Anthony Davis

USA Today Sports

Pelicans prove, yet again, that the "experts" don't know much

Who to credit for the Pelicans breakthrough series

Seth Dunlap
April 22, 2018 - 5:08 am
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If the NBA playoffs are a mix tape then the New Orleans Pelicans just contributed a diss track that could even make Drake blush, one that took aim at all of those so-called media "experts" who thought the Pelicans had no chance in the opening round against the Portland Trail Blazers.

The Pelicans spent the past eight days laying down four epic verses en route to a series sweep of the Blazers, culmiating in last night's 131-123 coup de grace in front of a raukous sellout crowd in the Smoothie King Center.   They became the first team to advance in this year's playoffs, while making a mockery of an entire nation's worth of pre-playoff predictions.

No, really.  It wasn't just the majority of sports writers and commentators across the country that had the Blazers winning this series with ease. It was nearly all of them.

ESPN's 22 self-described "experts" had the Blazers advancing in this series.  Every. Single. One.   

The fellas at CBS Sports also looked unanimously foolish, with all six of their writers expecting the Pelicans to go home early.

USA Today has a smaller sports staff, but they apparently go big with bad predictions.  A perfect 4/4 of their staff picked Portland.  

About the only national publication that took New Orleans was the Washington Post.  

Heck, I'm not even entirely off the hook here.  It was just a couple of months ago where I predicted on my nightly radio show that the Pelicans would have a tough time even making the playoffs without Boogie Cousins.   Be sure to send some of your hate mail my way.  

This kind of overwhelming incompetence is becoming par for the course with us sports media hacks.  

All of the NFL "experts" thought that the Philadelphia Eagles were toast when Carson Wentz went down with a season ending knee injury.   They were hoisting the Lombardi Trophy not two months later.  

The Los Angeles Dogers were the overwhelming favorite to win the World Series last year.   Or maybe your favorite media personality liked Cleveland, or the Yankees, or the Nationals.   Yet, it was the Houston Astros making a fairy tale run to a world championship.  

Lesson learned yet?  

So, here we are, just one week into these NBA Playoffs, watching the Pelicans make mincemeat out of the Blazers while they make believers out of previous skeptics.   Who helped make this Pelicans Renaissance a reality?  Here's a (very partial) list of those who deserve credit for the Pelicans unexpected rise.

 

Anthony Davis

It's no longer a question if Davis is one of the league's two or three best players.  He is.  It's been that way for nearly the entirety of 2018.   The Brow has been even more ridiculous this postseason, where he's averaging 33 points, 12 rebounds, nearly three blocks, and somewhere around nine hundred highlight reel alley-oop dunks per game.

If you could factor in the Blazers series into MVP voting -- spoiler alert, voters can't -- Davis might actually snatch that award away from James Harden.   

I don't actually know how any team contains him right now.  Good luck to Steve Kerr and the Warriors trying to figure that out over the next week.

LeBron James may still be King, but there nobody playing better in the NBA currently than Anthony Davis.  

 

Jrue Holiday

The Jruth is quickly becoming my favorite player in the NBA.   Holiday has been one of the best defense guards in the league for a while, and he's having his most productive season offensively.  He's even elevated from that in these playoffs, with his 41 point performance in the series clincher last night being a fitting way to end the best week of his career.

Every possession he seems to be involved in something critical.  One second he's turning C.J. McCollum's defense into a meme, the next he's making Damian Lillard think about what excuses he'll use during the post-game press conference.


I have written, and spoke, at length the past week about just how critical Holiday is to this team.   Anthony Davis is the shiny chassis of this sports car.  Holiday is the engine.   The Pelicans will only go as far as Holiday takes them, and right now he's gassed up for the long haul. 

 

Rajon Rondo

Yes, Playoff Rondo is real.  We've seen that manifest before our eyes this week.   Rondo is averaged a ridiculous 13.3 assists per game against Portland and consistently found lanes to the bucket where there were none in the regular season.   He's special, and he has been in the playoffs his whole career.

His behind the scenes work with this young team has probably been even more important.  

The Pelicans are chock-full of mild-mannered young stars and role players.   Anthony Davis may soon be the face of the league, but nobody is going to mistake him for Shaquille O'Neal in front of a camera or microphone.  Jrue Holiay leads this team's bible study and is one of the truly great people in the NBA off the court, but he isn't likely to take his teammates to task for lazy preparation. 

Those guys aren't ready to hold their teammates accountable the way a proven playoff veteran, and NBA champion, like Rondo can.  His film study is legendary, as are the 2:00 a.m. texts to his teammates.   Rondo is one the smartest basketball players of his generation, and he demands accountability from any organization, and teammates, he's around.

That can rub some NBA veterans the wrong way, but it's been a great fit here in New Orleans.   His impact cannot be overstated.

 

Nikola Mirotic

Shout out to the Beardless Wonder.  It kind of felt like the sharp shooting Montenegrin could be the missing piece to a revitalized Pelicans roster when he was brought in via trade with the Bulls.  It's turned out that way, with Mirotic playing an incredibly valuable roll on the wing in the team's offense.  He's shooting a red-hot 46% from three in the playoffs, and 57% overall from the floor.   That shooting has helped open things up for Davis & Co. on the interior.   

Mirotic has also turned himself into a very capable defender and rebounder.   Anybody still miss Ryan Anderson in a Pelican's uniform?  Didn't think so.

 

Alvin Gentry

Usually a punching bag for frustrated fans during his tenure with the Pelicans, Alvin Gentry has turned himself into a bonafide Coach of the Year candidate.   Frankly, fans who continued to blame Gentry for the team's struggles this season were being lazy.    His ressurection started towards the end of last season, when his Warriors-esque style offense finally had the Pelicans among the league leaders in uncontested shots.   The problem was those uncontested shots were being made at one of the league's worst rates.  That was a personnel problem, not a coaching one.

Gentry's system is thriving with this current roster.   The freedom of movement and pace of play is something he's always preached.   It's almost a work of art to watch right now, and it's got to give opposing coaches nightmares when trying to game plan against it.   Double Davis, and you risk turning Beardless Mirotic into the second coming of Chris Mullen.  Guard the perimeter and Rondo is either turning the paint into Lob City for Anthony Davis or finding easy creases to the rim himself.

If there are answers to Gentry's offense out there, we haven't seen then the last few weeks.   

 

Dell Demps

There's nobody, outside of perhaps Gentry, who has received more ire from Pelicans fans the past half decade than Demps.   The first six and a half years of his tenure in New Orleans is littered with mistakes in the draft, bad trades, and terrible contracts.   

The past year and a half he's been remarkable.  Let's recap!

  • He made such a lopsided trade for Demarcus Cousins, one that favored of the Pelicans, that there was national outcry from many who suggested that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver step in with a veto.
  • This past offseason he resigned Jrue Holiday to a new contract worth $25 million per season for five years.  That looks like an incredible bargain, as Holiday would almost certainly sign a max-deal contract if he were on the open market now.
  • He brought in Rajon Rondo, with a little assist from Cousins, on a team friendly one year, $3.3 million deal.  Rondo was worth every penny of that, and more, just in their four playoff games.
  • He traded a first round draft pick to the Bulls for Nikola Mirotic.  That draft pick is becoming less and less valuable with each game the Pelicans win.  Right now it would fall some where between picks 23-26 if the Pelicans don't win another series.  You aren't likely to find a player of Mirotic's caliber at that spot in the draft.  Advantage, Pelicans.  
  • He signed Emeka Okafor in February after Cousins went down with injury.  Okafor isn't playing a big role, or really any role at all, now.  However, there was a stretch when Okafor's presence on the interior helped keep this team from falling apart while they were still trying to find their post-Cousins identity.   

Demps deserves heavy praise for his work the past two seasons.   The Pelicans wouldn't be preparing to play in the Western Conference Semifinals without his vision for this franchise.

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