Thursday, October 30, 2014

Top Heavy Pellies

Are we really calling them the Pellies?  Ok then, just asking.

We should start with Anthony Davis, for all the obvious reasons.  Ok, reason, singular.  He could be the best player in the league this year.  And by best I mean MVP- most valuable player- and by MVP I mean a beast that can't be stopped.  In 05-06 Lebron was the best player in the league and Steve Nash won his second trophy.  Yeah, you heard me.  Even if you don't want to hand the trophy to Lebron, he was clearly at least as valuable as Nash, and played over 550 more mins that season.  You could also make a case for Dirk, Garnett, or Duncan (seriously, when couldn't you make a case for Duncan?), and realistically one of those three should have taken home the hardware.  This is the way the NBA goes, so don't expect to see the 'Brow awarded that honor, but he will deserve consideration at the end of the year.

Still, New Orleans, with one of the 5 best players on the planet could miss the playoffs.  I am not sure why this team was constrofucted in such a way that it possibly can't leverage a 21/10/3 (that's blocks, not assists) player with superb defensive potential into the 8th best record in the conference, but I can describe how it is possible.

Dell Demps has taken a pretty standard approach in his attempt to build a contender- sink a ton of resources in the top 5-6 players and skimp on the bench.  The Pacers are a model of this strategy over the past two seasons (they were forced into it though because they were carrying 13 million in dead money due to Granger's injury) and pumped out 105 wins over that span and two trips to the conference finals while getting minimal contributions from their bench. 

The Pelicans are taking this notion to a fairly extreme level.  Their top 6 players in terms of salary all make 5.6 million or more, with that minimum number being depressed due to Davis' rookie deal- on the market he is worth well over 20 million- and no one else on the squad makes as much as 2.5 million.  Ignoring the individual moves the approach is sound as the Pelicans have used the open cap space afforded by Davis' contract to "overpay" (not a great term but one everyone knows) to build a contender. 

The sum total of these moves has lead to a massively flawed team.

Lets go back to the Pacers.  Indiana spent two seasons surviving their weak bench by leaning heavily on their 5 starters.  How heavily?  Not one of those starters missed more than 10 games, and not one of them logged fewer than 2,200 mins.  the Pelicans' top 6 players have combined for 28 seasons in the pros and have 8 total seasons of at least 2,200 mins.  Even if you want to fudge in their favor and add in a few extra seasons where they would have made it had there been no lock out, the likelihood of the 6 of them making it through without substantial injury.  Heck, the odds of even 4 off them missing 10 games or less looks pretty small. 

The Pelicans also have a far tougher road to the playoffs than those Pacer teams.  In '12-'13 they won 49 games and comfortably took the 3 seed.  49 wins in last years West would have gotten you a coin flip to make the playoffs as the 8 seed (though many things would have different had the Pelicans won 15 more games, the point is made).  Want more bad news?  Durant and Lebron each made the playoffs for the first time in their 3rd season and each made it with 50 wins, which is going to be a pretty thin margin in the West.  However they were both substantially healthier in their first two years than Davis was, and they both had very healthy teammates that season (The Thunder had 4! starters play in every single game and the Cavs had 6 players appear in 78+ games and log over 2,000 mins).