was the most optimistic, calling the Pelicans the fifth-best team in the West (behind Golden State, Houston, San Antonio and Utah, but just ahead of Oklahoma City and the Lakers).

What makes projecting the West standings so difficult is that as competitive as the conference was in recent years, this might be the deepest it has been throughout the 2010s. There are 10 teams that have good reason to be extremely disappointed if they miss the playoffs, but obviously only eight spots available. In addition, among the teams that did not contend for a postseason spot in 2017-18, squads like Memphis, Dallas and Phoenix could be significantly improved, based on a return to health by key players and/or major roster upgrades. Everything points to this being a fascinating regular season filled with compelling matchups in the West, featuring very few easy nights.

From @ryderboles2021, @hendoecutz, @clbutler12, @raif_long_3, @bjmaddox23, @votiskygabor, @trisztanszaraz, @dubzaviernation21, @stephen_edwards1

Has a starting lineup been determined by Alvin Gentry and the coaching staff?

There has been no indication yet if a starting five has been determined, or even if there will be a repeatable first unit that begins every game. Over the final stretch of the regular season and the playoffs, New Orleans went with Rajon Rondo, Jrue Holiday, E’Twaun Moore, Nikola Mirotic and Anthony Davis, but the Pelicans have since signed Julius Randle, who started 49 times in 82 appearances for the Lakers last season. The 6-foot-9, 250-pound four-year NBA veteran can play center or power forward. Rondo left in free agency, which opens the door for free-agent pickup Elfrid Payton to potentially take over as the first-string point guard.

Until Gentry discusses this during training camp, it’s difficult to know the exact direction of the starting five, but there are a range of possibilities (Does Moore remain at starting small forward? Does Mirotic start or return to the bench role he initially filled when he arrived in New Orleans?). Gentry and the Pelicans used 16 different starting lineups in ’17-18, but only four of those combinations were used more than four times.

From @jman014

Is Julius Randle starting? He’s on my fantasy team so I need to know haha

From @ameer_Abuelhja3, @aaronman_22

Who is the starting center going to be?

Good luck with your fantasy squad, jman014. There has been no proclamation by the Pelicans in terms of exact roles in the frontcourt for players like Randle, Davis and Mirotic, but Dell Demps said this of that trio during Randle’s introductory press conference: “I think their games all fit together. Each of them doing something a little different, but all of them are going to enhance each other. I think they’re all going to make each other better. That’s really the vision we have. In speaking to our coaches, you can have AD on the floor with Julius, and you can have Julius on the floor with Niko. We all saw last year how that worked when Niko was on the floor with AD. All three of those guys rotating those minutes, I think it’s going to be a problem for (other) teams. The good part is they’re all unselfish and they can all defend.”

From @chris_carson

Will Jrue Holiday have a better or worse season with Rajon Rondo gone and Jrue being the main ballhandler?

Holiday slid over to point guard in some situations last season, but it seems evident that the Pelicans have determined that Holiday is better suited for shooting guard in Gentry’s offense (Holiday himself has asserted the same thing). Allowing Holiday to play off the ball gives him the opportunity to attack the basket more often, catch the ball going downhill on the move and to avoid being so focused on the balancing act between seeking his own shot or setting up teammates, which was the case pre-Rondo. Efficiency-wise, Holiday was an average offensive player in his first four seasons with New Orleans, shooting between 43.9 and 45.4 percent from the field each year. Last season he shot a career-best 49.4 percent, an elite rate for a backcourt player. Keep in mind, he had a down three-point shooting year (nearly a career low at 33.7), but he was a superb 55.7 percent on twos. Via ESPN.com, Holiday’s field-goal percentage was fourth last season among all guards, trailing only Ben Simmons (54.5), Stephen Curry (49.5) and Darren Collison (49.5). Coincidentally, Payton ranked fifth among guards at 49.3 percent.

From @leon_lymbouris and @rrenan1100

Any new jersey designs on the horizon?

The Pelicans will introduce two new jerseys to their uniform set in ’18-19, giving them a total of five different game outfits. In addition to the familiar separate red, blue and white uniforms the team has worn in recent years, New Orleans will wear a redesigned version of its purple, green and gold Mardi Gras digs in ’18-19 and ’19-20, before potentially changing its “City Edition” attire to a different theme and/or colors. The fifth uniform will be unveiled at a later date by the NBA and Nike – those won’t be worn by the Pelicans on the court until after Christmas. This is subject to change, but at the moment each of the five New Orleans uniforms will be worn by the team during the 82-game regular season between 11 and 24 times, with the red uni scheduled to be used most frequently.

Incidentally, for home games, the Pelicans plan to repeat their Smoothie King Center schedule from ’17-18 of wearing red on Wednesdays, blue on Fridays and white on other days of the week (with some exceptions, based on holidays such as Christmastime, Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras).