I think it’s fair to say most people do not relish going to the dentist. And yet, we Raptor fans have been subjected to the feeling of having our collective teeth pulled week in and week out for the better part of two months now, exacerbated by the latest Lowry-less version of the team. Even at their best, the Raptors and their isolation-heavy offensive system aren’t the most attractive League Pass product, but the loss of their catalyst and floor general hurt them even more in that department. The Raptors have posted a league worst assist ratio of 12.6 since the All Star break (below their already bottom dwelling 14.5 mark for the year), force-feeding DeRozan with increased regularity and asking him to create. Still, that DeRozan has not failed the team and carried them to a 4-2 record in that time span is an accomplishment worth celebrating.
In fact, there has been much to admire in the Raptors’ recent run as well. They’ve played gritty and hard for the most part, willing and able to win games with defense, which bodes well for the postseason. With Carroll as the latest injury casualty, the defensive demon that is PJ Tucker will likely see more playing time in the near term, supplemented with a healthy dose of Norman Powell. Regardless of the opposition, every game until Kyle Lowry makes his return will be a laborious exercise, requiring everything in Toronto’s thinning arsenal to add games to the ‘W’ column. Enter the New Orleans Pelicans.
In their previous meeting in the tail end of January, the Raptors squeezed out an overtime win (108-106) behind strong performances from Kyle Lowry (33 points), Jonas Valanciunas (20 and 12, held Davis to 4-18 shooting from the field) and Norman Powell (18), overcoming the absence of DeRozan. That contest may as well have taken place in a different decade though, as both teams overhauled their rosters drastically the following month (New Orleans has played 22 different players this season, most in the NBA).
The Pelicans were arguably the most talked about club around the trade deadline, adding the immovable object that is DeMarcus Cousins to the unstoppable force of Anthony Davis. Unlike the smooth integration of Toronto’s trade pieces however, New Orleans’ trade did not pay immediate dividends, as they have gone 2-5 coming out of the All Star break. Still, the Pelicans’ wealth of interior talent has the potential to wreak havoc on any given night. They’ve also added much needed wing scoring in Jordan Crawford, who poured 19 in his debut against Utah on Monday.
Alex: A sizable portion of Raptor fans were clamoring for a Cousins trade. Describe the moment the news broke, and then the one when you saw the peanuts the Pelicans had to give up for him.
Mason: Up until 30 minutes before the trade, I wasn’t buying any of it without the Pelicans giving up at least three first round picks. Once I saw both Stein and Woj tweeting about a deal being close, I started to believe, but was still skeptical because of the number of picks that I assumed would have to be involved. In my mind, they just didn’t have the assets to pull it off without a serious mortgaging of the future – unless, of course, the owner of the team with which you are trading is completely enamored by your decent but not great first round pick. Once the deal was first reported as completed for two first round picks, Buddy, and cap fillers, I was ecstatic. When we found out that the deal actually only contained one first rounder, and then that it was top-3 protected (!), I was in utter disbelief. Pretty crazy night, that’s for sure.
Alex: The Pelicans sit at a 2-5 record since the trade, and just 1-5 with Boogie in uniform. Are these just growing pains or serious structural issues? From what you’ve seen, can a lineup with 2 near-seven-foot behemoths, talented as they may be, dominate in today’s NBA?
Mason: It’s both, but I’d say 2/3 growing pains and 1/3 structural. The Pelicans will have some interesting decisions to make this summer (including the assumption that the Pels keep Jrue’s cap hold on the books and that he wants to stick around). They can either take the easy route by staying over the cap, or they make the risky play of trying to go under the cap by shedding a ton of salary (waiving and stretching Asik, attaching a 2nd rounder to Ajinca, etc.). Regardless, I think the fit of AD and Boogie is a tremendous one that just needs practice time / a training camp to work out the kinks and ensure everything makes sense. While they’re both “big men”, they can each be threats anywhere on the court, which opens up so many options for the coaching staff.
Alex: New Orleans has been in the top third defensively and the bottom third offensively for much of the year. With Cousins in tow so far, is there any indication they can climb the offensive rankings while maintaining their defensive mark?
Mason: I think so, but again, the real jump will come between the last game of the season and opening night of the 2017-18 season. Everyone is still learning to play with each other – Boogie with AD, AD with Boogie, Jrue with both of them – the list goes on and on. Once the team’s game plan is adjusted to fit the players. As for this season, the defense shouldn’t get worse – the only plus defender that was sent out in the trade was Galloway, and Cousins’ interior presence more than makes up for that. Offensively, it comes down to (surprise, surprise) making shots. Between Jrue, E’Twaun Moore, Hollis Thompson, and even Dante Cunningham (38.5% on threes this season) the Pelicans have multiple good three-point shooters to surround AD and Cousins, but since the trade, almost everyone has been bricking 3s at an unsustainably high rate. The offense has nowhere to go but up. Will that be enough to push the Pelicans into the playoffs? At this point, that appears pretty unlikely, but they’re not quite dead yet.
PG: Cory Joseph, Delon Wright, Fred VanVleet
SG: DeMar DeRozan, Norman Powell
SF: P.J. Tucker
PF: Serge Ibaka, Patrick Patterson, Pascal Siakam
C: Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira
OUT: Kyle Lowry
ASSIGNED: Bruno Caboclo
QUESTIONABLE: DeMarre Carroll
Carroll (ankle) is listed as questionable for tmrw. Doesnt seem like a long-term thing but doubt he plays vs NOLA. Hasnt practiced this week
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) March 7, 2017
PG: Jrue Holiday, Tim Frazier
SG: E’Twaun Moore, Jordan Crawford
SF: Solomon Hill, Dante Cunningham, Hollis Thompson, Quincy Pondexter
PF: Anthony Davis, Donatas Motiejunas, Cheick Diallo
C: DeMarcus Cousins, Alexis Ajinca
OUT: Omer Asik (illness)