Pelicans climb in power rankings as Rajon Rondo return looms

How the middle of the Western Conference looking? Muddy. Very muddy.

One more (relative) cupcake for the New Orleans Pelicans and the schedule turns up the intensity. Your 7-6 Pelicans (above .500!) host the woeful Atlanta Hawks tonight. Be sure to check out the latest edition of The Bird Calls Podcast and Zach’s game preview for all the pertinent information. I’ll spoil it a little. Atlanta is 2-11 this season and ranks in the bottom five in both offense and defense. Oh, and they’re a little injured too. Maybe tonight Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins can lift a slightly lighter load on the minutes end. I am here for Cheick Diallo taking a shot on every single half court touch.

This version of the Pelicans is soon to expire with the return of Rajon Rondo expected at the end of the week. Considering injuries to Rondo, Solomon Hill, and sparse depth behind Davis and Cousins I think most Pelican fans, and even those in the front office if pressed, would call the beginning of the season a success. Let’s take a quick look at how these Pelicans rank compared to the other expected contenders for the last four playoff spots.

Are you shrugging? You probably should be shrugging. Memphis sports a 5-2 record against teams .500 or better and a 2-3 record against those below. As the number of games increases we should expect net rating and win percentage to begin to correlate but as you can see it’s not there yet at all. Minnesota has won a number of close games and yet also has the capability of a blowing a close game against the Phoenix Suns of all teams.

The beginning of the season is weird. This season especially so. New Orleans is getting the job done against bad teams (7-0 against teams under .500) but the degree of difficulty is about to increase significantly. After tonight eight of the next 11 games are against teams currently at or above .500. The three against teams under .500 are the Oklahoma City Thunder a week from today, the Phoenix Suns the day after Thanksgiving (in Phoenix), and at the Utah Jazz on December 1st. Utah is expected to be without defensive stalwart Rudy Gobert.

As for the addition of Rajon Rondo and what to expect? Here’s to hoping that Rondo’s presence can bring the Pelicans turnover rate down somewhat. Saturday night New Orleans coughed up the ball 23 times and many of them occurred either before the ball got across half court or thanks to loose ball handling. Consider that Jrue Holiday has logged more lost ball turnovers than Rajon Rondo despite Rondo playing over 6,000 more NBA minutes. DeMarcus Cousins is the worst offender in this regard and it’s reasonable to hope Rondo can reduce Boogie’s ball handling responsibilities (and thus his turnovers). Fewer turnovers should help on both ends, boosting offensive efficiency and reducing the frequency of opponent transition opportunities. Win-win!

Power rankers moved up the Pelicans a little this week. If New Orleans can defend their home floor they should move up a bit more next week.

NBA.com

Last Week: 20 - This Week: 15

DeMarcus Cousins, who ranks fourth in the league in 3-point attempts, can get a little three-happy at times. But he and Anthony Davis rank fourth and third in points in the paint per game, respectively, with Cousins playing a lot of bully ball off the dribble and most of Davis' buckets being assisted. Davis has not only increased the percentage of his shots coming from the restricted area (to 44 percent from 32 percent over the last two seasons), but has also cut down his mid-range shots. The Pelicans' offense is coming along, with their 113 points scored per 100 possessions over their last three gamesbeing their best offensive stretch of the season, even with Jrue Holiday going from 34 points in Thursday's loss in Toronto to just six points in Saturday's win over the Clippers.

ESPN

Last Week: 21 - This Week: 16

DeMarcus Cousins is doing everything this season, as he's the only player to rank among the top five in PPG and RPG while also averaging 5.7 APG, 1.8 blocks and 1.5 steals. He also has flashed an impressive perimeter game for a guy his size, as he's on pace to average the most 3-point attempts by a player 6-foot-11 or taller in NBA history.

Sports Illustrated

Last Week: 17 - This Week: 17

Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Jrue Holiday have taken turns going for 34 or more over the last three games. There aren’t many teams in the league that can boast the kind of scoring versatility.

USA Today

Last Week: 15 - This Week: 12

The Pelicans are on the right track — they've won four of their last five and Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins are dominating — but they need more consistency out of Jrue Holiday. The $126-million man followed up Thursday's 34-point, 11-assist outing with six points and seven turnovers on Saturday.

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