Anthony Davis and the Lakers come to town tonight for AD’s first game back in New Orleans since his trade to the Lakers. Man that feels like forever ago in New Orleans basketball. Quick recap – AD asked for a trade through Rich Paul, Gentry called a timeout he didn’t have causing the Pels to lose a game to the Sunsm that extra loss ended up being the difference between the Pels having the 9th pick and getting Zion, Dell got fired, Griff got hired, the team traded AD to the Lakers for all of the picks they could get plus some young players, the Pelicans drafted some exciting rookies including Zion, summer league Pels were fun, JJ Redick and Derrick Favors chose to come to New Orleans, and then everyone got hurt this year. Some things change, some things stay the same.
Heading into the game with the Lakers, the Pelicans record sits at 6-11 and the team is in 11th in the West, 2.5 games back of the 8th place – checks notes – Phoenix Suns. The Pelicans are now 20% done with the 2019-20 season. That went quick. So let’s check in on some of the good and bad so far.
- Brandon Ingram
BI has exceeded almost everyone’s expectations so far this season. Hopes for Ingram’s season this year were tempered by his struggles the past few years in LA when he was the lead scorer. There were definitely signs towards the end of his season last year, prior to being shut down with blood clots, that his game was evolving.
This year Ingram is averaging 26 points per game, a healthy number. But the real key has been his shooting. Ingram was never a prolific 3-point shooter with the Lakers. He shot 29%, 39%, and 33% in his three years in LA and never took more than 2.4 3’s per game. He’s currently making 2.6 3’s per game as a Pelican on 46% shooting! The Pels ball movement and spacing has been a game-opener for Ingram and he’s shooting over 50% on the 5 catch and shoot 3s he takes per game. For years, this team lacked a wing capable of consistently 3s and creating from the outside. Ingram looks like that guy. Finally.
- JJ Redick and Kenny Hustle
I’m grouping these two because I like them both and the team has an outrageous +10.6 net rating when the two of them are on the court together. The offensive rating for the team is 109.7 this year, but jumps up to 118.9 when these two share the court. The defensive rating also improves, from 114.0 to 108.3. A big reason is the balance JJ and Kenny bring to any lineup they are in.
JJ is the shooter that we knew him to be, slow start notwithstanding. He’s shooting 47% from deep on 7+ attempts per game to put in 15 points/game. Kenrich is scoring only 5.6 points per game but he’s contributing everywhere else. Kenrich is one of only 3 Pels with a positive net rating. With him on the court, the Pels have a better assist percentage, rebounding percentage and defensive rating than when he sits. These two are what make the team click and make the recent starting lineup of Jrue, JJ, Ingram, Kenny, and Hayes competitive. They provide balance to a rotation that can often seem lacking. Neither guy needs the ball in their hands to be effective and both can move well off-ball to get open or keep the offense moving. JJ’s shooting has been crucial to some of the Pels recent wins, including him lighting up the Suns for 15 in the first quarter last week. Kenny’s hustle has given the team some noticeable life when he’s on the court. Since neither of them need the ball, they can fit in with any other 3 guys Gentry throws out with them.
- Zion and The Schedule
The biggest caveat to the season so far has been the very noticeable lack of Zion on the court. An organization that was reinvigorated by landing number one in the lottery had to deal with an injury to that pick right before the season started. In addition to losing one of the projected starters days before the season, the Pels have had the third hardest schedule so far this season. The Pels RPI is equivalent with the 10-6 Pacers and ahead of the 9-8 Nets.
The Pels have played 5 games against the East so far – two against the defending champions, one against the resurgent Heat, one against the Kyrie-led Nets, and one against the Hornets. They’ve also played the Clippers twice and the Rockets twice, as well as games against the Mavs, Nuggets, and Jazz – the only team in the top 6 in the West they have yet to play is the Lakers. The good news out of this is that the schedule will lighten up as the team gets Zion integrated and gets everyone else healthy. Making it this far with only 6 wins feels disappointing but it fits with the injuries and the schedule.
- The Rookies
Summer league gave everyone high hopes for what this team could look like in the future, with NAW playing point, Hayes swatting everything into the sun, and Zion there to do everything in between. Reality has not been so kind to the rookies, but neither has it been so bad. First things first, rookies are going to rookie. There are going to be bad plays that make you scratch your head. But Hayes and NAW were not drafted to be the starters this year.
One weird quirk in the Pelicans season so far is that Hayes and NAW are the other two Pels with a positive rating so far this year. Hayes in particular has acquitted himself to the NBA much faster than expected. He has soft hands and good spacing on offense, intuitively creating some extra space at the basket. He’s also had several big blocks and dunks, and is the anchor in the Pels best lineup this year (the starting 5 from the past few games has a net rating of +19.5).
NAW has not looked like quite the player he showed flashes of in Summer League and pre-season. A big part of this is playing against better players than the end of the bench in pre-season and non-NBA rostered players in Summer League. One thing rookie point guards often struggle with is turnovers, but NAW has done well to keep hold of the ball. He’s sporting a 1.8 assist/turnover ratio, which is solid for a rookie guard. His shooting has been erratic and his shot selection needs to improve, but there have been the flashes of the player he was in summer league.
- Lonzo Ball
Lonzo has been the second biggest disappointment so far this year. To be fair, Lonzo needed to learn a new offense, new defense, and how to play with new teammates, all on a shortened off-season as he recovered from injuries. His new look jumper has looked better than year’s past but it’s still not at the point where teams need to step out to contest his shot. He’s also taken way too many step back 3’s. Actually, if he took 1 step back 3 that would be too many. Instead of simplifying his game to drives and facilitating, Lonzo has seemed hesitant to enter the paint. I could go on about Lonzo for a while but why don’t you just listen to the Locked on Pels podcast to hear Jake talk about his struggles.
- Jrue Holiday
Jrue has struggled to start this year. Man, where have I heard that before. Oh yeah, he starts a little slow every year. I even wrote about it 2 years ago. This year was supposed to be different. Jrue had been given permission to take over. After starting the year only topping 18 points twice in the first 8 games, Jrue has scored 18 or more in 6 of his last 7.
The biggest lesson this year is that it is Jrue’s team – as Jrue goes, the team goes. In the 6 wins, Jrue has a net rating of 4.7 or better. In the 9 losses he has been part of, his best game was against Houston where he had a net rating of -6.9! He also shot 6-21 in that game, going 0-7 from 3 in a winnable game against one of the better teams in the league.
Jrue’s defense is still great. He is 4th in the league at 2.1 steals per game. He’s leading the league with 5.3 deflections per game. He is a menace on the defensive end. And that’s with all of the defensive problems this team has had this year! The key with Jrue is to be patient. He’ll turn his season around. He always does.
All stats from stats.nba.com