2013-2014 NBA Preview: Southwest Division

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Oct 7, 2013; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks center Brandan Wright (34) guards New Orleans Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis (23) during the first half at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

New Orleans Pelicans (44-38)

It feels odd to project the Pelicans (yes, the Pelicans) for 44 wins, but with their off-season roster moves, this should be a far better squad.

First, New Orleans traded for Philadelphia PG Jrue Holiday, and while they may have (almost certainly) overpaid to get him, Holiday is a very nice player at the point guard spot. At 22 years old, Holiday played in 78 games last season and averaged 17 points and 7.7 assists per 36 minutes with above-average defense. That is a very valuable asset, and he’s now in the fold to lead the Pelicans moving forward.

Then, the team brought in troubled swingman Tyreke Evans in what was probably an overpayment (sensing a trend?) by signing him to a 4-year, $44 million deal. I famously opined for the Hawks to go after Evans “if the price was right”, but frankly, it wasn’t right at $11 million. At any rate, he’s a very talented player with specialized skills (i.e. he’s great around the rim), and there’s a reason he averaged 20/5/5 as a rookie in Sacramento.

While that was the end of the high-profile acquisitions, the team is also counting on a not-so-familiar face in a huge way. Shooting guard Eric Gordon has a massive contract, but he’s only appeared in 51 games over 2 seasons in New Orleans, and he hasn’t quite been his old self. At his peak with the Clippers, Gordon averaged over 22 points per game at just 22 years of age, but injuries have banged him around in recent years, and it’s tough to trust. Throw in legitimate concerns about “fit” with Evans and Holiday, and there’s a lot to watch.

It seems crazy that we’re in the 5th paragraph before getting to Anthony Davis, so here we are. Davis, the former #1 overall pick from Kentucky, is an absolute monster on the defensive end, and he’s showing flashes this preseason of a developing offensive skill set. Even at age 19 last season, he averaged more than 17 points, 10 rebounds, and 2 blocks per 36 minutes, and the sky is the limit for Davis. If he can man the basket area in a dominant way, this immediately is a playoff-caliber team.

There are certainly concerns with this team, ranging from whether the bench is capable (at all) to how the backcourt fits together (or if they can stay on the court), but the talent is real in the starting five (we didn’t even mention the ultra-efficient Ryan Anderson), and that’s hard to ignore. New Orleans could bottom out if a few things go wrong, but if Anthony Davis is who I think he is, the floor isn’t too low.