1. Are we talking playoffs?
Yes. This roster is more than talented enough to win 50 games if the pieces fall into place, but there are a lot of variables that need to break in its favor along the way. The most paramount issue is health. The top six players on the roster only played a handful of games together last year, surrounded by tons of injuries. There also are issues of team chemistry and roster balance that need to be worked out amid an intensely competitive Western Conference playoff chase.
2. What about small forward?
There is an obvious void at the position, where none of the natural fits on the wing won the job in preseason camp. Despite coach Monty Williams giving Darius Miller, John Salmons and Luke Babbitt ample opportunity to earn the starting nod, the favorite to get those minutes is guard Tyreke Evans, who is an uncomfortable fit with two other ball-controlling guards (Eric Gordon and Jrue Holiday) on the floor. Williams could also choose to go bigger, using power forward Ryan Anderson alongside Anthony Davis and center Omer Asik. Either way, the lack of a true small forward will add intrigue to the rotations used at the beginning and end of games.
3. Will the bench provide help?
It depends largely on what happens with the wing position. If New Orleans starts a three-guard lineup and chooses not to stagger the minutes of Holiday, Evans and Gordon, there’s a ball-handling void in the bench unit. Austin Rivers and Jimmer Fredette are inexperienced and likely unqualified to play point guard, excelling at scoring rather than playmaking. But if Holiday, Evans or Gordon can control the ball, the unit becomes a strength, with Anderson on the wing to hit 3-pointers and Alexis Ajinça in the post to defend and rebound.
4. How big is the first month?
The last time this franchise reached the postseason (Williams’ only postseason appearance), it started 11-1 and used that early cushion to reach the No. 7 seed in 2010-11. With pressure to win now resonating across the organization, there will be plenty of focus on whether the Pelicans get out to a successful start. Williams has played his starters more minutes than nearly every other preseason opponent in the hopes of having them mesh by the opening tip, but the team is still mostly untested as a group with plenty to prove.
5. Are there changes looming?
Possibly. Several national outlets have said this is the ultimate judgment season on the tenures of Williams and General Manager Dell Demps, who have slogged through three listless seasons after reaching the playoffs in their first campaign. Both were inherited in their positions by owner Tom Benson when he purchased the team from the NBA and, if there’s no clear sign of progress this year, the team will likely turn in a different direction. It’s not yet evident if reaching the playoffs is the only benchmark for success, but an appearance in the postseason would likely secure both of their positions.