STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The last few years of New Orleans basketball have been trying for fans. The team traded superstar Chris Paul for a guard who has played a combined 51 games the past two seasons (Eric Gordon), a forward who fell out of favor with the head coach early last season and still hasn't quite put it all together (Al-Farouq Aminu) and a center who played just 47 games in a Hornets uniform (Chris Kaman). Things got worse when the lottery pick acquired in the trade turned out to be Austin Rivers, whose rookie season was one of the worst in NBA history before he succumbed to a broken hand and was shelved in mercy.
This season will mark a new era in New Orleans. First and foremost, the nickname Hornets was cast aside in favor of Pelicans. Things are looking up for the team on the court as well. All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday was acquired from the 76ers for Nerlens Noel and a 2014 first-round pick. Former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans was then acquired with rookie center Jeff Withey in a sign-and-trade that sent away Greivis Vasquez, Robin Lopez and seldom-used Terrel Harris. With Holiday and Evans in the fold, the Pelicans look like a playoff team for the first time in the post-Chris Paul era. Returnees Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon make the Pelicans a team that has enough talent in their starting lineup and enough depth on the bench to be competitive.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
The starting point guard job will belong to the newcomer Holiday this season. If coach Monty Williams had any desire to limit Holiday's playing time, the club wouldn't have traded away the incumbent starter Vasquez, so expect Holiday to play 35-or-so minutes per game. He'll be spelled by Brian Roberts and occasionally Austin Rivers, who will also see significant time at shooting guard. Gordon is the starter at the two, and if he can stay healthy, he'll be a good bet to play at least 30 minutes per game. In addition, Rivers, Anthony Morrow and, perhaps, Darius Miller will see time behind Gordon. The starting small forward job is still up for grabs. Evans is one option, but he may also be used as the team's sixth man, a role he's reportedly willing to accept. Either way, Evans should play near 30 minutes per game as well. Aminu could start at small forward spot or come off the bench and should see around 25 minutes per game. Davis and Anderson will each see 30-plus minutes in the frontcourt, though Anderson's role is likely off the bench. If Davis is in the starting four, Jason Smith and Greg Stiemsma are options to start at center, though neither project to play huge minutes.
Jason Smith: Smith is the longest tenured Pelican, entering his fourth season with the team. As of now, Smith isn't able to workout, still not being fully healed from the torn labrum surgery he underwent last March. Already at the end of his 4-to-6 month timetable, Smith's availability for training camp is up in the air. When healthy, the Pelicans value Smith's toughness and veteran presence. Though he won't be a 20-plus minute per game player, he has shown an ability to produce in the past, posting 17.3 points and 7.6 rebounds per 36 minutes last season. Smith could work his way into the starting conversation at some point this season.
Greg Stiemsma: Stiemsma is entering his third season in the NBA and playing with his third different team. The big man made a name for himself as a shot-blocker in 2011 with the Boston Celtics and played a similar role in 2012 with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Likely looking at no more than 10 or so minutes per game, Stiemsma is another option to start for the Pelicans.
Jeff Withey: A rookie out of Kansas acquired as part of the Evans three-team sign-and-trade, Withey's playing time in 2013 should be sparse. The shot-blocking specialist could eventually see time on the court if Smith's injury problems persist or Stiemsma is outplayed defensively.
Anthony Davis: Davis enters his sophomore year healthy and ready to make a big impact for the Pelicans. Davis' rookie season was marred by shoulder, knee, ankle and head injuries, but he was productive when on the floor. The Kentucky product seemed to get better as the season progressed, improving his scoring by nearly three points and rebounds by nearly two boards per game after the All-Star break. Davis has reportedly been working to bulk up this offseason, which may allow him to play more center while Ryan Anderson soaks up minutes at power forward.
Ryan Anderson: Anderson proved last year that his breakout 2011-12 campaign was no fluke. Despite coming off the bench for 59 of his 81 games, Anderson was second on the team in scoring (16.2 ppg) and third in rebounding (6.4 rpg)—a figure greater than that of starting center Robin Lopez (5.6 rpg). An adept three-point shooter, Anderson is a 38 percent shooter from beyond the arc for his career. With an improved roster around him, Anderson may not get as many looks as he has in the past, but he should still see heavy minutes as a big part of the second unit.
Al-Farouq Aminu: Aminu spent the 2012-13 season in and out of Williams' doghouse, but he ultimately started 71 games. Despite having his fourth-year option declined in October, Aminu returned to New Orleans this offseason on a one-year deal. Aminu's role is still in the air for this season, but he is sure to see time on the floor due to his abilities on defense and on the glass. At 6-9, Aminu led the team in rebounding with 7.7 per game and steals with 1.2. Regardless of whether he starts or comes off the bench, Aminu should see plenty of time on the court this season.
Darius Miller: Miller played in 52 games as a rookie last season but didn't do much of note statistically. With a litany of wing players ahead of him in the rotation, Miller won't see a lot of time on the floor with New Orleans, making a trip to the D-League this year possible. The coaching staff is hoping Miller improves defensively this season.
Lance Thomas: Thomas started 19 games for the Pelicans over the past two seasons but was waived in the offseason. The Duke product eventually returned to New Orleans on a non-guaranteed deal. If he makes the team, Thomas likely won't see much action, barring injuries to the forwards ahead of him on the depth chart.
Arinze Onuaku: Onuaku most recently played for the Canton Charge of the D-League. After an impressive run with the Phoenix Suns in the summer league, where he averaged 6.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, Onuaku agreed to a non-guaranteed deal with the Pelicans. With only 13 guaranteed contracts, Onuaku has a solid chance of making the team, but his role would be very limited.
Jrue Holiday: Holiday had the best season of his four-year career in 2012-13, averaging 17.7 points and 8.0 assists en route to his first All-Star Game appearance. Still just 23 years old, Holiday could improve even further with his new team. With a much-improved supporting cast, Holiday should at least match his performance from 2012-13. One strategy that may be utilized for this season is Holiday playing shooting guard. In this lineup, Holiday could be used off the ball with one of Evans, Rivers or Roberts controlling the ball so as to give Holiday more opportunities to score. Regardless of where he plays, Holiday should at least be as good as he was last season for the Sixers.
Eric Gordon: Gordon enters 2013-14 coming off surgery on his ankle, but he is expected to be 100 percent by the start of the season. Despite playing in only 42 games and not playing in the second game of back-to-back sets last season, Gordon was the team's leading scorer with 17.0 points per game. Everyone knows Gordon is a talented player, but his issue has been staying healthy. He hasn't played in more than 62 games since his rookie season with the Clippers, when he played 78. He's played fewer than 60 games in each of his last three seasons. When healthy, Gordon will be the starting shooting guard and a threat to pour in 20-plus points on a given night.
Tyreke Evans: The 2009 Rookie of the Year has seen his stock drop consistently with age, watching his points, rebounds and assists decrease every season. After falling out of favor with the Sacramento Kings, Evans took his talents to New Orleans for the coming season. His role for 2013-14 is still up in the air, as he could be used as the starting small forward or the sixth man backing up both wings. Evans will still be just 24 years old when he takes the floor for the season opener, making him young enough to regain his rookie form. A positive to look forward to in regards to Evans: he shot a career-best 34 percent from beyond the arc last season.
Austin Rivers: Rivers had a rough season in 2012-13, averaging just 6.2 points with a PER* of 5.95. The combo guard missed the end of the season with a broken hand, but was a healthy participant for the Pelicans' summer league team. Rivers has reportedly improved this summer, but he will have stiff competition for backup guard minutes with Roberts, Morrow and Evans.
Anthony Morrow: Morrow played 41 games in 2012-13 for the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks. A potent three-point shooter, Morrow played just sparingly for both of his teams last season, especially the Mavericks. This season, he'll have to outplay Rivers and Miller to earn any consistent playing time.
Brian Roberts: Roberts burst onto the scene last year with New Orleans as a 26-year-old rookie. With 7.1 points per game last year, Roberts proved he could be an asset off the bench and as a spot starter in case of an injury. Roberts will share backup point guard duties with Rivers this season.
Al-Farouq Aminu: Aminu has quietly improved each of his three seasons in the NBA. If he earns the starting nod, he could be looking at a full block and steal per game in addition to plus rebounding for a small forward.
Ryan Anderson: Anderson is a talented player, but he isn't in the cushy situation he had last season. His scoring, field goal percentage and three-point percentage all dropped heavily after the All-Star break once Gordon got healthier. With more mouths to feed this year, Anderson is due for a regression.
*For an explanation of PER, go here.