The Western Conference has always been competitive, but this summer has solidified just how difficult life will be for all 15 teams that are a part of it.
New talents jumping ship from the East such as Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Paul Millsap add an extra bit of flair to that group. Contenders from last year have gotten stronger. It’s going to be a battle for those last three or four seeds in April.
One of those clubs that should be in that mix to earn a playoff berth and make some noise is the New Orleans Pelicans.
It’s going to be a treat watching Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins learn from each other as the season carries on. After being traded by the Sacramento Kings at the All-Star game, “Boogie” only played in 17 games with the Pelicans and was forced to learn Alvin Gentry’s system in a hurry. The midseason move was made by general manager Dell Demps in order to boost the team into the postseason, but it came up shy.
This year will likely be a different story. Coming off the healthiest stretch in his career, Davis is poised to exceed his already incredible production alongside his frontcourt partner. Looking noticeably leaner and muscular in the NBA Africa Game a week ago, Cousins said himself that it’s the best shape he’s ever been in.
If their bodies are taken care of and they’re really playing up to their potential together, this duo will be the scariest in the NBA. Imagine having to decide whether to double Cousins or Davis, just to leave the other open. Both are playmakers with versatility. They spread the floor, shoot the ball extremely well and finish with ferociousness at the point of attack.
The defensive end may be even better. There will be a lot of teams attempting to take jump shots and beat the Pelicans with the three because underneath will be like a war zone. Combine the physical nature and sheer size of Cousins with a shot eraser like Davis—that’s a problem for any team to try and strategize against. Good luck out-rebounding them, too.
It seems the narrative between these two is one is always hurt and one can’t keep his composure, but these shortcoming can be avoided. Addressing the first issue, New Orleans made it a priority to re-sign Jrue Holiday to alleviate some of the pressure. They also brought in Rajon Rondo for the veteran minimum, one of the more brilliant signings of the offseason.
Because of the move, Holiday is going to start at shooting guard and play off-ball with Rondo as the floor general. It will be a little different, but the transition shouldn’t be too difficult for him to find good looks. He’s never been hesitant to take shots and now that his role will be defined as a scorer, expect him to attempt a bunch while most of the attention is on Davis and Cousins.
While his partner in the backcourt will enjoy his green light to shoot, Rondo will have his own green light to run the show. There are a lot of new-age basketball enthusiasts out there who believe value goes out the window if a player doesn’t have a reliable outside shot. That’s a myth in this case for two reasons.
The first is that Rondo can knock down triples. He only takes a couple per game, but in the last two years combined he’s hit 37 percent of those attempts. Secondly, his reputation precedes itself as a starting point guard in this league. In three different years of his career, the former All-Star has led the NBA in assists per game.
More recently—before joining the Chicago Bulls’ mess one season ago—Rondo accomplished that feat, averaging nearly 12 dimes in 72 games with the Kings. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out who his favorite target was on that squad.
Let’s not forget that Rondo is a thief in between the lines and can really hit the glass better than most players at his position.
There’s a lot of competition in the West, but the Pelicans could be playing spoiler to one of those top teams come next spring.
If that is the result, it will be much easier to convince Cousins to return once he becomes an unrestricted free agent. But that shouldn’t be the focus of the 2017-18 season at all. It should be on what’s going on right now.
Many are fawning over the other teams that have made more noticeable splashes, but this core four is and will be something to be reckoned with.
Just like life on Bourbon Street, nobody should be sleeping on the Big Easy.
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