With the New Orleans Pelicans struggling mightily in the past few games, they returned home and welcomed in the Minnesota Timberwolves. At 17-19 on the year, the Timberwolves have also had a disappointing season like the Pels. At 16-21 the Pelicans needed to get a victory on this night to subdue their recent woes. Having lost six of their last seven the Pelicans were in dangerous territory as they held onto the 14th spot in the West, trailing the Spurs by four games for the number eight seed. Although the Pelicans could potentially pick it up and make the playoffs, and more importantly impress Anthony Davis into staying in the Big Easy, neither looks likely. But there is one man who might be able to cure both problems for the Pelicans, and his name is Elfrid Payton.
It is evident that in Payton’s first year with the team, he is one of the most important players. In the few games that the locally born point-guard has played, the Pelicans have been a top tier team in the league. In his seven games the Pels are (6-5)-(1-2), whereas without him they are a measley (11-12)-(21-20). Not only do they have a better record when he plays, but the team is much better statistically, especially on offense. With Payton in the lineup the Pels score upward of 124 points per game, without him they drop down to just 115 points per game. Also with Payton they average less turnovers, more fastbreak and points in the paint, and play at a much faster pace. Even though it is a small sample size one thing is very clear, the Pelicans are two completely different teams with and without Elfrid Payton, and their playoff hopes hinges on his, along with Anthony Davis’ health.
Maybe even more important in the long-term for the Pelicans franchise is the pending free agency of Anthony Davis. It has become very clear to NBA followers everywhere that Anthony Davis is one of the best players in the league and a generational talent for years to come. And though the Pelicans have had the privilege of his services for the early part of his career, it is becoming more and more clear that he will explore his options in free agency and attempt to win a title. The one thing that will encourage the big man to stay down south is winning. The Pelicans have to prove to Davis that they will be able to contend for a title immediately with him on board. And the one person on the Pels roster who has a winning record when they play? Well of course it is Elfrid Payton. Not only does Payton make the team better when he plays, he also inflates the stats of Anthony Davis by getting him more open shots. When both Davis and Payton play, Davis is averaging 30 points per game, 14 rebounds, shooting a whopping 54% from the field, and over 40% from behind the arc. Although it is clear that Anthony Davis will explore his options in free-agency, but at this point, the best selling point for the Pels may just be the first year point guard from Gretna.
The main goal for the Pelicans in 2019 has to be making the playoffs. Not just for the organization to stay relevant or just to say they did it. This season is one of the most important in franchise history as the way the rest of the season goes, will dictate the biggest free agent decision in Pelicans history. The Pelicans return to action on January 2nd in Brooklyn to take on the 17-21 Nets.