February 3, 2018, 4:24 pm
It had been a fun season for Pelicans’ fans. The team was hitting their stride with the dynamic frontcourt duo of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, winning seven of their last eight games. They were on a playoff trajectory and a potentially dangerous team given their dominance in the paint.
Of course it’s well publicized that Boogie Cousins went down just a week ago with a season-ending Achilles tear and things turned dark in the Bayou.
New Orleans didn’t wait around to make a move though. They went out and traded for stretch-four Nikola Mirotic, who’s having a career season, and perhaps are looking to add more.
They were in on Greg Monroe before he decided to sign with the Celtics, and had come close to signing Terrence Jones to a 10-day contract, but backed out of that to preserve a roster spot. Instead they decided to change course and sign veteran big Emeka Okafor, who hasn’t played in the NBA since 2013.
Losing Cousins is undoubtedly a huge blow to this team but they still have Davis down low who, if anything, has become a better player since Cousins arrived. Perhaps the young fella learned a few tricks from Boogie.
On top of that Jrue Holiday is having a career season himself and will pick up some slack in the scoring column left by DeMarcus. With the addition of Mirotic, the evolution of Davis and Holiday, and perhaps another acquisition on the horizon, the Pelicans should still be in solid shape.
In the short-term though, they will continue to patch the team together every night as they rediscover their identity and nurse minor injuries. Mirotic has yet to suit up due to a leg injury and the Pelicans have resorted to playing guys who were generally buried on the bench most of the season.
It’s unclear if Mirotic will be able to play tonight but the Pelicans are facing an 0-4 record versus the Wolves if they can’t win. Minnesota has won 11-straight games on their home floor and have a little bit of extra motivation tonight thanks to the palpable buzz surrounding the city as a result of the Super Bowl tomorrow.
The Wolves haven’t really had much of a challenge taking care of the Pelicans this season, winning by an average margin of 14 points.
– Jimmy Butler vs. Jrue Holiday
Holiday has transitioned to the shooting guard well this year after spending the majority of his career as the lead ball-handler. Not only was Holiday moved off the ball in favor of one of the most ball-dominant point guards in the NBA in Rajon Rondo, but Cousins also dominated the ball a significant amount and even E’Twaun Moore would handle the ball.
This left Holiday primarily as a wing that would make plays off the dribble, or more catch-and-shoot opportunities. He played more like a slashing small-forward with the Pelicans at full-strength.
As the best threat for scoring outside of AD and Cousins, Holiday was able to get plenty of opportunities and thrived, especially in the paint. He’s shooting 66.3 percent within 10-feet of the rim, where he takes nearly half of his shots.
He also liked to drive and kick to Cousins, where he had, by far, the most passes made to on the perimeter beyond the arc. Cousins shot a very respectable 37.5 percent on these kick outs.
Though with Cousins now out of the picture it remains to be seen how Holiday and the rest of the Pelicans will respond.
In three games since the injury, Holiday has seemingly taken back more ball dominance and initiated more offense. Rondo, even before Cousins went down, has seen less time in favor of Darius Miller, a better shooting option.
Holiday has wisely fed AD in the last three games, and when Mirotic comes aboard Holiday will have another option to drive and kick-with, arguably a better one than Cousins could provide.
DeMarcus is a more dominant player than Mirotic in so many aspects, but being a lethal option beyond the arc for Holiday to set up is where he can actually help the Pelicans more than Cousins could.
Holiday is a dynamic player that was sort of forgotten behind the AD and Boogie curtain, but he is certainly going to be a necessary component of the Pelicans moving forward and a prime reason for the Wolves to throw their best defender at in Jimmy Butler.
Anthony Davis versus Karl-Anthony Towns will be fun to watch and has the spotlight, but the game may come to the perimeter battle.
Jeff Teague – PG
Jimmy Butler – SG
Andrew Wiggins – SF
Taj Gibson – PF
Karl-Anthony Towns – C
Rajon Rondo – PG
Jrue Holiday – SG
E’Twaun Moore – SF
Dante Cunningham – PF
Anthony Davis – C
Alexis Ajinca (knee) – OUT
DeMarcus Cousins (Achilles) – OUT
Solomon Hill (hamstring) – OUT
Frank Jackson (foot) – OUT
Nikola Mirotic (leg) – QUESTIONABLE
Where to Watch:
9:00 ET/8:00 CT on Fox Sports North “plus”