New Orleans Pelicans 2018-19 Team Preview

  • How’d We Get Here?

    The Pelicans were rolling along, charting a playoff course by zigging with a dynamic duo of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins when everyone else zagged with smaller and faster personnel. Boogie’s Achilles betrayed him and the Pels managed to keep the good times rolling thanks to a mid-year acquisition of Nikola Mirotic, a phenomenal season from Jrue Holiday and the world-class play of Anthony Davis.

    A first round sweep of Portland set them up for a date with the Warriors, however, and they just didn’t have enough in the tank to make it work.

    Cousins and Rajon Rondo are gone, but the team’s Davis-Holiday duo remains elite. Adding Julius Randle and Elfrid Payton on low-commitment deals should give the Pels some extra dimensions this season and will help them keep up the quicker pace they played with once Cousins went down. The Pels are on the come-up, even if they’re missing a little star power this year.

    Offseason Moves

    Arrivals: Julius Randle, Elfrid Payton, Jahlil Okafor, Troy Williams
    Rookie Arrivals: Tony Carr (No. 51; since signed in Italy), Trevon Blueitt (UDFA)
    Departures: DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo, Jordan Crawford, Emeka Okafor
    Retained: Ian Clark

    Depth Chart and Minutes Per Game

    PG: Elfrid Payton (27-30.5) / Ian Clark (0, 14-24) / Frank Jackson (0, 8-17)
    SG: Jrue Holiday (33-35-36) / E’Twaun Moore (29.5-32) / DeAndre Liggins (0, 12-18) / Trevon Bluiett (0, 5-10)
    SF: Darius Miller (22-26) / Solomon Hill (22-29) / Troy Williams (0, 16-24)
    PF: Nikola Mirotic (28.5-31) / Cheick Diallo (0, 10-17)
    C: Anthony Davis (35-36.5) / Julius Randle (26.5-29.5) / Jahlil Okafor (0, 10-18) / Alexis Ajinca (0, 8-13)

    Position Battles

    Point Guard: Elfrid Payton will step right into Rajon Rondo’s place, even offering a similar skillset. Neither can shoot and Payton plays a bit faster while Rondo’s a better passer. A fair trade overall, as Payton’s a bit more malleable at his age and will be a better long-term option for the Pels if everything goes right. There’s not much behind him – only Frank Jackson and Ian Clark. Of course, PG minutes for Jrue Holiday should take up most of the non-Payton minutes anyway.

    Shooting Guard: Jrue Holiday excelled in an off-ball role last season and will sneakily be one of the most important players in the Conference. Like at the point guard spot, there’s not much in the way of depth behind him. E’Twaun Moore can slide over when he’s not playing the three but after that there’s Ian Clark, DeAndre Liggins and rookie Trevon Blueitt. If Holiday gets hurt things will get ugly quick.

    Small Forward: Assuming Moore can hold onto the starting small forward job, Darius Miller and a healthy Solomon Hill will be fighting for minutes behind him. All three are deserving of minutes and figure to cannibalize each other’s playing time, especially as the Pelicans found a way to add frontcourt depth. Newcomer Troy Williams will also have a chance to assert himself after a decent summer showing as a member of the Knicks.

    Power Forward: Niko Mirotic will start after a great run upon arriving in New Orleans. Behind him is newcomer Julius Randle, who turned in a strong season as a backup four and small-ball five with the Lakers. The two are nice complements, with Mirotic stretching the floor and Randle possessing a bull-in-a-China-shop interior game with some heady passing ability. Miller and Hill will also see some minutes from the power forward spot, though those will come primarily in small groups.

    Center: The Pelicans start and end with Anthony Davis, though they have finally found someone to back him up that’s more than a big body. Randle will see lots of time at the five with Cheick Diallo and Emeka Okafor filling in for more traditional lineups. Jahlil Okafor is in the mix as well but we’re not counting on anything. The same can be said for Alexis Ajinca.

    Outlook

    The Pelicans, despite losing a lot of talent on paper, will now be able to routinely play at a pace that suited them pretty well over half a season. The easy win in the first round should give the franchise some forward momentum and another run will certainly help sell Anthony Davis on New Orleans as a long-term destination. They won’t have the pure firepower or wing depth of other Western juggernauts, but the Pelicans have some great talent at the top of their roster.

    Jrue Holiday

    Total Value: 12/11 (8/9 cat)

    Per-Game Value: 19/20 (8/9 cat)

    Games Played: 81

    2017-18 Review: Some preseason concerns about how Holiday would handle playing alongside Cousins and Rondo scared many owners off. He didn’t exactly light it up in the previous half-season alongside Boogie and Brow, and Rondo is a ball-dominant guard who would push Holiday to a new position.

    It turns out that his skillset fit perfectly and Holiday blew away even the most optimistic projections, capitalizing on Cousins’ injury to post an unreal second half: 19.8 points, 7.2 assists, 1.3 triples, 1.7 steals and 1.0 blocks on .508 from the floor.

    While his top-60 numbers in the first half were nothing to shake off, Holiday was responsible for a lot of fantasy championships with that huge binge down the stretch. He finished with career-highs in points (19.0), rebounds (4.5), blocks (0.8), and field goal percentage (.494).

    This Year: Holiday will be back in his new shooting guard role, still playing alongside a point guard who can’t shoot. He might see his usage bump up a bit without Cousins but it’s not as though he made huge sacrifices last season. The shooting numbers almost have to come down but we’re not really concerned about his ability to play off the ball anymore.

    Injury History: Holiday was pretty healthy last year though there are some larger issues in his past, namely a stress fracture in his tibia in 2013-14 and a stress reaction in 2014-15. He also suffered an orbital fracture the year after that. While Holiday is at least a moderate injury risk, it’s hard to be too worried after an 81-game year.

    Outlook: Holiday is locked into early-round value and won’t be sneaking up on anyone this time around. The impending shooting regression is a concern but he’s got a very fantasy-friendly game and should be treated as a top-35 option in all formats.

    E’Twaun Moore

    Total Value: 74/70 (8/9 cat)

    Per-Game Value: 125/110 (8/9 cat)

    Games Played: 82

    2017-18 Review: Moore was a relatively anonymous fantasy player last season but he was able to grind out late-round production night after night after night. His most notable points of production were 12.4 points, 1.5 3-pointers and 0.9 steals on .508 shooting in 31.5 minutes a night. While it was rarely exciting, Moore made for a nice pickup.

    This Year: The lack of depth on the wings will help Moore out in a big way and the starting small forward job should be his without many serious challengers for his minutes. The field goal percentage will come back to earth a bit but that starting five will need his spacing considering the point guard can’t shoot.

    Injury History: Moore played all 82 last season but has some issues in his past, including two hamstring issues three seasons back and heel, toe and ankle injuries in 2016-17. He’s not a pure green light but is pretty low risk.

    Outlook: If Moore’s shooting goes back into the .450 range, which it should, he’ll be more of a top-150 guy. He’ll be able to give you the threes and steals considering the minutes he’s likely to play but he still profiles as a late-round plodder who doesn’t have the upside to warrant a draft selection in standard leagues. He’ll probably make it work in the last rounds of 14-16 teamers but he can be plucked off the wire in times of trouble in anything shallower.

    Anthony Davis

    Total Value: 1/1 (8/9 cat)

    Per-Game Value: 1/1 (8/9 cat)

    Games Played: 75

    2017-18 Review: The value numbers say it all – Davis was clearly fantasy’s top player last season. He was an absolute monster from start to finish with a final statline of 28.1 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.5 steals, 2.6 blocks, 0.7 3-pointers and 2.1 turnovers per game on .534 from the field and .828 from the line on 19.5 and 8.0 attempts, respectively.

    That’s incredible stuff, and Davis cranked it up after Cousins went down with 29.8 points, 2.0 steals and 3.5 blocks per game. What’s more, he played in 75 games for the second straight year. Just a beastly season.

    This Year: Expect more of the same – maybe not the exact same numbers, but elite production. Replacing Cousins with Mirotic full-time will help space things out and could give Davis even more room to work inside, which should terrify the rest of the league. Just stay healthy, please.

    Injury History: While Davis has two straight solid seasons working in his favor, they were also the first two above 70 games in his career. The full list of ailments that have dinged Davis up reads as follows: Hand, finger, ankle, back, chest, left toe, groin, right shoulder, right hip, concussion, right toe, left knee, lower back, quad, left lower leg, bruised left hip, sprained left thumb, right quad, left knee.

    It’s not quite fair to call him a certified risk after his two-year run but it’s also foolish to say that he’s in the clear. If you end up with Davis, just prepare to feverishly check tweets when he leaves mid-game anywhere from 20-30 times a season.

    Outlook: Davis will definitely be off the board within the top-3 selections as he gets further away from those big-absence seasons. Sit back, grab some Maalox and enjoy the show, as there aren’t many things that can keep The Brow from dropping video game numbers on a nightly basis.

    Nikola Mirotic

    Total Value: 113/86 (8/9 cat)

    Per-Game Value: 56/40 (8/9 cat)

    Games Played: 55

    2017-18 Review: Mirotic’s season started out terribly, as a sucker punch from then-teammate Bobby Portis put him in the hospital and delayed his season debut until the 24th game of the season. After a quiet first game, Mirotic caught fire and averaged 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.8 3-pointers, 0.6 steals and 0.5 blocks on .478 from the field in his final 24 games with the Bulls. Despite the strong play it was clear that Chicago couldn’t keep both Mirotic and Portis around and ended up sending Niko to the Pelicans.

    He shot a bit worse upon heading south but he upped his production elsewhere, averaging 1.1 steals and 1.2 blocks from when he was traded in mid-January until the end of February. He had a very poor March (11.9 points, .388 shooting, 1.2 combined defensive stats) but turned things back up in six April games with 22.2 points, 10.7 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 0.8 blocks and 3.3 triples per game on .531 from the field.

    Those numbers include a six-point clunker to open the month, too. In a wild season, Mirotic rode some high highs and very low lows to a career year and provided excellent ROI for fantasy owners.

    This Year: Mirotic will come in as New Orleans’ starting power forward and should get a ton of good looks with Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis wreaking havoc elsewhere on the floor. It’s a level of support he’s never had before and his ability to bomb away from deep should really help the Pelicans open things up. After years of scrapping for minutes with other players, he should be safe in his role since Julius Randle exasperates some of the starting unit’s spacing issues.

    Injury History: Mirotic sustained a concussion and maxillofacial fractures from Portis and also missed time with an illness (one game) and hip soreness (two games), which acted up late in the year too. Prior to this season he missed time with an illness and back spasms. Last year’s face injury was definitely fluky and we’re not calling him a major injury risk going forward but we’ll be watching him.

    Outlook: There are a few competing forces here: the inflated shooting percentage based on his 25 Chicago games and the extra output brought on by his playing time increase in New Orleans. Considering he was still a top-60/45 player while shooting .427 after the trade, we’re inclined to believe that he can keep up solid middle-round value even as regression eats away at his percentages. Mirotic should get close to 30 mpg and should be off draft boards by pick 80 at the latest.

    Julius Randle

    Total Value: 55/89 (8/9-cat)

    Per-Game Value: 92/138 (8/9-cat)

    Games Played: 82

    2017-18 Review: Randle delivered the finest season of his career last year, posting 16.1 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.5 blocks and 0.1 threes while going .558 from the field. It actually involved him coming off the bench until January, but once Larry Nance Jr. was hurt and then traded, Randle had free reign in the frontcourt.

    The big development was his efficiency, as his counting stats (with the exception of points) fell with a small decrease in playing time. He blew past his previous career-high of .488 set two seasons back, and this is the third straight year where his efficiency has improved.

    This Year: For those of you worried about Randle conveniently turning it up in a contract year, don’t worry – he signed a two-year, $18 million deal with the Pelicans where the second year is a player option. It should be a similar role to the one he had with the Lakers as he’ll be coming off the bench behind Niko Mirotic while playing the five in small lineups.

    Injury History: Randle broke his tibia in his first NBA game but has been relatively injury-free after that, with a hip pointer being the only thing that really sticks out.

    Outlook: Randle landed in a nice spot for his fantasy value, all things considered. The Pelicans don’t have a ton of playmaking in the second unit and he has the passing ability to help run the offense in addition to the scoring ability to keep things afloat in more talent-deficient groups.

    If he can keep his field goal percentage up above .500 (it absolutely will not be .558 again) then he’ll be a decent selection as the draft shifts to the late-middle rounds. If he ever started picking up steals and blocks we’d be cooking with gas but even now he’s capable of top-100 output in 8-cat formats.

    Elfrid Payton

    Total Value: 108/153 (8/9 cat)

    Per-Game Value: 83/129 (8/9 cat)

    Games Played: 63

    2017-18 Review: Payton continued to frustrate in 2017-18, failing to build on the second half from the year before that fantasy owners viewed as the peak version of EP. His ADP was just far too high, however, as it baked in the best stretch of Payton’s career and accounted for it as the new normal.

    While his overall line was pretty similar to last season’s (with some upswing in field goal percentage and a downturn at the free throw line), he ended up being a big disappointment instead of a pleasant surprise. It was thought that a fresh start in Phoenix would do him some good but all of his numbers (besides rebounds) ended up declining marginally or, in the case of his percentages, substantially.

    This Year: The Suns opted to let Payton walk, not liking what they saw enough to think he was a better fit than Brandon Knight, Shaq Harrison, Isaiah Canaan or Elie Okobo. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

    Payton signed with the Pelicans, where he’ll be the unquestioned starter and play close to home. We’ve seen what he’s like at his triple-double best and the Pellies are well-suited to support his game considering they just spent a season with Rajon Rondo at the helm – another playmaking point guard who can’t really shoot.

    Injury History: Payton missed the final seven games of the year after developing left knee tendinopathy but he tried to go through warmups a few times, so we’ll consider that some of those absences were tank-related. In November he sat out eight straight with a left hamstring strain. Payton’s been pretty healthy otherwise, logging two full 82-game seasons and one where he missed nine games between an ankle and elbow sprain. He’s fairly low risk.

    Outlook: There have been lots of ups and downs in Payton’s young career and in many respects it’s hard to fault him for all the fluctuations considering he’s never really played in the type of situation that helps a young point guard develop.

    He’s a more dynamic fantasy presence than Rajon Rondo and should hold at least a late-round floor, and he might get into the late-middle round discussion if having teammates that are actually good brings out the best in him. Payton’s worth the gamble around the mid-to-late round turn in 8-cat and a round or two later in 9-cat.

    Darius Miller

    Total Value: 189/174 (8/9 cat)

    Per-Game Value: 259/240 (8/9 cat)

    Games Played: 82

    2017-18 Review: After two years out of the league, Miller returned to the Pelicans and put together a fine season. He didn’t do much in box scores beyond 1.7 3-pointers a night but for the Pellies to get 23.7 mpg out of a player who wasn’t on the league’s radar was a pleasant surprise.

    This Year: Miller has earned a rotation spot but will probably see less time at the power forward spot. The total lack of depth on the wing means he’ll be needed and coach Gentry knows he can knock down his open threes, so expect similar output in fewer minutes.

    Injury History: Miller’s pretty clear on the injury front.

    Outlook: Miller will have 3-point specialist appeal but might have trouble hitting the top-250 again. Draft him accordingly in 20-team formats or larger.

    Cheick Diallo

    Total Value: 301/293 (8/9 cat)

    Per-Game Value: 346/325 (8/9 cat)

    Games Played: 52

    2017-18 Review: While Diallo was actually a full-fledged member of the big club last year, he saw his minutes per game fall from 11.7 (in 17 contests as a rookie) to 11.2 last season. His shooting percentage jumped by over 10 percentage points and his per-minute defensive numbers were strong, but there’s nothing that fantasy owners could’ve worked with given his paltry playing time.

    This Year: Diallo had a shot at the backup center gig had he been able to beat out Emeka Okafor, but Julius Randle will play a lot of small ball five after showing well in that spot last season. Plus, Diallo will now have to outplay two Okafors – Jahlil and Emeka – to get that second spot on the depth chart. It’s an uphill battle even if the team should probably side with the more youthful options.

    Injury History: There are no injury concerns with Diallo.

    Outlook: Diallo might get into the top-275 conversation if he wins the backup center job but it’d take a notable boost in playing time for him to start collecting worthwhile blocks and steals – and that’s if he wins the job. He’s only an option in very deep formats.

    Solomon Hill

    Total Value: 437/439 (8/9 cat)

    Per-Game Value: 424/437 (8/9 cat)

    Games Played: 12

    2017-18 Review: Hill’s season never really got going after he tore his right hamstring in August. Even upon returning he was stuck with extremely restrictive minutes limits and exceeded 20 minutes just three times.

    This Year: If Hill is healthy he’ll have every chance to earn minutes at the forward spots. Unfortunately for him the Pelicans now have a power forward who can stretch the floor but Hill’s quiet versatility should play well if they stick with a faster pace. There aren’t a ton of imposing players he’ll need to beat out for minutes, either.

    Injury History: Before the torn hamstring Hill had only missed a handful of games due to injury in his career. There’s a couple minor ankle issues in there but obviously that’s not the pressing concern.

    Outlook: Back in 2016-17 when he was healthy Hill finished just outside the top-180, so consider that a best-case scenario. Owners in 16-team leagues can consider him a viable late-round choice but he’s got no business in any formats shallower than that.

    Ian Clark

    Total Value: 254/258 (8/9 cat)

    Per-Game Value: 325/326 (8/9 cat)

    Games Played: 74

    2017-18 Review: Clark came over from the Warriors but ended up drifting out of the rotation at times and only working as the fourth guard in the rotation when everyone was healthy. It still resulted in a career-high 19.4 mpg but he was really only worth the trouble when Rajon Rondo was sidelined.

    This Year: Clark returns to the same depth role. He’s got a shot at a slightly expanded role if his 3-point shot gets back to normal but it’ll take a lot more than that for him to make a real impact.

    Injury History: He missed two games with a right ankle injury but that’s about it as far as injuries go.

    Outlook: Clark should only be worth your time in leagues with a player pool deeper than 300. There’s not a ton of guard depth in New Orleans but don’t try to get cute here.

    Jahlil Okafor

    Total Value: 361/361 (8/9-cat)

    Per-Game Value: 331/330 (8/9-cat)

    Games Played: 28

    2017-18 Review: Okafor was traded to the Nets but it didn’t change a lick, as he only averaged 12.6 minutes in his limited action. There was a lot of talk about Jah needing some time to get his conditioning up before playing after the trade but it probably wouldn’t have mattered had he come over ready for game action. It’ll take some serious work for his deficiencies to not completely erase the impact of the things he does well. It was a worthwhile flier since it cost the Nets nothing of importance but they discovered pretty quickly that Okafor can’t hack it in the modern NBA.

    This Year: Okafor signed a training camp deal with the Pelicans. It’s not a lock that he makes the roster, though if he does he’ll only see meaningful minutes if Anthony Davis gets hurt – though that’s not a lock either, considering Julius Randle and Emeka Okafor played well at center last season and Cheick Diallo offers more upside.

    Injury History: In 2015-16 Okafor had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee to fix a partial meniscus tear and while that didn’t affect him this year it’s still a risk going forward. He hit the injury report with an illness and a sore ankle but that’s small potatoes next to his knee.

    Outlook: Okafor’s NBA career is on the ropes already and he’s not someone that fantasy owners will need to worry about on draft day.

    Troy Williams

    Total Value: 378/379 (8/9-cat)

    Per-Game Value: 294/296 (8/9-cat)

    Games Played: 21

    2017-18 Review: Williams was let go by Houston so they could sign Joe Johnson and did enough in his two 10-day contracts with the Knicks to sign a two-year deal. In 17.1 mpg with New York he averaged 7.5 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 0.6 threes while shooting 49.0 percent. Nothing too outstanding but pretty good considering the acquisition cost.

    This Year: Williams was waived by the Knicks even after averaging 13.3 points a night at Summer League and found his way to New Orleans. He’ll compete for minutes at the forward spots but projects to be the 14th or 15th man on the roster.

    Injury History: A broken jaw ended Williams’ season on April 2 and he also sustained a sprained right MCL with the Rockets earlier in the year, though he wasn’t in the rotation at the time.

    Outlook: Williams is a solid, low-risk addition for a Pelicans team that could still use another wing player or two. He’s not likely to be in the rotation every night and can be left on the wire in all but the deepest of formats, however.

    Frank Jackson

    Total Value: N/A / N/A (8/9 cat)

    Per-Game Value: N/A / N/A (8/9 cat)

    Games Played: 0

    2017-18 Review: Jackson’s rookie season was a total wash as he needed two surgeries on his right foot and then a third to remove scar tissue.

    This Year: The Pelicans’ brass is excited about getting a healthy Jackson and there’s not a lot of point guard depth but let’s just make sure he’s 100 percent before projecting anything. The fact that a left ankle sprain knocked him out of Summer League isn’t a great start.

    Injury History: Lengthy for a guy who was drafted just last summer. Jackson suffered a stress fracture in his right foot back in May of 2017 and underwent surgery, only to break the same foot in an August workout. Later in the year he underwent a third surgery to remove scar tissue and a debridement. That Summer League ankle injury aside, Jackson’s got some major red flags.

    Outlook: It’s possible that a healthy Jackson can outplay Ian Clark and get into the point guard mix but there’s no need to make any declarations in fantasy until we see how he looks.

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