Dec.25 - SportLand: As the New Orleans Pelicans return to the bayou for any extending homestand, their 17-16 record continues to reflect a team with a lot more problems than promise. Despite having arguably, the best two big men in the NBA in DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. The Pelicans roster is filled with impact players and savvy veterans, yet they continue to be middling in a conference where they need to begin to separate themselves from the bottom of the playoff standings.
No one in New Orleans is ready to panic, but the issues that haunt them are all too real.
“Oh, we’re fine. We’re fine, we’re fine,” Davis told Basketball Insiders. “We just got to be able to control the basketball during the games. Go down the stretch, the last four, five, six minutes, and we turn the ball over. Other than that, we’re fine.”
Its hard to view late-game turnovers as an easy thing to fix (or inconsequential), but it’s a constant message from all over the roster.
“We build leads, show we can play with the best teams in the league,” Davis said confidently. “All the great teams are up 15, 20 throughout the game, and that last four, five minutes, we just turn the ball over. Other than that, we’re fine.”
When the Pelicans brought in Cousins last season at the trade deadline, they believed they could create an unstoppable frontline duo, and on many nights, that appears to be true, except for those pesky turnovers.
Cousins leads the league in turnovers at 5.1 turnovers per game. The next three players – James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and Lebron James – are all the primary playmakers for their team, making Cousins’ miscues all the more glaring.
The Pelicans have won two straight going into the Christmas break, something they felt as a team would start to cure some of the struggles. “Just got to string together some wins,” Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday explained. “I think there are times and games where we play really well.
“Just got to finish games. Obviously, there are times we have good spurts, and there are other times where it’ll kind of [go the] opposite way, so, just got to be able to a sustain that.
“I think sometimes our execution down the stretch and then being able to get stops. Especially last two minutes, to be able to get stops and get a score at the end is very key for us.”
Even though the Pelicans haven’t started to separate themselves from the middle of the pack in the West, there is still a belief they are not that far away.
“We’ve beat some elite teams,” Davis explained. “I think it’s more so that the team that’s not so elite. You know we lost, we gave one away against Sacramento. Teams like that, we have to come out and beat. We can’t play down to the level of our competition. If we want to be a great team, we’ve got to play the same way like we play against Golden State, Houston, or Cleveland, or San Antonio, one of those team you know. Just because whatever their names say on the front of their jersey of the opposing team, you know, we can’t determine if we’re going to play or not that night.
“We’ve all got to go out there and play. We’re all here for a reason because we do what we do best, in each position, so we can’t try to limit what we do. Of course, it’s about sacrifice, we’ve got to sacrifice sometimes, but we can’t go out there and be hesitant to play the game of basketball. Especially me, DeMarcus, and Jrue, we’ve got to go out there and just play. Whenever we draw attention, we’ve got to find other guys.”
There is no doubting that the Pelicans have the talent on the roster to be an elite level NBA team, their issues seem to have more to do with turnovers and inconsistency than lacking the talent needed to win.
Some around the team are waiting for a true leader to emerge, someone who can take over the team on the floor. Its obvious from the outside that should be Davis, but is he wired that way? Will the team dynamic with Cousins allow for that?
If you look around the NBA, the great teams have a bona fide leader. Who is that person for the Pelicans? Not who should it be, who is it?