June 8, 2018, 2:18 am
As the saying goes, “Go big, or go home!”
Few words describe the New Orleans Pelicans better after they gambled on a trade for DeMarcus Cousins at the 2016-17 deadline. His arrival came with many questions and far fewer guarantees. Cousins, is now an unrestricted free agent in 2018 had to be sold on a pairing with fellow elite big man Anthony Davis and that the duo had the versatility and size to dominate the league’s nouveau positionless metagame.
Cousins’ arrival was no easy transition for the team however the tail end of 2016-17 managed to provide coach Alvin Gentry with at least something he could work with. The true acid test of the Pelicans’ experiment would be the full 2017-18 season. Would the pairing of the league’s two best big men create enough insane mismatches for them to wreak havoc on the small-ball leaning Western Conference?
2016-17 Record: 34-48 (4th in Southwest Division), 2017-18 Record: 48-34 (2nd in Southwest Division)
To help cater to their newly acquired big man, the Pelicans gave Cousins the go ahead to recruit former Kings teammate Rajon Rondo. They added Ian Clark and Darius Miller in free agency to fill out their depth needs.
They drafted combo guard Frank Jackson (31st), who unfortunately broke his right foot in August 2017, required surgery to repair it and follow-up surgeries to remove debris, and never got to make his NBA debut.
Speaking of injuries, the Pelicans would deal with the injury bug throughout the season and it was arguably the biggest negative that they had to overcome in what would otherwise be considered a successful season. They flipped their wins and losses from 2016-17 to finish second in the Southwest Division (48-34), ahead of the San Antonio Spurs (yes, you read that right). How could they not? Anthony Davis played one of the best seasons of his still-young NBA career. DeMarcus Cousins thrived alongside Davis and played out of his mind, at least until tragedy struck when DMC ruptured his left Achilles and was ruled out for the rest of the season.
Cousins’ injury created a divide where you had to look at the Pelicans under two different contexts: pre and post-Cousins injury.
The Pelicans were 27-21 in the 48 games Cousins managed to play. He and Davis were able to share the paint, the ball, and the responsibilities of carrying the team. In a lot of those games, Jrue Holiday was forced to take a backseat as both big men needed/demanded the rock to do their thing.
Despite occasions where either or both giants dropped monster games, the Pelicans still somehow lost. The concentration of usage and touches was far too focused on both of them to the point that it excluded role players from getting involved and at the end of the day their two-man game was not enough to carry the team to victory.
Moving on from Cousins’ injury, the Pelicans were able to land a disgruntled Nikola Mirotic from the Chicago Bulls. They got him and a 2018 second-round pick in exchange for Omer Asik, guard Tony Allen, guard Jameer Nelson, protected 2018 first-round pick and the rights to exchange second-round picks in 2021. Basically a steal considering their desperate frontcourt needs and their battle with injuries.
The Pelicans went through a paradigm shift mid-season to adjust to the loss of DMC. They began to play fast, very fast, climbing the league rankings in pace. Jrue Holiday stepped up, took the ball in his hands and ran like the wind on the fast break. Anthony Davis adapted and helped spread the floor with improved shooting from 3-point range. It was a good look and style for the team as it played to their strengths. Their new-found system peaked in the first round of the playoffs, when they stunned the Portland Trail Blazers with a four-game sweep in their best-of-seven series. The Pelicans would bow out 4-1 to the defending champion Golden State Warriors in the second round.
Overall, the team made progress in 2017-18. Their future now rests on some key decisions, the first and biggest being whether or not they will re-sign DeMarcus Cousins. If so, for how much and how long?
Alvin Gentry deserves a lot of credit for a successful 2017-18 campaign.
It was no easy task to get Davis and Cousins to jell and not crash into each other in the paint. He accomplished it to some degree although not to an ideal level just yet. Who knows how much better both players would players would work together if Cousins did not rupture his Achilles.
It was also through Gentry’s coaching and guidance that the team was able to overcome the adversity that came with the injuries to Cousins and their role players. He brilliantly refocused the once-third-wheel Jrue Holiday into a potent second scoring option, bringing out the best season of the guard’s career.
He kept a feisty Rajon Rondo in check and got him to revitalize “Playoff Rondo” and invite him to the party when it mattered most in that Blazers sweep.
The team is at a major crossroads this summer and Gentry’s coaching may just be the continuity that the organization needs to maintain the momentum they built in 2017-18. He was rewarded with an extension on Thursday and will be leading the Pelicans until the 2020-21 season at minimum if all goes well.
ADP: 7/7 (ESPN, Yahoo), Total Value: 1/1 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 1/1 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 75
Stats: 36.3 MPG, 28.1 PPG, 0.7 3PG, 11 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.5 SPG, 2.5 BPG, 0.533 FG%, 0.827 FT%
Davis ended the season as a huge success. Not only did he outperform his ADP, but he also finished as the hands-down best player in fantasy basketball in both 8- and 9-cat formats. How could he not? He’s an MVP, DPOY finalist and selected to the All-NBA First Team as well as the NBA All-Defensive Team.
From a fantasy standpoint, Davis’ game simply had no flaws. He shoots at an excellent clip from both the field and the line, is a double-double machine, and delivers a crazy 4.0 steals-blocks combined. He not only breaks the mold of a prototypical big man with his 82.7 percent free throw shooting but also with his 0.7 3-point shots made per game. He’s the total package and at 24 years young, there’s no telling how far The Brow’s Hall-of-Fame career will reach. It should come as no surprise that Davis is one of the most highly coveted big men in the league today.
The biggest concern experts had about him coming into 2017-18 was his durability. AD silenced doubters by repeating his 75-games-played season from 2016-17, shaking or playing through minor injuries to still deliver the goods.
He played reasonably well alongside Cousins but elevated his game to another level when his partner in the paint got hurt. His stats saw a huge bump after the All-Star break, especially in the areas of points (29.8), steals (2.0) and blocks (3.5).
After this spectacular run, don’t expect him to fall farther than third in most drafts in 2018-19. That “Davis at a discount” play is no longer an option in the first round.
ADP: 14/14 (ESPN, Yahoo), Total Value: 35/52 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 6/12 (8/9 cat). Games Played: 48
Stats: 36.1 MPG, 25.2 PPG, 2.1 3PG, 12.8 RPG, 5.3 APG, 1.6 SPG, 1.5 BPG, 0.469 FG%, 0.746 FT%
There were some obvious concerns of Cousins’ ability to share the floor with another elite big man in Davis. He managed to quash any fears by finishing the season as a first-round asset based on per-game averages.
His 46.9 percent shooting may not have been ideal for a center, but his 2.1 3PG and 5.3 APG were also out-of-the-box exceptions to the common archetype. His diverse line allowed him to lift many fantasy teams that took him in the second round of most drafts. His 5.0 turnovers per game created the divide between his 8 and 9-cat values. Still, DMC was able to bring so much to the table as far as the counting stats were concerned that even that high turnover rate could be overlooked in 9-cat leagues.
Okay, he did well. That performance and its momentum came to a screeching halt when he ruptured his left Achilles. He says he is aiming to be ready for training camp, but that timeline is by no means something that can be carved in stone. In general, no player in recent history has been able to come back close to their old form after suffering this kind of injury. Players like Chauncey Billups, Brandon Jennings, and Rudy Gay come to mind. Of course, you could say that every player is different and every injury has varying degrees of severity. But at 270 lbs, Cousins is no lightweight, so there should at least be some expectation of a decline in his explosiveness.
If he did not suffer this devastating injury, there would be no doubt that DMC would be worth and be able to demand a max deal. However, that’s not the case. He has to prove that he can still perform at the highest level and be the imposing Olympian he once was. Now whether or not the Pelicans decide to keep Cousins, there are already teams eyeing him and are more than willing to roll the dice on a player of his caliber.
At the end of the day, Cousins’ future is at the center of the Pelicans’ plans. Do they keep him or pivot to another system, partially proven to be quite successful and move on? Or do they hope to integrate him back into the mix and build upon those promising early returns?
ADP: 54/51 (ESPN, Yahoo), Total Value: 12/11 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 19/20 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 81
Stats: 36.1 MPG, 18.9 PPG, 1.4 3PG, 4.5 RPG, 6.0 APG, 1.5 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 0.494 FG%, 0.785 FT%
Thanks to the addition of Cousins and Rajon Rondo, there were slight concerns of a decline in production from Holiday coming into 2017-18. Those concerns led to him being undervalued. To some extent, you could consider him a fantasy sleeper considering the gap between his ADP and his end-of-season values. No one saw this coming.
His career season was easily the result of a boost in usage in the post-Cousins-injury portion of the season. Holiday dropped crazy post-All-Star numbers of 19.8 PPG, 7.2 APG, 1.3 3PG, 1.7 SPG, 1.0 BPG, .508 FG% and .781 FT%. He ran up and down the court with a swagger never before seen from the guard. His numbers were not as good in October and November (though still good for top-60 value) as he was often overshadowed the team’s “Twin Towers.”
He played well as a second option to Davis but his future production and value will largely be dependent on whether the Pelicans retain Cousins or not.
ADP: 89/94 (ESPN, Yahoo), Total Value: 112/140 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 98/130 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 65
Stats: 26.2 MPG, 8.2 PPG, 0.7 3PG, 4.0 RPG, 8.2 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.1 BPG, 0.467 FG%, 0.543 FT%
Rondo was brought in because of his rapport with Cousins on and off the court. His best days are behind him and his meager production in 26 minutes on the floor served to support that proposition.
At the end of the day, Rondo provided some solid playmaking (8.2 APG) for the team thanks to his pass-first mentality. He was fine taking a backseat in the rebounding and steals departments, with those areas amply covered by his teammates. His 2.3 TOV along with his 54.3 shooting from the free throw line were the main culprits that dragged down his per-game values, making him more of a true assist specialist for 10-team purposes and a low-end option for fantasy teams in 12-team leagues or deeper.
Like a Phoenix, “Playoff Rondo” rose from the ashes and exploded for the Pelicans in their series against the Blazers. Much like(spolier alert!) The Hulk in the latest Avengers movie, that version of the guard will be rarely seen and difficult to summon.
One thing is for sure, don’t expect him to stick around should DMC depart the Pelicans. Rondo’s role is something that can be covered by Holiday, who has developed into an elite combo-guard.
ADP: 115/126 (ESPN, Yahoo), Total Value: 113/86 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 56/40 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 55
Stats: 27.1 MPG, 15.6 PPG, 2.4 3PG, 7.3 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 0.448 FG%, 0.817 FT%
Stats (Pelicans): 29.1 MPG, 14.6 PPG, 2.2 3PG, 8.2 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.0 SPG, 0.9 BPG, .427 FG%, .810 FT%
Nikola Mirotic had a rough and wild roller-coaster of a season. He won the Bulls starting PF job after an impressive preseason and training camp. All of that whiffed in a puff of smoke after getting sucker punched by teammate Bobby Portis during an altercation during practice. Mirotic spent some time in the hospital as he recovered from a maxillofacial fracture and a concussion. After his recovery, Mirotic still did not speak to Portis and was clear that he wanted out of Chicago.
Fast forward to the trade deadline where the Pelicans swooped in with their needs at power forward and landed him via trade after a strong run on the court in his final weeks as a Bull.
After the move, Mirotic’s season took a 180 degree turn. He enjoyed himself playing for the Pelicans and was embraced by the community, which resulted in him claiming that this was the happiest he’s been in the NBA.
His role as a stretch four for the Pelicans was what the doctor ordered to mend the wounds caused by Cousins’ season-ending injury. He was an extra threat from the outside that helped spread out the defense, which in turn allowed Davis to wreak havoc in the paint, in the mid-range and pretty much everywhere he wished.
Mirotic has made his wishes clear that a future with the Pelicans is something that he desires. He’s an intriguing piece for New Orleans to consider this off-season, especially considering how well he fits in their system when they decide to go small and run the floor.
ADP: NA/NA (ESPN, Yahoo), Total Value: 74/70 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 125/110 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 82
Stats: 31.5 MPG, 12.4 PPG, 1.5 3PG, 2.9 RPG, 2.2 APG, 0.9 SPG, 0.1 BPG, 0.508 FG%, 0.705 FT%
Moore was the true sleeper from the Pelicans roster. He took advantage of injuries to Solomon Hill and the departure of Dante Cunningham, which allowed him to slide into the starting lineup as an undersized small forward. The results of the move boosted his value into the top-125 zone, and his availability made him an even better (if unexciting play) on the full season.
Moore’s strengths in fantasy were built on the combination of his 1.5 3PG and his 50.8 percent shooting from the field. Add to that his ability to chip in a steal per game, Moore ended up bringing a low-end yet fantasy-friendly line to the table, making him one of the better value pickups in 2017-18.
ADP: NA/NA (ESPN, Yahoo), Total Value: 189/174 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 259/240 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 82
Stats: 23.7 MPG, 7.7 PPG, 1.7 3PG, 2.0 RPG, 1.3 APG, 0.3 SPG, 0.2 BPG, 0.443 FG%, 0.865 FT%
Miller came into the fantasy limelight, at least in deep leagues, when the Pelicans deployed him in their starting lineup when DeMarcus Cousins got injured.
He was still more of a 3-point shooting specialist (1.7 3PG), who was able to shine once in a while. His top-200 finish based on totals showed that Miller did have his fair share of good games.
The team needs to see significant improvement from Miller next season before they can offer him more consistent minutes at the three or four positions. That said, he’s likely earned enough brownie points in 2017-18 to be a mainstay in their rotation moving forward.
ADP: NA/NA (ESPN, Yahoo), Total Value: 254/258 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 325/326 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 74
Stats: 19.6 MPG, 7.4 PPG, 0.8 3PG, 1.7 RPG, 1.4 APG, 0.4 SPG, 0.1 BPG, 0.448 FG%, 0.762 FT%
The Pelicans cycled through a Rondo-Holiday-Moore guard rotation for most of the season, with Clark seeing some action here and there, mostly in garbage time during blowouts.
Clark did manage to turn some heads when he saw extended runs during the games that Rondo was sidelined (17). Clark was a deep-league pick up for the stretch run of the season thanks to his post-All-Star numbers of 11.0 PPG, 2.0 APG, 1.0 3PG and 48.8 FG%.
He’s a good insurance for the Pelicans to keep in their back pocket should Rondo depart in the offseason.
ADP: NA/NA (ESPN, Yahoo), Total Value: 301/293 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 346/325 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 52
Stats: 11.1 MPG, 4.8 PPG, 0 3PG, 4.0 RPG, 0.3 APG, 0.2 SPG, 0.4 BPG, 0.579 FG%, 0.757 FT%
Diallo was a disappointment in 2017-18. There were reasonably high hopes that he would be able to produce in the wake of Cousins’ injury. In the end, he failed to impress both the coaching staff and fantasy managers alike. He did not score enough during his limited minutes on the floor, nor did he make an impact on the boards or as a rim protector.
The Pelicans opted to go small and fast when Cousins went down, which left Diallo on the outside of the rotation looking in. His outlook for 2018-19 is not too promising should they shift to that system for good.
ADP: NA/NA (ESPN, Yahoo), Total Value: 353/344 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 271/249 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 26
Stats: 13.5 MPG, 4.3 PPG, 0 3PG, 4.6 RPG, 0.3 APG, 0.3 SPG, 0.9 BPG, 0.505 FG%, 0.818 FT%
Okafor had one of the better feel-good narratives in 2017-18. The Pelicans called up the former NBA center from the G-League and signed him to two successive 10-day deals and eventually inking him for the rest of the season. His debut this season came over four years after his last NBA action, making this one of the more improbably comeback stories in recent memory.
Okafor did not wow us with a Rocky-esque comeback, but was more low-key in being able to be picked up or streamed in deep leagues as a blocks specialist. His small 26-game sample size isn’t a ton to go on, but Okafor had a good enough showing with his 0.9 BPG and his much-improved 81.8 FT%.
ADP: NA/NA (ESPN, Yahoo), Total Value: 437/439 (8/9 cat), Per-Game Value: 424/437 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 12
Stats: 15.5 MPG, 2.4 PPG, 0.3 3PG, 3.0 RPG, 1.8 APG, 0.5 SPG, 0 BPG, 0.268 FG% 0.5 FT%
Given the Pelicans’ needs at small forward, there should have been ample playing time for Hill, whether as a spot-starter or off the bench. Unfortunately for the 26-year-old role player his 2017-18 never got off the ground on the right foot. He tore his hamstring in August and was sidelined for most of the season.
Hill eventually returned to action in March and was given an 8-10 minute limit in the beginning which was eventually raised to 15 minutes after a few games.
It’s unfair to judge him solely his dozen-game sample alone. The takeaway is that he managed to recover, rehab, and eventually get back on the court. For a better appreciation of what Hill can bring to the table, you can see from his 2016-17 numbers that he can be a 3-point shot contributor (1.2 3PG), while being able to swipe the ball (0.9) on defense. This should allow him to be a deep-league viable player as a “3-and-D” guy.
The key for the Pelicans is not to overcommit to a DeMarcus Cousins who could come back as a shell of his former self. He is a risky guy to hold onto but has the upside that makes it unwise to let him walk and get nothing in return. DMC has expressed desire to stay, but this could be coming from a place of fear and wanting to lock in possibly the last big payday of his career. They can sign-and-trade him if they find the right deal or even offer him a two or three-year max deal as he gets his legs back under him. This is the most balanced risk-management scenario for both parties.
The general sentiment in the locker room and the organization is that everyone wants him back. At the end of the day, it will all fall on how well he rehabilitates his ruptured Achilles.
The team needs to fully commit to Anthony Davis. He’s a once-in-a-generation kind of player and a future Hall-of-Famer. Shut down, in no uncertain terms, any fantasies (delusions) other teams may have of prying him from them. He’s the cornerstone to build around. He and Jrue Holiday, to be exact. Whether they surround the duo with another All-Star or a handful or productive role players will be up to them. That sweep of the Blazers is no fluke. The franchise is a few big moves away from being a legitimate and scary threat in the west.