I have to admit, I’m a sucker for sports teams that have well-run PR/marketing/media departments. This week I watched the Pelicans couch a rebranding of their terrifying mascot, Pierre, in a story about a tragic accident in a mascot pickup game that resulted in emergency facial reconstructive surgery and couldn’t help but smile to myself. That’s creative. That’s fun. It gives the blogging crowd something to riff on while providing an entertaining story rather than a hush-hush disappearance/replacement of the offending character.
Owning the fact that you created a horrifying figure that haunts the dreams of children and putting in the effort to create an amusing – if not plausible – narrative surrounding the fixes to the mascot helps you connect with the public at large and makes it seem like you care about building that relationship between the fans and the team.
In the same way, it still makes me smile when the Bucks do something a bit silly like last Friday’s Beard Night, the ubiquitous baby races, or a halftime show featuring performances by Vanilla Ice or Coolio. When it comes down to it, we all know that the team isn’t very compelling this year, what with all the losing and longing for better, future times. There really aren’t a lot of reasons for fans to show up.
But if the fans that do show up are treated to an entertaining (or at least suitably bizarre) experience and a few more are convinced to come out to the Bradley Center, then that counts for something, doesn’t it?
What to watch for: Pelicans
Like Pierre, the Pelicans have undergone quite a makeover in recent years. Just this season, in fact, the team rebranded itself from the Hornets (which will be transferred back to Charlotte) to its current identity. (Sidebar: I think what the league needs to do is bring the Jazz nickname back from Utah to New Orleans, where it really belongs. Utah can find another moniker.) Even before that, the team underwent a turbulent period under league ownership including the now-infamous Chris Paul trade/takeback/trade that signaled a new direction for the team. Shortly afterward, they bottomed out and collected Anthony Davis with the first pick of the 2012 draft.
Further shakeups occurred on draft night of 2013, when the Pelicans shipped their first round pick, Nerlens Noel, and a protected future pick to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday. He, combined with offseason addition Tyreke Evans, Davis, sharpshooting forward Ryan Anderson, and Eric Gordon were supposed to form the core of a playoff team.
Of course, similarly to the tragedy that’s befallen the Bucks this year, that plan has been scuttled by injury. Evans has been day-to-day for what feels like the entire season, Davis missed nearly a month with a broken hand, Holiday is currently sidelined with a stress fracture in his leg, and Anderson will likely miss the rest of the season with a herniated disc in his back after returning from a broken toe at the beginning of the season. Bizarrely, the notoriously injury-prone Gordon has been the only member of the Pelicans’ starting lineup to start every game this season.
What to Watch For: Bucks
Speaking of injuries, the Bucks may legitimately be down to two healthy forward/centers for this game: Zaza Pachulia and Miroslav Raduljica. That will be a problem against a team whose remaining healthy star is quickly developing into a two-way force. Neither Pachulia or Raduljica seems well-equipped to deal with Davis’ length and mobility – I’d much rather see John Henson or Larry Sanders matched up against the young phenom. Sadly, we won’t.
In a couple of years, a Giannis Antetokounmpo-Davis matchup could be ridiculously entertaining on both ends of the floor; for now I’d be concerned for Giannis’ safety were they to square off. The lone saving grace could be that the bulk of the Bucks’ bigs can be leveraged to minimize Davis’ ability on the boards and keep him out of the restricted area, where he does most of his damage on both offense and defense.
Time – 7:00 p.m. CST
TV – FS Wisconsin
Radio – 620 WTMJ
Bucks: Larry Sanders (orbital bone fracture; out), John Henson (ankle; doubtful), Ekpe Udoh (knee; questionable), Ersan Ilyasova (back; questionable), O.J. Mayo (illness/conditioning; out), Caron Butler (out; ankle sprain)
Pelicans: Jrue Holiday (stress fracture; out), Ryan Anderson (herniated disc; out), Jason Smith (knee surgery; out) Tyreke Evans (ribs, questionable)
PG: Brandon Knight
SG: Nate Wolters
SF: Khris Middleton
PF: Ersan Ilyasova
C: Zaza Pachulia
PG: Brian Roberts
SG: Eric Gordon
SF: Al-Farouq Aminu
PF: Anthony Davis
C: Alexis Ajinca
Choose the Form of the Destructor: Anthony Davis
We all know him for the unibrow, but the Pelicans forward makes a strong case toward why you want to win the draft lottery: In only his second year after a one-and-done college career at Kentucky, Davis is averaging 20.7 points per game, an astounding (and league-leading) 3.5 blocks per game, and sports a top-5 PER of 26.53.
It’s not like he was underestimated coming out of school, but he’s certainly exceeded expectations by becoming this good, this quickly. The especially scary bit is that he’s still improving – as evidenced by his expanding offensive repertoire, including a developing mid-range jumper that could eventually (and I’m trying not to get too far ahead of myself here, but:) help him draw non-hyperbolic comparisons to Tim Duncan. Yeah. He COULD be that good one day.