The 2017 offseason was the wildest in NBA history. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are now Eastern Conference rivals. Out West, Chris Paul joined James Harden, while Paul George and Carmelo Anthony united with Russell Westbrook. Ten recent All–Stars changed uniforms, and we haven’t even gotten to Kevin Durant’s strange summer, so let’s get to previewing. The 2017-18 NBA season is finally upon us.
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
2016-17 finish: 34-48, 10th in the West
• Offensive rating: 103.3 (26th)
• Defensive rating: 104.9 (9th)
Did the summer help at all?
It was weird. That’s for sure. The Pelicans were already going to be unconventional, with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins — arguably the game’s best centers — on a roster devoid of shooters to space the floor for them. Then, they added Rondo and Allen, a shot-challenged starting-caliber backcourt.
Don’t get me wrong. Once a perennial All-Star point guard, Rondo is still capable of facilitating like few others, and Allen is a lockdown defender. They played major minutes together on a championship team a decade ago. But if you’re building a team around Davis and Cousins, both ex-Boston Celtics are odd fits who further crowd the paint. Rondo has quietly put together two straight slightly above-league-average 3-point shooting seasons, but he and Allen own a combined 29.5 career percentage.
New Orleans brought back Dante Cunningham and added Clark, both of whom were solid shooters last season with spotty histories before then. Plus, Jackson (a second-round pick) and Miller (New Orleans’ 2012 second-round pick who has spent the past three seasons playing for Brose Baskets Bamberg) both shot 40 percent from 3-point range last season at Duke and in Germany, respectively.
Is that enough to swing what was a sub-.500 team even after adding Cousins at the trade deadline? There’s talent here, seven or eight deep now. If there’s a way to make the Davis-Cousins combo work offensively, Rondo is smart enough to help figure it out. Whether he can execute it is another matter.
Defensively, lineups featuring Davis, Cousins and Jrue Holiday operated at the equivalent of the league’s best unit last season. Add Tony Allen into that mix, and they can downright suffocate opposing offenses. It’s an oddly constructed roster, but one capable of doing damage on both ends of the floor. If nothing else, they’ll be fun to watch, because they’re built against the grain of today’s NBA.
Best-case scenario: Alvin Gentry rolls out a Rondo-Holiday-Allen-Davis-Cousins lineup, and these misfits form a Voltron. Davis and Cousins own the rim, Cheick Diallo chips in, and nobody can grab a rebound on either end against them. Rondo feeds the bigs until they get their full, and they find a handful of floor-spacing shooters from a wing group that also includes E’Twaun Moore and Jordan Crawford. Somehow, this strange bunch makes a postseason push, with Playoff Rondo puppeteering the twin towers to 50 and 25 a night, and the Pelicans put a shock into the pace-and-space era.
If everything falls apart: New Orleans drops to league-low levels in 3-point shooting, the offense can’t hold up the defense’s end of the bargain, and Rondo forges a divide in the locker room, leading to a clash of titans Davis and Cousins. The Pels fall out of playoff contention for a third straight season, general manager Dell Demps holds a fire sale, and they get even less of a return on a Cousins trade than the Sacramento Kings did. Or, worse — devastating even — Davis launches his exit strategy.
Best guess at a record: 42-40
Read all of Ball Don’t Lie’s 2017-18 NBA Season Previews:
Atlanta Hawks • Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Charlotte Hornets • Chicago Bulls • Cleveland Cavaliers • Detroit Pistons • Indiana Pacers • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New York Knicks • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Toronto Raptors • Washington Wizards
Dallas Mavericks • Denver Nuggets • Golden State Warriors • Houston Rockets • Los Angeles Clippers • Los Angeles Lakers • Memphis Grizzlies • Minnesota Timberwolves • New Orleans Pelicans • Oklahoma City Thunder • Phoenix Suns • Portland Trail Blazers • Sacramento Kings • San Antonio Spurs • Utah Jazz
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