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New Orleans Pelicans

Are We There Yet?

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans are over .500 for the first time since April 15, 2015. The team has a winning road record and a three-game winning streak. Anthony Davis and Boogie Cousins are dropping NBA 2k numbers on a nightly basis – and they may have another gear.

So why don’t I trust this team?

The Pelicans stand at 6-5. They own a perfect record against struggling teams under .500 (5-0) and an abysmal record against everyone else (1-5). Their point differential is +0.2. The team’s offensive and defensive ratings fall in the middle tier of the league. None of these descriptions are sexy, but none are awful. As Jon posted a few days ago, it’s important to keep everything in perspective.

Oct 30, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward DeMarcus Cousins (0) is defended by Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac (1) during the second half of a game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Pelicans fans are certainly accustomed to much less success. New Orleans started both the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons 1-9 after making the playoffs in 2015. Davis and Cousins have changed that narrative, as the duo are the only teammates in the NBA averaging over 25 points per game and more than 10 rebounds per game. They also rank first and second for the most double-doubles in the NBA in this young season.

But again…6-5? That’s the hot start that signals a new era in New Orleans Pelicans history?

Coach Gentry seems set on coaching the team he wants – not the team he has. Despite starting the two best bigs in the league, the Pelicans shoot the 8th-most threes in the NBA while hitting the 27th-highest percentage behind the arc. The Pelicans also insist on playing at the 7th-fastest pace in the league while committing the 7th- most turnovers per game. These habits cause wild swings from 20-point leads to 15-point deficits – sometimes in the same contest.

Nov 3, 2017; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward Harrison Barnes (40) shoots over New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (11) during the second half at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Like a tree that falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, a stingy half court defense is just philosophical thought work if the team is always in transition defense from long misses on threes. A team that doesn’t protect the ball – but loves to push the pace – is essentially just a dog chasing its tail. A team with no focus that…well, you get the idea.

Mar 27, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Solomon Hill (44) shoots the ball as head coach Alvin Gentry looks on during the first quarter against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Listen: projected starters Rajon Rondo and Solomon Hill are hurt. Yes, the losses of Omer Asik, Alexis Ajinca and Frank Jackson are a factor. The inconsistent play of Jrue Holiday throws an additional wrench into the gears. Looking acrosss the league, a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder is an example of how hard it is to mesh new talent. Then again, the Boston Celtics – a league-best 10-2 with four new starters – demonstrate that a smart system can mitigate a lot of other issues.

Davis and Cousins are playing at an elite level, even though this system  doesn’t fully realize their strengths. We can’t expect the moon, but we can improve even more. Early in the season is when good teams identify and address troubling trends. It’s a long journey from 1-9 to where Pelicans fans want the team to be. We can all appreciate that.

So no, we aren’t quite there…yet. But if we’re going to arrive, Coach Gentry needs to unleash the full potential of his coaching artistry and, by extension, this team’s potential. Change can be good.

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Jermaine L. Smith is a New Orleans fundraiser and writer with pieces published on Pelican Debrief and Cracked.com

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