NBA Handicapping: Is Pelicans Hot Start Sustainable?
by Trevor Whenham - 11/25/2014
The New Orleans Pelicans are not off to a shocking start - they aren't the Kings - but they are definitely impressing out of the gate. At 7-5 they are competitive in the West, and the way they have played makes it possible to believe that they could stick around the playoff race for a long time. This is one of those positive stories in the league - a young team that has shown patience and is building around a core of their own. So, how do we evaluate this team and where they are at right now from a betting perspective?
Here are six factors to consider when looking at this team:
Anthony Davis: I could say endless amounts about Anthony Davis, but I probably barely need to say anything. The simple fact is that this year he has turned from the freak with immense upside that he was early in his career to a game-changing super-freak now. He is one of the rare players in this league who is truly a game-changer. As I write this New Orleans is getting ready for a Tuesday night showdown with the Sacramento Kings. It's fitting because Davis and DeMarcus Cousins are at the start of a (hopefully) decade-long battle for big man supremacy in this league. Grab your popcorn - this one will be worth watching. With Davis to build around, the team is in good hands.
Eric Gordon injury: Gordon, the starting shooting guard, injured his shoulder this week and will be out for the foreseeable future. It exposes a potential issue for the team. One knock of the Pelicans has been a lack of depth in the backcourt, and this injury just illuminates that. It's not really a lack of bodies - just of proven options. Tyreke Evans will be moved over from small forward to shooting guard in the short term, but that only shifts the problems over one position - though Evans gets to play in a more natural position and one in which he has previous experience because Gordon is far from the least injured player in the league. Really, Evans, Gordon and Holiday act as more of a three-guard system than what would be expected by their positions. If the injury is indeed long term then the team is going to have to rely on guys they probably would rather not - like Jimmer Fredette, Austin Rivers or Russ Smith at guard, or Darius Miller, who will be the initial starter, or John Salmons at small forward. When a team is young and still fragile - like this one is - they really don't want to be putting out less than their best starting lineup for any period of time, but the Pelicans are going to be forced to. How well they weather this setback will have a big say in how the season turns out.
Jrue Holiday: The point guard who cost the Pelicans two first-round picks (which became Noel and Saric) to acquire from the Sixers doesn't get the attention you might expect. He is overshadowed both by the monster in the frontcourt and the number of strong, big-name point guards in the west. His numbers aren't as gaudy as they could be, but part of that is because he doesn't shoot as much as other players do. His patience is paired with efficient shooting and good decision making, though. He will never be my favorite point guard in the league, but the Pelicans could certainly do worse than to have him running the show for the next decade.
Coaching: Monty Williams is so understated that it can be easy to forget about him. He is impressive, though - the youngest coach in the league when he was hired at 38 and an assistant alongside giants with USA Basketball this summer. In an era where many teams have a revolving door with coaches, the Pelicans get real credit for their commitment. This is his fifth year with the team and his fourth year in rebuilding mode. The team is making progress every year, and Williams gets a lot of credit for that. He isn't flashy, and his conservatism can frustrate at times, but there are worse possibilities for a team to have - about 25 of them in the league right now alone.
Schedule: The Pelicans are one of 10 teams in the West making a real push for the playoffs (11 if the Thunder can get healthy and turn things around in a hurry). New Orleans wouldn't be any more out of place in the East than the West geographically, and that would be so much better for them on the court. The team could be a couple years further ahead in their rebuilding if they played more Eastern teams and only had to compete for an Eastern playoff spot - they would have almost made the playoffs last year in the East. It would be much easier to be optimistic this year if it weren't for their conference.
ATS Performance: Despite their solid start, and the sense held by many that they are ahead of schedule, the team has done bettors no favors this year. They are just 6-6 ATS. Last year, despite being just 34-48 overall, the team was 37-39-6 ATS, so they were, in relative terms at least, a better betting team than now.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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