Welcome back friends to the third annual installment of my NBA League Pass Rankings. For those new to the process, forget power rankings. Forget Vegas Over-Unders and salary cap gymnastics. Here at Knicks at Night we dive into the teams one by one to answer one simple question. If you’re shelling out the money for a League Pass subscription, which of these teams are worth that top 5 night-in, night-out slot and which of these guys are absolute, unwatchable garbage people?
I think its entirely possible that Karl Anthony-Towns’ incredible rookie season threw everyone off of Anthony Davis’ scent a little. And, lest we all forget, this is a guy who had one of the 12th greatest single season PERs of all time averaged a ridiculous 32-11-2-3 during a playoff series with the eventual world champion Golden State Warriors.
The Pelicans were the most injured team in the league last year by games lost and kicked off the season ridiculously slowly last year with an INSANE starting lineup of Davis-Eric Gordon and the knockdown trio of Dante Cunningham, Nate Robinson, and Kendrick Perkins. Yup. Two of those players are out of the league now and Cunningham can’t be far behind. This was a team looking to build on the defensive potential Davis had flashed during his breakout campaign in 2014 by hiring Warriors offensive guru Alvin Gentry to balance out the attack and scratch a top-10 mark in both categories. Instead, the injury bug wrecked New Orleans, Davis regressed, and this turned into a bottom ten unit and one of the most disappointing groups in the NBA.
New Orleans responded by signing a bunch of intriguing, young players with defensive tools and decent upside. They hit Solomon Hill with close to $50 million over 4 years after he flashed a deadly shooting stroke for Indiana in the playoffs last year. They threw money at E’tuan Moore and Langston Galloway (sigh), confident that their teams were in the midst of cap gymnastics and wouldn’t be able to retain their young guns. They picked up Terrance Jones on the super-cheap from Houston then took Buddy Hield with the number 6 pick in the draft to replace the shooting of Eric Gordon and give the team a little more star power.
If point guard Jrue Holliday can stay healthy and NBA’s sweatiest Omer Asik can at least get back to being good on one side of the court, this could be a pretty nasty defense. Davis is a hyper mobile 4 and one of the best help defenders in the league, capable of challenging Hassan Whiteside for the NBA’s block title. With Hill and Moore able to switch everything on the wing and Asik putting a big stationary body under the basket (at the very least), this team is going to take a huge jump from the 28th rated sieve of last year.
The real question, though, is what these guys can do on offense where they have a lot of good players, but not necessarily a proven shot creator. Davis has experimented with his outside shot and his post up game, but his points per possession died last year whenever Holliday was on the bench and he didn’t have a proven pick-and-roll player to work with. Hield should be an excellent spot-up shooter but he hasn’t really flashed a lot of ball-handling ability and the Pelicans may be criticized for passing on Jamal Murray who showed the ability to play combo guard in his last season at Kentucky. Galloway and Moore will be huge upgrades on the backup guards the Pells were trotting out last season, but neither has shown the propensity to be a true, pass-first floor general.
Still, it all comes back to Davis who is going to put this team on his back and be solely responsible for a sink or swim scenario. If he’s back on the money, this will be one of the craziest teams in the league in improving over their win total from the year before and should be genuinely fun to watch as a top 10 player is surrounded by young, scrappy role players. If Gentry still hasn’t worked out the kinks in his offense, or if Davis misses time for injury, this could devolve into one of the more unwatchable groups in the NBA almost over night. My fingers are crossed for these guys because I love the Brow, but for a guy who has missed at least 15 games to injury every season he’s been in the league, it’s hard to pencil these guys in for an absolute top 10 watchability spot.
Last year’s ranking: 4 (-12)