davisraps

Well, that sure was a disappointing loss. To make matters worse, I’m writing this right after the game so I have no Jonas Valanciunas or Amir Johnson injury updates. Sorry.

Healthy or otherwise, the Raptors have to do it again in New Orleans on Wednesday, tipping off at 8 p.m. on Sportsnet One.

Unfortunately, teams don’t perform very well on the second game of road back-to-backs. It’s almost as if flying location to location in the middle of the night with no set sleep schedule and little practice time isn’t great for the human body or the professional basketball player. Such is life, and it’s no excuse, but you can forgive Kyle Lowry in advance for getting T’d up because he’s a little grumpy.

The reality is that the Raptors should still be able to beat the Pelicans, on the road, in a back-to-back situation. Anthony Davis is a beast, he’s a dog, he’s a ************* problem, but the rest of the team is such that this team finds itself 12 games below .500. The future is bright with Davis in the fold and some other key pieces (though Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith are all hurt), but this team recently lost eight straight and hasn’t beaten a .500 team since Feb. 7.

Aside from Davis – who, again, is the goddam best – only a pair of somewhat flawed guards pose a problem on the defensive end. On offense, sure, be wary of Davis’ help defense, but this is the league’s fourth-worst defensive outfit even with his fantasy-life-giving rebound, steal and block numbers. This is a winnable game, travel situation be damned.

To help us set the stage, I reached out to the always-helpful Jason Calmes of Bourbon Street Shots, who obliged us with some great Q&A responses.

1) Obviously, we have to ask about Anthony Davis. He’s incredible, he’s a beast, he’s hilarious. The numbers are ridiculous, and he’s come a long way in his sophomore season. Like with Kevin Durant in his first two years, however, advanced plus-minus stats show him having little positive impact on the team. Is this a case of his overall defense not matching his occasionally flashy defense, a poor team around him, or simply statistical noise? My inclination is that it’s a lot of noise and a bit of the NBA learning curve existing such that individual performance comes first and THEN a player learns to impact the entire team’s performance.

I think the key point, which you astutely made to start the question is that Davis is good. If the aggregate sorts of measurements say otherwise, then they are clearly talking about something else, as you also alluded to. The fact of the matter is Davis’ stat is confounded with that of Eric Gordon, who is also not faring well. He and Gordon have played over 2000 minutes each and over 1500 minutes together, and this number is more than any other Pelican has played this season except Evans. Gordon’s shows much lower than Davis here, which is not a slap at Gordon so much as a pat on the back for Davis. Both are dealing with a bad team for long minutes, but Davis is handling it better from a points perspective. With the lineup issues and injuries, these guys are just playing with inferior talent compared to that of other quality NBA players, and the losses mount. With the losses, come more minuses in the +/-. Me, I’ll ignore that and focus on the WS/48 of 0.221, which is 5th in the NBA among players with at least 1000 minutes, behind Durant, Love, Paul, and James.

2) Figured it was something along those lines.

Tangentially related to the future with Davis, are the Pelicans now tanking, and should they be? At 27-39 they have the league’s 11th-worst record, and they only keep their lottery pick if it lands in the top-five. But here they are, with four wins in their last six games. Perhaps nobody has more to gain by losing than New Orleans.

They are not and they should not be. The “high pick strategy” has not worked even once in the NBA. The love affair with the “Thunder model” for failing to win titles seems to be a bit misunderstood. This may sound strange from a team that drafted Paul and Davis, but this team lost Paul because they weren’t even a Clippers level franchise (think about that . . . no, really . . . think about that), and what they need to worry about is Davis NOW and for the next five seasons, not continue to behave like losers in the hopes that some other savior comes to save the savior that already is saving the franchise . . . the entire premise of these questions is both mind-bending and divorced from the reality we are presented with, as the last bit of that rambling sentence shows. Might the Pelicans be screwing up? Yes. But at least it’s not the same old proven way to fail. Take the chance and bet on winning. They need health and some good vets, not more kids.

3) Love that answer, and the earlier points are similar to why I was anti-tank for the Raptors this season. It makes even more sense with a star already in the fold like Davis, and another borderline star in Jrue Holiday.

Speaking of Holiday, the books aren’t pretty moving forward. Tyreke Evans or Eric Gordon has to go this offseason, right?

The books are better than they may appear at first glance, but the conclusion is still valid: One of those guys has to go for the Pelicans to have a chance to optimize their offseason and beyond. The player to go will likely be Gordon. He has a shorter contract and a more exportable and traditional skill set. He shows better on shooting charts, for sure. He commands more money, but his contract is shorter and he could opt out after a year (put yourself back in your Rudy Gay contract logic). Teams are likely correctly suspect of Gordon’s health, but if he finishes this season as healthy as a typical NBA player (he is tracking this way), he’ll be movable. In my opinion, the Evans backup story is merely that. Mickey Loomis, a Pelicans executive who has also been with the New Orleans Saints for many years, was involved in the draft of Deuce McAllister for the Saints when the team had Ricky Williams, another highly touted running back with the Saints at the time. They swore up and down the two would coexist . . . and they did . . . for one season, then Ricky was a Dolphin. I see the same game playing out here with Gordon and Evans, with Gordon being the one to leave.

4) Sticking with the guard rotation, has Austin Rivers improved this year, or are his slight statistical increases simply regression because he couldn’t possibly have gotten worse?

He’s better. His defense was always ahead of what was expected, but his offense is finally coming along. His handles are better, and he’s working a little more smoothly. He’s also learning he has a gear between standing still and triple espresso. He works his tail off and is passionate in practice. His free throw percentage is up from horrible to bad. His minutes are on the rise and he’s being tasked with leading the offense at times. Where he’ll end up, we don’t know, but he’s not the worst player in the NBA, or whatever the line was last season. That was a product of actually being horrible and being forced into the rotation early due to Gordon’s unplanned absence early last season. Most players that bad (or worse) are not playing over 24 minutes per game.

5) How many children did the original Pierre the Pelican eat, and be honest, he’s not gone, he’s just chained up in the bowels of the Smoothie King Center, right?

It’s tough to count bodies when you are only left with fingers. If you are left with entire hands, for instance, you can bet a much tighter estimate since there are either 0, 1, or 2 after each death. In this case, 0 – 10 . . . it’s horrifying in both the forensic and statistical sense. I wish I could give you an answer, but as a professional (my PhD is in this area . . . Steve, I got my eye on you!), I really can not give an answer that I can really get behind. I can tell you that the toll is far too high, but not that high thanks to the team’s losing record. As far as the current whereabouts go, I think we are dealing more with Dr. Pelican and Mr. Pierre sort of situation. Maybe it’s a Bane thing. I just know that you can’t destroy a force of nature, and that butcher bill won’t be lost in time.

Vegas says: Raptors -2 as of Tuesday at 8:43 p.m., but that could obviously change depending on the second half of Tuesday’s Hawks game. 61 percent of super-early action is going Toronto’s way, and the split is even stronger (65 percent) towards the over at 197.
Hollinger says: (Like with Vegas, these won’t account for Tuesday’s game) Raptors -3
Louie Armstrong says: I see friends shaking hands, saying, how do you do?

Blake says: Look, even if Valanciunas, Johnson and Patrick Patterson all can’t go, the team has to win this game. Davis is a really tough problem to deal with, but an advantage exists more or less everywhere else. I have a fantasy draft going on so I won’t go any deeper than to say Raptors by nine.