Anthony Davis had the game of the decade on Sunday night. In a win over the Detroit Pistons, the 22-year-old phenom scored 59 points and grabbed 20 rebounds. It was a miraculous performance, the type rarely, if ever, seen.
It also reminded the entire NBA of what’s to come, and what was expected from Davis’ New Orleans Pelicans this season. Right now they’re 5.5 games behind the Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz and Sacramento Kings for the eight seed in the playoffs. There’s almost no chance they leap past all three, which means it’s time to look towards the future.
How can the Pelicans compete with the Golden State Warriors as early as next season? It may not be possible, but with a special talent like Davis, top-tier success feels inevitable. Here are three things they can do to come as close as possible.
3. Lose Omer Asik
This is much easier said than done. For reasons unknown to common sense, the Pelicans signed Asik to a five-year contract worth upwards of $50 million just a few weeks after Golden State played him off the floor in last year’s postseason. It’s arguably the least team-friendly deal in the entire NBA right now, and New Orleans either needs to trade Asik or waive him.
A trade is borderline impossible unless the Pelicans are willing to give a rebuilding team that has tons of cap space a future asset (i.e. draft pick) to make it worth their while. Should they forfeit a protected pick? Or should the Pelicans use the stretch provision sooner than later and eat their loss?
There’s simply no reason to play Asik when he doesn’t fit beside Davis:
Per @nbawowy, Anthony Davis is shooting 54.2% when on the floor with Ryno and not Asik; 46% w/ Asik on the court and Ryno on the bench.
He can’t space the floor (or catch the ball) and New Orleans is never worse on offense than when the 29-year-old center is on the court. The Pelicans need to convince Davis that their best self is with him at center, and that he needs to be a more disciplined defender/rebounder for them to reach the next level.
2. Be prudent with cap space
This means do not re-sign Eric Gordon or give Ryan Anderson a max contract. Do not sign a wing who can’t shoot threes. Do not spend money just to spend it. And, most important, only bring in players who directly complement Davis. He’s a one-man core right now, and could be the best player in the world as early as next season. Make him comfortable, New Orleans. Please. The Basketball Gods beg of you.
Go after Chandler Parsons, Harrison Barnes or Nicolas Batum. Start building a team that embraces small ball, that can play fast (much to Alvin Gentry’s liking) and be as versatile as possible.
1. Don’t screw up this year’s lottery pick
The Pelicans placed themselves in several tricky situations over the past couple years by being floozy with the draft. Thankfully, they have their pick this season, which could land in the top five. But here’s where things get interesting. What if the Pelicans found a suitor who badly needs to jump back in the draft, and could provide a high-quality veteran in return?
There’s no certainty of a reasonable deal taking place, but the Pelicans should call the Miami Heat to gauge their interest. It’d be extremely risky, but could a deal revolving around Chris Bosh or Goran Dragic work? The Heat should look to get off one of those contracts sooner than later, and it’ll need to hit the reset button eventually.
Both those players would be tremendous fits beside Davis; Dragic was successful under Gentry. It’s just one way to accelerate the timeline without looking too foolish. Of course, a move like that could blow up in New Orleans’ face, but if they can get off Asik’s contract in the process, it may be worth it.
Either way, the Pelicans have serious work to do before they can call themselves a true title contender. But immense progress can be made in one offseason if they play their cards right. Davis is that good.