By: Scott Brock-Wilson and Justin Lynch
Here are numbers 8 and 7 as we get closer to the top five.
Click on the previous sets of rankings to view them:
#30-#21: 30 and 29, 28 and 27, 26 and 25, 24 and 23, 22 and 21
#20-#11: 20 and 19, 18 and 17, 16 and 15, 14 and 13, 12 and 11
#10-#1: 10 and 9
8. New Orleans Pelicans
Last Season: 45-37, First Round Loss
Key Offseason Acquisitions: Alonzo Gee, Kendrick Perkins
Key Offseason Losses: N/A
Projected Starting 5:
PG: Jrue Holiday
SG: Eric Gordon
SF: Tyreke Evans
PF: Anthony Davis
C: Omer Asik
Key Role Players:
1. Ryan Anderson
2. Dante Cunningham
3. Alexis Ajinca
SBW Season Outlook:
Obviously I could spend this entire time talk about Davis, because let’s be honest, Anthony Davis is the Pelicans. However, our first basketball preview podcast was the other day, and I don’t want to be redundant, so if you want more on Davis, click here.
Now for the rest of the team. Holiday is the key to this team. He is the second best player on the team when healthy, but he hasn’t played more than 40 games in either of the last two seasons. Holiday has yet to perform to his all-star level since being with the Pelicans. Last season Holiday averaged 14/7/3 in his limited play. When Holiday is out, Tyreke usually assumes most of the PG duties.
Tyreke is a point forward. He is a scorer (16 ppg), but one that is not a shooter (30% 3pt%). He gets his points primary from the lane from his great driving and finishing abilities. The issue is that he is usually asked to play the three, a position for which he is great undersized at 6’6.
To compensate for Evan’s lack of shooting, they have Gordon. And although i’m not the biggest fan of his, he seems to be a good fit for the Pelicans who are always in need of good shooting guards. Gordon shot nearly 45% from three last season, but he too has had trouble staying on the court. He seems to acquire minor injuries here and there throughout the season. Since his rookie year, Gordon has yet to play more than 64 games in a season.
The other bigs besides Davis are either rim protectors (Ajinca, Asik, Perkins) or shooters (Anderson, Cunningham). The shooters compliment Davis perfectly offensively by spacing the floor, while the rim protectors make the inside of the Pelicans defense a force to be reckoned with. However, they are spending a lot of money (over 22 million dollar this year) on the three big men Asik, Ajinca, and Anderson when I believe they are weak in the backcourt off the bench. And with injury prone players, that can be an issue.
Now, the biggest news of the Pelicans offseason (besides Davis shooting threes!) was the hiring of Alvin Gentry. Gentry is best known as the genius behind the Warriors fast-paced offense. Everyone is excited in New Orleans to see just what Gentry can do with Davis’ talent. The Pelicans were in the middle of the league last year in terms of scoring, averaging under 100 points per game. It’s a guarantee that the Pelicans, under the guidance of Gentry, will be averaging over 100 this.
JL Best-case scenario:
Anthony Davis arrives as the best player in the league a year or two early, averaging 27 points, 13 rebounds, and 4 blocks per game. He breaks Wilt’s single season PER record (31.82) and casually knocks down 38% of his threes. Eric Gordon continues his catch-and-shoot prowess and becomes Kyle Korver-deadly from deep. Jrue Holiday stays healthy and Tyreke keeps getting to the rim at Harden-esque rates. Alvin Gentry transforms this offense into a top-3 most efficient in the NBA. The Pelicans grab the 5-seed in the West and upset the unsuspecting Clippers in round one. Anthony Davis goes full martian the next series and carries the Pelicans to the Western Conference Finals. Their luck runs out as they lose in seven to the Warriors in a rematch of last year’s first round, but the Pelicans set the groundwork for a decade of contention.
JL Worst-case scenario:
Anthony Davis’ three point experiment backfires and it causes is rebounding numbers to drop (the Kevin Love affect). Holiday still can’t stay healthy and Gordon turns out to be a one-year wonder. Tyreke plays out of control and his turnover rate skyrockets. The Pelicans are surpassed by the Jazz and Grizzlies and get the seven-seed in the West. They get swept in the first round for the second year in a row, and go into the offseason ready to trade anyone except Davis.
Projected Record: 49-33
7. Chicago Bulls
Last Season: 50-32, Second Round Loss
Key Offseason Acquisitions: Bobby Portis, Fred Hoiberg (Coach)
Key Offseason Losses: Tom Thibodeau (Coach)
Projected Starting 5:
PG: Derrick Rose
SG: Jimmy Butler
SF: Mike Dunleavy
PF: Pau Gasol
C: Joakim Noah
Key Role Players:
1. Nikola Mirotic
2. Taj Gibson
3. Tony Snell, Aaron Brooks, Kirk Hinrich, Doug McDermott
JL Season Outlook:
Thibodeau is out in Chicago and his replacement, Fred Hoiberg, will bring lots of change to a place that’s been consistent for a while. Hoiberg’s regime will bring a faster pace offensively, likely less emphasis defensively, and hopefully less minutes from Jimmy Butler. Derrick Rose’s preseason face injury certainly was not the best start, but he will be back and this team will start rolling.
Or will it? Gasol is coming off a huge year, but he’s 35 and last year year may have been his last hurrah. Noah barely even showed up for last season, and they still have Taj Gibson, another former cog who is no longer what he used to be. Despite this, they still have one of the best frontcourts in the NBA, especially when you start to consider Nikola Mirotic in Hoiberg’s new offensive scheme. They are solid upfront, but all the attention of this team goes to the backcourt.
Point guard Derrick Rose is now four years removed from the season in which he was awarded the MVP. Yes, he was awarded it. LeBron won it. But that’s another argument. Rose is coming off of a year that saw him put up 18 points/game, but on only 41% shooting and 28% from deep. Rose also tied a career low in rebounds/game and could not break into the 5’s in terms of assist/game (4.9). Rose’s is still a good player. He’s explosive, finishes at the rim, and anyone putting up 18/game without being able to shoot is doing certain things right. But it is no longer his team.
That distinction belongs to Jimmy Butler. Butler is 26, entering his prime, and threw up 20 and six boards in the season that put him on the map on a more national level. His shooting splits were 46/38/83, and became the go-to-guy. But Butler’s true brilliance is defensively. He averaged nearly two steals/game and covered the opponent’s top wing scorer every night.
The Bulls are always in the hunt at the end of the year, but their biggest strength is down low. This used to be a positive, but with Cleveland having Love, Thompson, and Mozgov (and sometimes LeBron) playing the two bigs, the Bulls strength might be neutralized. I see a solid regular season from the Bulls, but I can’t see a way they beat a healthy Cavs team. The Bulls need a little more firepower, and I’m not sure where they can get it.
SBW Best-case scenario:
Rose finally returns to close to his MVP form. Butler and Rose decide that they can get along now. Gasol continues his monster year from last year. Noah is able to have a bounce back season and return to his all-star form from two years ago. Mirotic proves he isn't a one year wonder, and Gibson does what he always does, as he tops off the best and deepest frontcourt in the league. Dunleavy does everything that is asked of him by making every open shot, and McDermott shows improvement. The Bulls finish as a top 3 seed in the East.
SBW Worst-case scenario:
The Rose-Butler fued continues to the point when we hear jokes about how much it will cost on pay-per-view. Noah continues his downward trend, as Gasol proves he can't sustain his production from last year. The league adjusts to Mirotic in his second year, and he becomes a average bench player. The Bulls fall to the sixth seed and are outed early in the playoffs.
Projected Record: 49-33