The erstwhile Hornets are now the Pelicans, and the SB Nation blog for New Orleans, the erstwhile At The Hive, is now The Bird Writes. But Rohan is still the editor, and on the occasion of the first ever meeting between the Clippers and the Pelicans -- an ocean-going vessel and a sea bird, it should be noted -- I sent some questions to Rohan, which he was nice enough to answer for us.
Steve: Former Clipper Eric Gordon has played in all 23 games heading into the game in L.A. and that's not something you could have said in his first two seasons in New Orleans. So the good news is that he's been healthy. And he's played... OK. How do Pelicans fans feel about EJ at this point? Is he a legitimate piece of the puzzle? Or an overpaid reminder of the loss of Chris Paul?
Rohan: As well as he plays, fans simply aren't going to forget two things -- Gordon got into just 51 games over his first two years in New Orleans and rather butchered playing his restricted free agency hand. That engendered a sort of critical mass of resentment at the time. Now, I'd say fans are generally just very realistic about the whole thing as a result. He's not an overpaid reminder of Chris Paul's loss per se. That trade worked out about as well as it possibly could have -- the team became awful enough to get a chance to be lucky enough to nab their next superstar. And they did. As far as Gordon himself, I'd be lying if I said a +2.0 offensive efficiency differential at 23% usage as a 25 year old is well below the ceiling I envisioned when the trade happened. But injuries happen, trajectories are veered from, that's the NBA. Gordon's still a very solid player if not a legitimate star, and as such, he's got an important role to play on a young, growing team.
Steve: I didn't like the Jrue Holiday trade for you guys. Lottery picks in back to back drafts, with the second one unprotected in the best draft in a generation, was a steep price to pay, especially when you consider that this "All Star" isn't even in the conversation among the point guards in the Western Conference. But that's me. Where do you stand on Jrue?
Rohan: I didn't like the trade at the time, simply because it felt like the team went too early. But it'd be foolish to discount the reality of new ownership, new branding, and a new era, to pretend like team construction and the pacing thereof exists in a vacuum (as I did, at some level of despondency, for a while after it happened). It'd be nice. But Demps felt like he had to move, and given the context, I don't think it was a bad trade.
The gamble is essentially: Holiday outperforms Noel and the Pelicans' 2014 pick over those respective contracts. At the time, I hated it. Now, I don't. The equation hasn't changed, but the variables have. After the trade, NOLA went all in, picking up Tyreke Evans and Anthony Morrow (both signings I endorsed). After those acquisitions, it was tough to envision New Orleans finishing in the bottom 10 of the league this year, and the first few months have validated that. The bottom 7 of the East will almost all without a shadow of a doubt finish well below .500 (my preseason simulation had 3 teams making the playoffs at .500 or worse, and in the early year, even that figure's been blown to dust). Toss on Utah and Sacramento, and that's your bottom 9. Now, New Orleans is finishing late-ish lottery in the worst case (they're at 13 right now despite a legitimately awful, injury-ridden start to the year).
Even in a really deep draft, I'm not that shy about moving the 13th overall pick. The average 13th pick produces about 2.5 win shares per year of a rookie deal. With Holiday, the team was betting that he'd reprise his 2011 and first half 2013 levels of performance by surrounding him by real offensive talent. He was at 5.7 win shares that year, and lo and behold, he's on pace for about 5.6 this year. The question then shifts to: can Noel make up that 3.2 win share difference over his rookie deal? It's possible, certainly! He can be amazing. But it's also very possible he can't, the injury history is rough, and when you throw in the additional context -- new ownership, presence of already developed, very good talent on the roster (Gordon, Ryan Anderson), presence of a very stylistically similar, very much better post player in Anthony Davis -- going with the point guard suddenly makes a whole lot of sense.
I get it. Depending on the point of view, it sounds steep. But New Orleans did their very best to push themselves to the back of the lottery this year (and by all signs, they succeeded), and Holiday not being an All-Star isn't a huge deal when you consider the value he's producing relative to what that pick will and what Noel is. Basically: very good case that those two hands -- Holiday vs. Noel/late lotto -- are close to even statistically when we account for risk, but now you consider context, team construction, and critically, timeline of that construction, and one hand is pretty clearly superior. Davis is a legitimate superstar right now; Anderson, Gordon, and Evans are very, very good second behind-the-star guys. From that point of view, it's hard not to choose an 18.2 PER point guard to add to the group, over an injured player who has at least a 3-4 year learning curve ahead and... a 12th? overall pick in the future.
Steve: So I'm nitpicking on your backcourt, but there's pretty much nothing wrong with Anthony Davis (aside from the fact that he's currently injured). This guy's got a PER of 28! That's like a CP3 PER! How good is this guy, and how much better can he be?
Rohan: He's insane. For me, when you consider his defensive impact, his offensive versatility, his insane efficiency, and his age, he's the best player to enter the NBA since Chris Paul. I remember watching Paul as a rookie, watching him develop into a superstar as a sophomore, and Davis is basically headed for that same level of greatness. He hits step back 20 footers, he crosses over like a guard, his back-to-basket-to-hook game has been unplayable, he dunks everything within a 7 foot radius of the hoop, he runs fast breaks, he literally defends opposing guards at the three point line with regularity, he's a monster in rim protection, he plays the passing lanes with absurd anticipation, he rebounds over, above, through people, he never fouls, he hits 85% from the line...I run out of superlatives. Only LeBron can match his versatility. When you factor in just how valuable he is as the anchor to a defense in both help and man, Davis can be the best player in the NBA in a year's time -- that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
Steve: Related to the last two questions, the Pellies (is that what we call them?) are hanging around .500 even without Davis, who could be back by Christmas. With the draft pick owed to Philly, you REALLY don't want to be in the lottery this season. Can New Orleans break through into the playoffs in the VERY tough Western Conference?
Rohan: Pellies! Yes. So cute. I actually projected them to miss the playoffs by a couple games, and I won't veer from that. There's lots of great teams, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if three current lotto teams -- Golden State, Minnesota, and Memphis -- all flipped over to the other side, by season's end.
Steve: (Note that at this point my questions seem to have lost focus a bit.) How is the Pelican thing going anyway?
Rohan: It's going, I suppose.
Steve: Is it true your mascot is named Pierre?
Steve: The Clippers are one of the few NBA teams without a mascot, but when I see Pierre, I don't feel like I'm missing out, you know what I mean?
Rohan: And yep.
Steve: I've always thought that the classic limerick The Pelican was written by Ogden Nash, but Wikipedia tells me that it was in fact written by Dixon Lanier Merritt -- which makes me sad.
Apparently that makes Rohan sad as well. Unless that was a sigh of exasperation at the end there. It's sometimes difficult to interpret context with written sighs.
Pierre frightens me. But thanks to Rohan.