The New Orleans Pelicans made a marginal improvement in their win record in the 2016-17 season, but still missed the playoffs for the second term on the bounce.
Alvin Gentry’s men paid the price for their inconsistent start to the season, and not even a trade move for DeMarcus Cousins from the Sacramento Kings could bring them back into contention.
The Pelicans made significant moves during the off-season following their 30-win campaign in the 2015-16 season. Solomon Hill and E’Twaun Moore both signed for the club on lucrative contracts in a bid to improve their efficiency in the final third of the court.
General manager Dell Demps used the sixth overall selection in the 2016 Draft to pick Buddy Hield, and although he showed promise during his rookie season, the 19-year-old did not last the term as he was used as a makeweight in the deal to land Cousins.
The Pelicans used the trade market to acquire the services of Cheick Diallo, swapping two selections to attain his signature from the Los Angeles Clippers.
Anthony Davis continued to display the form that crowned him an All-Star for the previous three terms, and he made it four seasons on the bounce with another outstanding year.
However, not even the high standard of his performances were good enough to inspire the Pelicans into the playoffs, with only four players in the NBA averaging a higher points per game ratio.
New Orleans fell seven games short of reaching the post-season, suggesting that it will not take much for them to bridge the gap next term – if they learn from their mistakes.
The Pelicans put themselves under pressure from the off. They were handed a home opener against the Denver Nuggets – a match that Gentry’s men would have backed themselves to triumph, but they would suffer a five-point defeat, despite a 50-point performance from Davis.
The Golden State Warriors arrived in New Orleans for the second contest of the season, and although Davis put on another scoring clinic, the offensive power of Steve Kerr’s men allowed the reigning Western Conference champions to advance.
They ended October with another loss at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs, while the beginning of November failed to provide solace as the club extended their winless run to eight matches, including back-to-back overtime defeats against the Memphis Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns.
Their defeat at the hands of the Sacramento Kings handed them their joint-worst start to an NBA season, but the Pelicans avoided breaking the record by beating the Milwaukee Bucks on the road.
Gentry’s side then put forward a fine team display to defeat the Boston Celtics before reeling off four wins on the bounce, repairing some of the early damage as Davis found his peak form.
However, five defeats on the spin at the beginning of December put the team right back in the mire, highlighting the up-and down nature of their performances. An overtime win over the Suns stemmed the tide, although defeats against top-quality opponents in the form of the Warriors, Spurs and Houston Rockets put the pressure back on.
A homestand of five matches during the festive period allowed the Pelicans to get back on track, winning four on the bounce, with Davis and Jrue Holiday starring for Gentry’s men to leave them at 14-21 at the end of 2016.
Sign Of Things To Come
The new year started in the same fashion as the beginning of the term, with the Pelicans dropping three games on the bounce, although the Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks and the Celtics were quality opposition that were bound for the playoffs.
Back-to-back wins over the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets on the road got New Orleans back on track, but their struggles returned towards the end of the month, despite registering impressive wins over the Cavaliers and the Spurs without a huge scoring impact from Davis.
February would prove to be an important month for the future of the franchise. After registering four wins in the opening eight contests, winning two matches on the bounce before the All-Star break, the Pelicans swung the trade for Cousins, sending three players, including Hield, and future first and second-round draft picks to acquire the center.
Paired with Davis the move was expected to be a hit, although Gentry’s men failed to fire in his appearance, suffering a hammering at the hands of the Rockets. Successive losses followed against the Dallas Mavericks and the Oklahoma City Thunder, but Davis ended the run with an impressive outing against the Detroit Pistons.
Cousins made his first impact with a 31-point effort against the Lakers, and the formidable duo began to dominate towards the end of the month, delivering a run of eight wins in 10 matches to take the Pelicans over the 30-win mark.
However, New Orleans’ season was to end on a low note in April as the club suffered five defeats on the spin, although they did win their final game of the term to sign off with a victory over the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center.
Potent Duo Provide Optimism
Davis and Cousins highlighted their potential together in March, guiding the Pelicans to their best month of the campaign, winning 10 of their 16 contests.
With 20 games to get acquainted with one another they should be able to hit the ground running in the next campaign and provide Gentry’s men with one of the most potent offenses in the NBA.
Last season New Orleans were in the middle of the pack in terms of points scored, even with the presence of Davis.
The increase of production that will be provided by Cousins, who himself averaged 27 points per game last term, should tip the balance and it may be enough to yield the amount of victories to take the club back into the playoffs.
The Pelicans used their first-round pick to acquire Cousins, while they were limited in their action in the 2017 Draft – gaining only Frank Jackson in the second round. The 19-year-old is unlikely to make an impact in his rookie season, leaving the club in the hands of their veterans.
Although their cap space was limited, Gentry’s men managed to re-sign Holiday to their roster. The 27-year-old penned a five-year deal and he should be delighted at the prospect of providing Cousins and Davis with ammunition for the coming seasons.
The Pelicans have made savvy moves over the past year and it should allow them to return to the post-season, although the overall goal of winning their first NBA Championship will elude them.
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- Anthony Davis
- DeMarcus Cousins
- New Orleans Pelicans