The New Orleans Pelicans haven’t just picked up where they left off at the end of last season’s playoffs – they’ve ascended to another level.
Through the first week of the new campaign, no team in the league has been more dominant than the Pelicans, who’ve stormed out of the gates looking like a legitimate contender in the Western Conference.
Coming into the season, there were valid questions regarding the Pelicans’ ability to recreate the magic they found in their postseason run and how they’d fare without key players from last year’s team.
It’s only been three games, but it’s hard to downplay just how impressive New Orleans have looked.
Their opener against last season’s number one seed in the West, the Houston Rockets, saw them drop 131 points in a blowout win.
They followed that up with an even better offensive showing to put up an eye-popping 149 points against the Sacramento Kings.
The Pelicans didn’t fire on all cylinders in the same way in their third contest, but the 116-109 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday was arguably the most encouraging win of the bunch.
After making seemingly every shot in their first two games, New Orleans had to grind it out against the scrappy Clippers despite playing not that well.
“We’re starting to see ourselves winning in different ways with three different types of teams,” said Pelicans star Anthony Davis. “One that’s scrappy tonight, one that likes to run and then another one that also runs at the same time.
“But it’s a young team that likes to play hard so it’s good for us to get three wins, especially the way that we’re getting them. So like I said, it’s not always going to be perfect but we’ll take every win we can.”
Davis – who’s averaging 30.3 points, 13.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 3.3 blocks – produced his highest-scoring game of the young season against the Clippers, but the MVP candidate has received plenty of support from his teammates so far.
Newcomer Julius Randle has been a force off the bench, averaging 18.7 points and 9.0 rebounds, while Nikola Mirotic has been red hot in dropping 28.0 points per game on 47.8 per cent shooting from distance.
Mirotic thrived next to Davis in the frontcourt last season after DeMarcus Cousins went down with an Achilles tear, and the pairing has continued to give opposing teams problems in the early going.
Elfrid Payton, meanwhile, has done well to take over the point guard duties left behind by Rajon Rondo, and has been part of the reason for the Pelicans turning into an offensive juggernaut.
New Orleans’ offensive rating of 122.2 points per 100 possessions paces the league, as does their true shooting mark of 60.4 per cent.
They haven’t played at the fastest pace in the league – their 107.3 possessions per game rank fourth – but they’re running even more than last season when their pace of 101.6 topped everyone.
New Orleans could well be taking the next step as a team while Davis continues to get better, but it’s more likely than not that some regression will hit.
However, the Pelicans don’t need to be the best team in the league for this season to be a success, considering Davis’ murky future with the franchise.
Davis is under contract for this season and next, but has a player option for 2020-21 that he’ll likely decline to maximise his earning potential.
And even though Davis has shown nothing but commitment publicly to the team, it wouldn’t be a total surprise if he rejected their supermax contract extension for the chance to go to greener pastures. New Orleans are looking good at the moment, but they’ve only made the playoffs twice in Davis’ six seasons and gotten past the first round once.
Maybe this is the start of a new chapter for the franchise.
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