About the New Orleans Pelicans turning a button, a thimble, and some pocket lint into DeMarcus Cousins to put next to Anthony Davis in the frontcourt this past weekend: If anything, we’re underreacting.
Sunday night, the floor-slapping general of Team No Sleep, Chris Ryan, likened the Pelicans to Neck Tat Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and crew admiring their work at the Bellagio in Ocean’s Eleven. Taking into account the strong possibility that Buddy Hield will turn out to be a marginally better Nik Stauskas — who also looked a lot like Tall Steph Curry to Vivek Ranadivé — I thought the trade was more like Scruffy and Unintelligible Brad Pitt doing the rope-a-dope on a whole illicit, bare-knuckle betting ring in Snatch. Or Rico snatching that dude straight out of his car window in Paid in Full before making said dude strip to his underwear in the middle of the street and walk home. It doesn’t really matter which scene better represents what New Orleans just did — the core idea is that the Pelicans came all the way up:
Such a coup doesn’t guarantee immediate and sweeping improvement, though. Davis gets to play his preferred position now, the 4. I’d say natural position, but watching him carry the team all season, he’s basically been playing all of them. Pairing two giant robot lions down low runs opposite to the prevailing small-ball trend. And while neither has to shoulder the hopes of his franchise by his lonesome anymore, the pieces aren’t going to immediately lock to form Voltron. Playing under Alvin Gentry, graduate of the Seven Seconds or Less Suns, will require Boogie getting the ball out of his hands a little quicker than he’s used to. And he and Davis will need help from the perimeter. Although Tyreke Evans is Tyreke Evans, his return to Sacramento (and the merciful send-off of Hield) leaves a hole in the backcourt next to Jrue Holiday that will likely be filled by E’Twaun Moore, one of the team’s only reliable bench options. So while the Pelicans look like a mighty inconvenient opponent as of now, they’ve got a ways to go before they’re an actual menace in the West. Signing a spot-up shooter who, on his career, connects on 38.9 percent of his looks from 3 is a good start:
Should the Pelicans take the 8-seed and make that first-round playoff date with the Warriors, it may not necessarily go better than their sweep two years ago, but it’s sure as hell going to go differently. Golden State really runs into trouble only when it gets out-rebounded. And since the Warriors shipped out Andrew Bogut, Mo Speights, and Festus Ezeli to free up cap space for Kevin Durant this summer, their rebounding duties have been redistributed to less sturdy parts of the roster. It’ll be interesting to see how bringing a Zaza Pachulia to an Anthony Davis–and–DeMarcus Cousins fight (both of whom average more than 10 boards per game) pans out.
The first step in the Pels’ journey toward the eighth seed from 2.5 games back in the standings comes at home against the Houston Rockets on Thursday night, which, incidentally, should be a decent litmus test for just how differently that potential first-round series against the Warriors could go. Lest we forget, this Rockets squad out-algorithm’d a healthy Warriors side on their home court in double overtime back in December. They have the fourth-best record in the league, James Harden is having an MVP-caliber season with all the D’Antoni juice coursing through his veins, and this is isolated replay footage of Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza, and Eric Gordon during a 122–100 win over the Pelicans a few months ago:
Really, all the Pelicans have to do to move in the right direction is not give up a new NBA 3-point record. Make the paint unnavigable for the Rockets, force them into uncomfortable shots per usual, wipe down the boards, then give the ball to the abnormally large humans and get out of the way. The dawn of Brow and Boogie starts now. Let’s do this.