Just when things were looking really good for the New Orleans Pelicans, the ‘Brow goes down. Yes, Pelicans forward Anthony Davis injured his left hand in Sunday’s victory of the New York Knicks and will be sidelined for four to six weeks as a result. This injury comes at the worst possible time for the Pelicans, who just got their record above .500 (they currently sit at 9-8) and appeared to be making a serious push for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference. Losing Davis — easily their best player — will make reaching a playoff spot much more difficult for the Pelicans. Still, with the right adjustments, this team should be able to remain reasonably competitive until Davis returns to the lineup.
The Davis injury would be a lot worse if not for the presence of Ryan Anderson. Anderson is arguably the best backup power forward in the NBA and could easily start for many teams. The Pelicans have thrived utilizing Anderson and his excellent 3-point shooting as the centerpiece of their second unit, but as we learned from his time in Orlando, Anderson is more than capable of of succeeding as a starting 4.
Furthermore, Anderson has been playing some of the best basketball of his career lately. In the eight games he has appeared in this season, Anderson is shooting .516 from the field and an astonishing .556 from downtown. Anderson has always been deadly from beyond the arc but this is just ridiculous! Admittedly, Anderson’s stunning 3-point numbers are likely the product of a small sample size and should regress to the mean, especially with him receiving more minutes and playing against the opposing team’s starters. Still, Anderson’s excellent play as of late should make Pelicans fans feel a bit less anxious about life without Davis.
At the time of his injury, Davis was averaging 18.8 points per game and even with Anderson’s excellent scoring capabilities, that will be difficult to replicate. That’s why the Pelicans backcourt will be counted on to pick up some of the slack until Davis returns. The backcourt was the area where the Pelicans did the most work this offseason, adding Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans to play alongside Eric Gordon, who finally appears to be staying healthy. After a dreadful start to the season, Evans has picked up his game considerably, looking more like the player the Pelicans spent $44 million this offseason. One potential point of concern with Evans is that the improvement in his play coincided with Anderson’s return to the lineup. Without Anderson, Evans reached double figures four out of nine times, while he has reached double figures in every game since Anderson came back. With Anderson entering the starting lineup, Evans will once again be the leader of the second unit — a role he has struggled in this season. If he is up to the task, the Pelicans can still be a deadly team. If he struggles in his role as the sixth man, look for them to go through some serious growing pains.
As for the big man situation, the Pelicans have a decent amount of depth in this area. While none of their backup bigs are stars, they are reliable role players who should be able to pick up their share of the slack while Davis is recuperating. No one outside of the basketball nerd community gets too excited about Jason Smith, but he’s a reliable-if-unspectacular starting center with a solid mid-range game. For a 7-footer, he’s not the most physically imposing player around, but thanks to the Pelicans ability to space the floor with Anderson, Gordon and Anthony Morrow, he should be given plenty of room to operate in the post and his ability to drain 15-foot jumpers doesn’t hurt either.
Off the bench, Greg Stiemsma is a solid defender and an excellent shot blocker who can add some serious toughness to the front court game. Look for Stiemsma’s minutes to increase considerably, as he becomes the primary backup big man with Davis out. Stiemsma played a key role off the bench for the 2011-12 Boston Celtics, who made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, so the added responsibility shouldn’t be a terrible burden for him. Rookie center Jeff Withey‘s most famous NBA moment came when he was brutally dunked on by Lakers forward Xavier Henry (I guess Jayhawks don’t stick together …), but in spite of that humiliating moment, he’s actually looked pretty good when he’s gotten on the court this year. In an admittedly small sample size of 48 minutes, Withey has shot .714 from the field and has demonstrated the ability to assert himself near the basket. Withey will also get more playing time now and it will be interesting to see if he can live up to the promise he’s shown during his time on the court so far this year. if Withey can be an effective part of their rotation, the Pelicans could still be pretty deep up front, even without their fearless leader around.
Losing a player like Anthony Davis hurts and the Pelicans may have some difficulty adjusting to life without him. With that said, hope is not lost for this team or their chances at a playoff berth. Davis is unquestionably the best player on the Pelicans, but this roster still has a lot of talent. They are a surprisingly deep team and if the supporting players can step up their game while the star is gone, there’s no reason why they can’t remain competitive.