The centrepiece of the New Orleans Pelicans roster and former No.1 draft pick, Anthony Davis, fractured his hand over the weekend.
Davis is likely to be out for the next four to six weeks and the Pelicans are likely to suffer as a result.
Following Friday’s loss to the Thunder, the Pelicans currently sit with a 9-10 record. Those within the organisation would be hopeful that the team can maintain a record around 0.500 during Davis’ injury spell.
But is this injury a potential Ewing Theory candidate, or will the Pelicans genuinely struggle without Davis?
For those of you who don’t read Bill Simmons, The Ewing Theory, named after Knicks star centre Patrick Ewing, is a situation where an injury or departure of a star player results in the team actually improving, not declining as many people would expect.
As can be expected, Davis has improved considerably in his second season with the Pelicans.
Though still early in the season, and having played only 16 games, he has posted improved figures in the minutes per game, assists, points, blocks, rebounds and steals. Davis’ only category to decline was field goal percentage made which is a decline of just 1.8% – a minimal amount given the season is still in its early stages.
It is clear that Davis has showed improvements to begin the season and it is likely he will continue to improve as the season progresses, with or without a fractured hand.
Even with Davis’ improved performance, the Pelicans have struggled throughout the first couple of months of the season, notching up a record of just 8-8 in the sixteen games he’s played in.
Given the strength of the Western Conference, there is a high chance that the Pelicans would have been a lottery team even without Davis’ injury, especially if Kobe Bryant leads a resurgent Lakers side following his return from an Achilles injury.
But what if the Pelicans are capable of an eighth seed in the West – and with their roster it is possible – will the next month be the difference between an eighth seed and a lottery pick?
The problem for the Pelicans is that New Orleans traded their first round pick in the 2014 draft and Nerlens Noel to the 76ers for Jrue Holiday and Philadelphia’s second round pick, Pierre Jackson. The only chance for the Pelicans to get a draft pick in next year’s loaded draft is if they miss the playoffs and they earn a top five pick in the lottery.
Thus, the Davis injury has the potential to completely ruin the Pelicans season. If they completely drop off, it essentially could be a wasted season – no playoffs and no draft pick.
The Pelicans’ chances this season are likely to be determined in the next month, with the team either emerging from the next month more or less holding the fort and with a record around 0.500, or dropping off the cliff and falling well out of contention in the playoff race.
New Orleans will struggle to cover Anthony Davis in offence, but they will miss him more in defence.
Even without Davis’ injury, the Pelicans are ranked 24th in points allowed per match, allowing 101.9 points per game. The majority of these points have come outside the paint, with the Pelicans struggling to shut down opposition threes after Davis has shut down the paint.
His wingspan of 7’5″, or 226 centimetres, enables him to reach around screens, forcing teams to shoot from outside the paint – something which the Pelicans have struggled to do. The Pelicans were likely to improve their perimeter defence as the season progressed, however this improvement will seriously be hamstrung by Davis’ injury.
Davis is a far better defensive player than Anderson, and the Pelicans will struggle to replace Davis’ 10.2 rebounds and 3.6 blocks a game.
New Orleans require Jason Smith, the other man likely to log extra minute due to Davis’ injury, to step up significantly in defence. His currents statistics of 5.5 rebounds a game in 27.8 minutes will not be enough to keep the Pelicans’ defence afloat.
By being forced to play Smith for more minutes in order to utilise his defence, the Pelicans will encounter another conundrum.
Smith is not known for his offensive abilities and will become an offensive liability for the Pelicans if he is forced to play more minutes. This will place added pressure on the backcourt trio of Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon, all of whom have performed poorly throughout the season thus far.
For the Pelicans to keep any playoff hopes alive, it is vital that Holiday and Gordon in particular perform at a level that matches their expensive pay packets until Davis returns.
All three of these players have performed well below their contract’s worth through the first quarter of the season, with all three notching Player Efficiency ratings well below Anthony Davis’ 28.32 – the second best in the league, sitting behind only Lebron James.
The only other New Orleans player currently in the NBA Top 50 is Ryan Anderson, highlighting how much the team has relied on Davis throughout the season.
If the Pelicans are to survive without Davis, it is imperative that Gordon returns to his 2010-2011 form with the Clippers. Gordon and Holiday must improve their perimeter attack to compensate for the loss of frontcourt offense which will result from Davis’ injury.
It is also important that Tyreke Evans steps up with the second team. He will be playing with teammates who would normally spend more time on the bench such as Greg Stiemsma, who is likely to see an increase from the 15.4 minutes he is currently averaging per game.
Yet it is unlikely that these players can step up to cover the loss of Davis, and it is highly probable that the Pelicans will drop below the Lakers and Grizzlies over the next four to six weeks.