Hot Take Marathon: The New Orleans Pelicans Will Make the Conference Finals
*The NBA offseason is cooling down, but the takes at OTG aren't. This month, we are hitting you with the Hot Take Marathon. Check back every day for a spicy NBA take!*
This time last year, I was banging my head against the wall.
The New Orleans Pelicans, staring down their first full season with superstar center DeMarcus Cousins, were clearly good enough to make the playoffs.
Their top-level talent was obviously strong, with two of the best bigs in the league and an elite point guard in Jrue Holiday. Their supporting cast, as unfairly slandered as anyone in the league, was versatile and complementary, save their lack of wings.
After obsessively ingesting season preview content everywhere I could find it, I began to feel like the only sane man in a world gone mad. The Pelicans were going to win 34 games and trade Anthony Davis for Jake Layman and a mostly-used box of tissues. That’s what everyone told me.
This was my take on the matter, exactly a year ago today:
We all know what really happened.
So before we get things popping, allow me to quote my close, personal friend Bomani Jones: Listen to me now. Believe me later on.
The New Orleans Pelicans will play the Golden State Warriors in the 2019 Western Conference Finals.
I already know what you’re thinking. They lost Boogie! They lost Rajon Rondo, who we all think is good again now because he played well for a week in the playoffs! The rest of the conference got better and the Pelicans are due for regression!
But here’s what you’re not getting: I am right and you are wrong.
Boogie will be missed. But the version of Boogie who was so effective alongside Davis last year is a thing of the past.
Rondo helped during the playoffs, but was in and out of the starting lineup during the regular season, and was more of a hindrance to the Pelicans’ defense than a boon to their offense.
Instead of looking at what the Pelicans lost, take a look at what they added.
Julius Randle will be absolutely destructive in Alvin Gentry’s system. His outstanding transition passing and raging-bull-downhill style of play is a perfect fit for a team that plays lightning fast. Whether he is ready to be a great defender on a real-level is yet to be seen, but I’m betting on yes.
Nikola Mirotic — added last season via trade — is a player hand-designed by the gods themselves to play next to Anthony Davis. His shooting and defensive versatility made them an absolutely destructive pair last year, and will again this year.
The strength of their guard additions is yet to be determined. Elfrid Payton could have a career-best year in a high-octane offense, running pick-and-roll with Davis. Or he could continue to be mediocre. If Frank Jackson can stay on the court, he might be really good. I’m expecting to see a lot more of Holiday at point guard, and fruitful results from it.
Mirotic’s presence will help the Pelicans’ offense maintain the lofty heights they hit last year with Cousins. The addition of Randle — and a full season of Solomon Hill — will help continue the impressive defensive show they put on post-Cousins’ injury. They have a chance to be top ten on both ends, if not top five.
Really though, this isn’t about any of them. This is about Anthony Davis.
Davis is an absolute monster on both ends. He is the third-best player in the league. This year, he will be fully unleashed for the first time, and have a career-best season.
Based on the Pelicans’ offseason additions, it seems clear that Davis is ready to take on the full-time center responsibilities that will clearly propel him to the next level.
Davis, Stephen Curry, and LeBron James are the three players in the league no team has any answer for. If Davis and his Pelicans can avoid those two guys in the first two rounds of the playoffs, then no one can stop Davis from pulling off the most impressive achievement of his career.