Invoking dark powers to get what you want is undeniably effective, but there will always be a price. The New Orleans Pelicans are learning that the hard way this season, as whatever Petro loa they called upon to win Anthony Davis is finally extracting his price. How else do you explain the plague of injuries that has been visited upon them at such an early point in the season? The only hope is that with the announcement that Tyreke Evans has undergone arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, the spirit is finally satisfied.
Either way, the Pellies can’t afford to dwell on catastrophes that may visit them in the future. The NBA season starts in less than a week, and Evans is the sixth Pelicans player to go down with an injury, according to Rotoworld, not including point guard Jrue Holiday, who will be on a minutes restriction until January. With Holiday’s backup Norris Cole sidelined by a high ankle sprain, the plan was to play Evans significant minutes at the point. Without him, the Pelicans will likely sign one of their camp invitees for the season, either unrepentant gunner Nate Robinson or Euroleague standout Bo McCalebb. Both are undersized scoring guards better qualified to score off the bench than run an offense, but with the preseason winding down, the Pellies simply don’t have other options.
If New Orleans could count on staunch rim protection to pick up the slack, starting a defensive liability at the point would not be such an issue. Unfortunately, starting center Omer Asik and backup Alexis Ajinca are injured as well, leaving Kendrick “Veteran Leadership” Perkins as the only option at the 5. That means that unless they gamble big on the Lakers’ leavings and sign the recently waived Robert Upshaw, the Pellies will either be playing Perk enough minutes to give OKC fans post-traumatic stress flashbacks to the 2012 Finals or giving Davis a lot of run at center.
With Evans out six-to-eight weeks, according to NBA.com, things are getting dark fast in New Orleans. The conservative end of that timetable has him missing 19 games, during which they’ll face the Thunder, Spurs, Clippers and Grizzlies, as well as two games each against the Warriors, Suns and Hawks. Best-case scenario, the Pels are 7-12 when Evans returns, on the verge of a season spent clawing their way out of the lottery like a desperate man clinging to the edge of a quicksand pit. Worst case, Evans is out for the full eight weeks – missing games against the Rockets, Cavaliers, Wizards and Bulls – and the Pelicans have to pray Davis can clean up their season like Hercules in the Augean stables.
It’s easy to see why Zach Lowe expressed concern about New Orleans’ playoff hopes in his podcast on Wednesday; there is only so much a single player can do, even one as talented as Davis. But the Western Conference seems softer around the middle than in years past, like a high school football star gone to seed, and there are reasons to believe the Pellies can still reach the postseason. Chief among them is Davis, a storm on the horizon, poised to consume the entire league this year. He could turn into a 6’10” version of 2014-15 Russell Westbrook and lead his team in every statistical category, and I doubt anyone who watches basketball would bat an eye. It would be foolish to count the Pelicans out if he is on the floor, no matter who he’s sharing it with.
There is also the chance that Eric Gordon will emerge from the flaming wreckage of the Pelicans’ guard rotation as something close to the player the then-Hornets traded for years ago. As we mentioned in our Pelicans season preview, Gordon is healthier than he’s been in years, and averaged 4.2 assists after he returned from a torn labrum in January. He’s not a point guard, but he’s a capable ball handler who has shown hints of his old athleticism so far this preseason. Evans had a 26.1 USG% last season, and while Davis will take the lion’s share of those touches, Gordon will undoubtedly have the ball in his hands more often. If he can elevate his game the way Blake Griffin did when Chris Paul was hurt during the 2013-14 season, the Pelicans will be a much stronger team when they’re back at full strength.
Finally, there is something encouraging about the fact that Evans will sit longer than the 4-6 weeks that usually come with arthroscopic knee surgery. It is frustrating now, but considering his history of knee issues, giving Evans time to heal shows admirable care and foresight. Between this and the strict limit on Holiday’s minutes, it is clear the Pelicans are thinking beyond this season, and showing an uncommon concern for the longevity of their players’ careers as they do so. With AD locked up for the long run, minimizing the risk of future injury to the players around him is the smart thing to do, but that doesn’t make it any more common in the NBA. The organization clearly understands that even if this is a lost season, it’s too soon to give up on this Pelicans team.