The New Orleans Pelicans are amid one of their hottest streaks in franchise history. New Orleans is the only team that punched its ticket into the second round via a sweep, something not even a 1-seed will accomplish this postseason. While everyone in New Orleans anxiously awaits our second-round match up to begin, national analysts around the country are questioning if the Pelicans roster is one Boogie Cousins too bloated. I’ll preface the rest of this piece by saying no. No, it’s not.
As recently as two weeks ago, every NBA analyst at ESPN was asked to predict a winner of the Portland-New Orleans series. It is well known now that literally zero people believed the Pelicans could even win the series – let alone sweep the Trailblazers and be the first team into the NBA’s second round of the playoffs.
Looking back on the season, it’s unclear why there were so few believers in this team. It’s even more confusing why many of those individuals now also believe that Cousins – a major catalyst for the team’s improvement – has no relevance to the team’s future success. When the season tipped off, the Pelicans weren’t great. Inconsistent to start, for sure. But…talented. Overall, this experiment seemed to be trending in the right direction. Once Rajon Rondo was healthy and in the mix, we saw shooters were shooting; a solid offensive pace; effort and growing consistency on defense; and rotations coming together. The team seemed to be hitting its stride when Boogie came down a little too hard on his left leg at the tail end of a win at the Houston Rockets. For a moment, it seemed like the ascent for this team with as much potential as we’d seen was laid out on in heap on the Smoothie King Center floor.
That’s when Demps waved his magic wand one more time and turned Omer Asik and a pick into Nikola Mirotic. That’s when Anthony Davis went Full Metal Russell Westbrook. That’s when we won 10 straight games. The rest is immortalized in awesome memes across the internet.
Anthony Davis: 47 PTS, 11 REBS, 3 BLK
Jrue Holiday: 41 PTS & 8 ASTS
— PinPoint Sports (@SportsPinPoint) April 21, 2018
But let’s back up a bit, because the experts suggesting Boogie isn’t necessary moving forward are forgetting how we got here in the first place. Boogie was an All-Star this year. When he went down, the Pelicans had won 7 of 8 games, including wins over the Rockets, Celtics and – ironically – Trailblazers. We were 27-21 and in 6th place in the Western Conference. We needed Boogie to get there.
Boogie’s individual dominance and production was astonishing all year. He wasn’t just having a good year playing next to the Brow; he was having one of the best years of his career. It was his best rebounding year; most assists per game; tied for highest steals per game in his career; second-best shooting percentage from the field (47%); his second-best performance behind the arc (35%); and he was also pouring in 25 points per game. In fact, it’s not fair to call him an All-Star; that’s an All-NBA center. They don’t grow on trees.
But recency bias has hot takes swirling. The Pelicans play too slow with Boogie. He can’t defend the way New Orleans needs. They swept the Trailblazers – they obviously don’t need him. One small sample size and the experts want us to throw the baby out with the bath water. Let’s not forget how you get to the playoffs: this Pelicans team ended the season first in the NBA in pace; third in scoring; top-10 in offensive rating; top-14 in defensive rating; and with 48 wins. Boogie helped to lay the foundation by playing some of the best basketball of his career.
Yes, there is real risk in presuming Cousins will come back 100%. The odds aren’t high that he’ll come into next season at peak form. That’s ok. Without Cousins of any kind, this team is currently talented enough to advance to the second round of the NBA playoffs. What could this team do with Cousins at 70% 80%? What will the NBA do if he gets back to 90-100%? What can it do?
The Pelicans are advancing through the playoffs their way to a style they created. Pels fans – and there are more than ever – couldn’t be happier. This team’s funky style is uniquely theirs and works here and here alone because it’s built in part on the talents of a 6’11”, 270-pound dude named Boogie. You can’t get more New Orleans than that.