New Orleans Pelicans at San Antonio Spurs
Time: 7 PM (CT), NBA TV
Spread: SAS -13.5
Betting odds c/o 5dimes
At this point, those outside New Orleans are wondering what Pelicans star Anthony Davis has to do to get his team to be successful. Opening night, he dumped 50 on the Denver Nuggets in a losing effort, just to turn around for another monster 45-point game in another losing effort to the Golden State Warriors last night.
The road does not get any easier for Davis and mates, as they head to San Antonio as 13.5 point underdogs on the second night of a back-to-back.
Davis, to be clear, has been nothing short of brilliant. His per-game averages speak for themselves, even if it has been just two games: 47.5 points, 16 rebounds, four assists and 6.5 blocks/steals per game with an absurd PER of 42.9. The problem is that the only real significant help he has been getting has come from third-year point guard Tim Frazier. Frazier has stepped up and looked really good, averaging 18 points and 10.5 assists per game while posting a PER of 21.7.
But the Pels cannot do it all with two players, and the most clear candidates in need of stepping up are Lance Stephenson and rookie Buddy Hield. Hield shot just 2 of 8 opening night, and is averaging 3.5 points per game through his first two NBA contests. Last year’s collegiate player of the year was good for 13 per game during the preseason. That is a mark the Pelicans really need him to trend towards.
Stephenson, meanwhile, has been his usual wild self—but is still an effective NBA 2-guard and the Pels have little commitment to him with just $100,000 guaranteed on his contract. He seems a safe bet to stick. He is averaging 11.5 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists in 28 minutes a night, but outside of Davis, Frazier, and Stephenson, no Pels average double figures. Or even close. Dante Cunningham and E’Twaun Moore are both good for about seven points per game, but that figure needs to approach double-figures. It does at least until Jrue Holiday and Quincy Pondexter return.
The Pelicans have been short on shooting, and Holiday is expected to help remedy that. Tyreke Evans is still on the shelf too. This is a team that has dealt with more than its fair share of injuries over the past two seasons, and it has to concern Pels fans that Davis is playing 41 minutes a night coming off a season that already saw him miss a huge chunk of time. He appears healthy, but is this a desperate stave by Alvin Gentry to ensure he keeps his job? Davis can carry the Pelicans, but does that necessarily equate in victory? Not without more help.
Meanwhile, in San Antonio, Kawhi Leonard is making his early push for MVP honors. The 2014 Finals MVP is averaging 32.5 points, four rebounds, four assists and five steals per game while also posting a PER over 40 much like Davis (41.9). His dominance is unquestioned, and at this point it is only a matter of how close that gap is becoming between he and the two true elites at his position (LeBron James and Kevin Durant). Leonard is now taking the initiative to look like a No. 1 option. LaMarcus Aldridge functions well as the mid-range maestro and No. 2 option and is averaging 21 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.
The biggest surprise may be Jonathon Simmons. The former D-Leaguer has had some impressive defensive highlights, and he is averaging 12.5 points, three rebounds, three assists and 0.5 blocks per game in 23 minutes a night. The Spurs are still utilizing a deep rotation, but that is expected under Gregg Popovich.
Veteran guard Tony Parker has fallen off every bit as precipitously as people feared he might, but this is a team that can turn to several options to make plays. Pau Gasol, too, has been ineffective wit just four points and five rebounds per game in 19 minutes, but the Spurs will only get better as the season gains steam and the team gels further. Whatsoever the case, Gasol and Parker can underachieve somewhat while Leonard is shining so brightly.