Pelicans preview: New Orleans' backcourt and the line between a powerhouse and a mess

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans' backcourt could be great. It could also fail spectacularly.

No backcourt saw quite the talent infusion that the New Orleans Pelicans did in the offseason. In a stunning draft-night trade, the Pellies shipped No. 6 pick Nerlens Noel and a 2014 first to the Sixers for Jrue Holiday, who happens to be a 23-year-old All-Star point guard on a good, long contract. (He'll make $41 million over four years, beginning this year.) Two weeks later, New Orleans executed a sign and trade deal, moving incumbent point guard Greivis Vasquez for restricted free agent Tyreke Evans, the 2009 NBA Rookie of the Year, a player who averaged 20 points, five assists and five rebounds that season. Those two slide in with Eric Gordon, the Pelicans' 24-year-old star guard who has alternately battled maladies and malaise since arriving in the Chris Paul deal.

Holiday-Gordon-Evans. Tyreke is expected to come off of the bench as New Manu, a role he was born to play. Holiday is solid and fast on offense, and a spitfire on defense. Gordon, when healthy, is like Mitch Richmond if Mitch Richmond could lay down tomahawk dunks.

Can you imagine how imposing that guard rotation will be if things go right? You can't lay off of anybody, because they'll kill you. Every combination looks nasty: Holiday-Gordon is aggressive with plenty of shooting chops. Holiday-Evans keeps the ball on the rope and can set up Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson repeatedly. Evans-Gordon lives at the rim, feasting off of defenses playing too close attention to the New Orleans bigs. This isn't two new toys for Monty Williams. It's like a basketball Lego set the coach can rebuild into a bunch of different models.

But that's the rosy outlook. There's no guarantee it'll go like that. Holiday has improved as a scorer and set-up man, and he can hit his threes. But he's horribly inefficient, hitting just 44 percent of his two-pointers last season. It's pretty obvious why Philadelphia GM Sam Hinkie pulled off the trade: Holiday may be an All-Star, but he's not an advanced metric All-Star. Holiday played almost 3,000 minutes for the Sixers last season, running the show. They had the league's No. 26 offense.

Since breaking out with a 22-ppg average in 2010-11, Gordon has played all of 51 games, and his shooting was by far the worst of his career last season. He played 42 games and shot just 40 percent from the field, with an effective field goal percentage of .450. Most alarming is that he shot just 54 percent at the rim last season. In 2010-11, he shot 66 percent on attempts at the rim.

Evans's career to date peaked when he was a rookie. That's typically not a great sign. He's a combo guard, most comfortable handling the ball, without the huge assist rate or scoring numbers to back that up. While the role looks like a good fit, if he's called up to replace Holiday or Gordon, his weaknesses could cause a problem. Specifically, his jumper is still not great: he shot just 31 percent on 5.5 jumpers he took per game last season. (And that was after his stroke got better!) He drives to the rim as well as any NBA guard, but gets tunnel vision on the way, and has trouble hitting the open man on the perimeter or diving in at the rim. He spent three years playing with DeMarcus Cousins and they never figured out how to run a pick-and-roll together. (A lot of that is on Cousins and Kings coaches, but Evans was still involved.) What makes Tyreke a good player is his individual ability; for a team whose strength is diverse talent, will that help?

In application, the result is likely to be somewhere in between wonderful and disastrous. Given the talent involved and Williams' record as a strong coach, the backcourt is unlikely to be the problem for New Orleans, but it may not be good enough to make up for the Pelicans' obvious deficiencies (tremendous lack of depth behind Davis and Anderson, a gaping void at small forward).

But with Davis and Anderson, it makes a strong foundation for a team ready to compete for a playoff spot, and it sure as spit has NBA fans chomping at the bit.

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