With one of the league’s most talented young stars in forward Anthony Davis leading the way, the New Orleans Pelicans entered last season with hopes of building upon their playoff appearance the season prior. But Alvin Gentry’s team was hit incredibly hard by injuries, with no team in the NBA having lost more man games due to injury than the Pelicans. Included in that group was Davis, who missed 21 games and was shut down in late March to address a knee injury.
Just one Pelican managed to play more than 70 games last season and that was forward Dante Cunningham, who made 80 appearances. Even with the roster turnover, with both Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson moving on, the key for New Orleans in 2016-17 is quite simple: stay healthy. They’ll be shorthanded to start the season, with point guard Jrue Holiday out indefinitely as he cares for his pregnant wife who after giving birth will have a benign tumor removed from her brain.
Davis is back with a clean bill of health, and in first round selection Buddy Hield the Pelicans add one of the top players in college basketball last season. In addition to remaining healthy the Pelicans will need to get better defensively if they’re to hold their own in the tough Southwest Division. New Orleans ranked 27th out of 30 teams in defensive rating, and opponents scored an average of 106.5 points per game.
Here’s a look at the roster:
Pelicans Projected Starting Lineup
G: Tim Frazier (13.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 7.5 apg in 2015-16) Frazier didn’t join the team until mid-March, and the Penn State product took full advantage of his opportunity. With Evans and Holiday both sidelined for the time being, Frazier will likely see even more playing time to start 2016-17. Free agent signing E’Twaun Moore is another option early on.
G: Buddy Hield (Rookie) One of the hardest workers in college basketball, Hield transformed himself from a player who was a bit contributor as a freshman into a national Player of the Year award winner as a senior. Given the departure of Gordon, Hield should have every opportunity to grab this position and join Davis as one of the faces of the franchise for years to come.
F: Solomon Hill (4.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg) Hill’s regular season stats last season were not impressive at all. But his play on both ends of the floor for the Pacers during the playoffs resulted in Hill earning a 4-year, $48 million contract from the Pelicans. Is the contract a risk? Yes. But for a team that struggled mightily on defense, Hill is a player who can help them improve on that end.
F/C: Anthony Davis (24.3 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 2.0 bpg) Davis played in just 61 games last season, and he’s played in no more than 68 games in any of his four seasons since being drafted first overall in 2012. Davis shot 49.3 percent from the field and 75.8 percent from the foul line, and he’s expanded his range out close to the three-point line as well. Already on his way to being one of the NBA’s best players, Davis simply needs to remain healthy.
C: Omer Asik (4.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg) Asik started 64 of the 68 games in which he played last season, but his free agent signing from Chicago simply hasn’t panned out for the Pelicans. Not much of a scorer, Asik hasn’t been as effective as a defender as the front office hoped either. What makes things worse for New Orleans is that his contract won’t come off the books until 2020 (player option for the final year), so moving him via trade is nearly impossible. But he’ll start at center to begin the season.
Pelicans Projected Bench
G: E’Twaun Moore (7.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg) Like Hill, Moore was signed with the idea being that his presence will help the Pelicans improve defensively. Moore doesn’t do it with flash but rather by not getting caught out of position on defense, and he’ll be in the mix for minutes at the point.
G: Langston Galloway (7.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.5 apg) Galloway arrives in New Orleans via New York, where he spent two seasons with the Knicks. Galloway gave the Knicks good production off the bench, and while he shot just 39.3 percent from the field he’s the kind of bench option who can go on a run in a hurry.
F/G: Quincy Pondexter (Missed all of last season) A left knee injury that required two surgical procedures sidelined Pondexter for all of last season. In 2014-15, Pondexter averaged 7.2 points per game, and for his career he’s shooting 42.4 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from three. He’s yet to return to the court, so it remains to be seen when Pondexter will be able to contribute.
F: Dante Cunningham (6.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg) No Pelican played in more games than Cunningham last season, as he saw action in 80 of the team’s 82 games. Not a flashy player by any stretch, Cunningham is good as a screener within the team’s offense and a solid positional defender as well.
F: Terrence Jones (8.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg) A free agent signing from Houston, Jones will in all likelihood be the first big man off the bench for the Pelicans this season. Jones shot 45.2 percent from the field last season, and there will be times when he’s paired with former Kentucky teammate Davis in the front court.
Other Players in Pelicans Training Camp
G Jrue Holiday*: Holiday will rejoin the team after his wife’s medical situation is addressed later this fall.
G Tyreke Evans*: Still recovering from knee surgery that ended his 2015-16 season in December, Evans is aiming for a December return.
F/G Lance Stephenson: Stephenson has plenty of talent, but with only $100,000 of his contract being guaranteed this a low-risk move by the Pelicans.
F Cheick Diallo: Diallo’s raw offensively, but his motor and defensive ability make him an asset the Pelicans can mold for the future. With that in mind, not having a D-League affiliate hurts here.
C Alexis Ajinca: Given New Orleans’ post options, it’s likely either Ajinca or Sacre for one roster spot.
Pelicans Coaching Staff
Head coach: Alvin Gentry (Second season; 365-422 career record; 30-52 2015-16 record.)
Assistant coaches: Robert Pack. Darren Erman, Fred Vinson, Phil Weber
UPDATE (10/17): The Pelicans announced the signing of free agent guard/forward Quincy Ford.
UPDATE (10/23): The Pelicans announce that they have waived guard Quinn Cook, guard/forward Quincy Ford, guard/forward Shawn Dawson and center Robert Sacre.
UPDATE (10/24): The Pelicans have waived forward Alonzo Gee.