Through three games, Anthony Davis and Demarcus Cousins look great – but the New Orleans Pelicans team MVP may be Rajon Rondo.
With Rondo out and Jrue Holiday better suited off the ball, the hole at point guard has been glaring. The Pelicans brought in 14-year NBA veteran Jameer Nelson to steady the offense until Rondo returns from injury. Nelson demonstrated what we’re missing with Rondo out and, well…
The impact was shockingly immediate.
The Pelicans expected to beat Memphis, but their offense never ignited. While points initially flowed against the defending champion Warriors at home, the Pelicans couldn’t buy a basket while Golden State went on a 28-7 run. As a 22-pt lead evaporated against a far inferior Los Angeles Lakers team, 0-3 seemed inevitable, if not ominous. Enter the point guard.
Nelson came in directing players, taking smart shots and making good passes. He was comfortable organizing the players on the court, making post entry passes and extending offensive flow. While his box score was modest, he was always in the right place at the right time. The Pelicans had a simple deficiency: with Rondo out, no players could consistently run the offense.
The Pelicans have scoring power, but the flow of the offense – even from possession to possession – has experienced fits and starts in Rondo’s absence. It means nothing for Davis and Cousins to combine for 60-70 points each night if their scoring doesn’t come when needed.
Nelson gives fans a glimpse of how the Pelicans expect the team to function with Rondo. The team doesn’t need a point guard to put up big scoring numbers; it needs an offensive director to benefit complementary players like Ian Clark.
Rondo is an old-school point guard – and perfect for an offense that isn’t sure if it’s the San Antonio Spurs circa 1997 or 2017. When Rondo returns, his skills combined with Nelson off the bench makes this a much more balanced squad. These changes won’t add wins over the Warriors, but it will reduce bad losses to teams like the Lakers.
For now, the Pelicans will rely on whatever Jameer Nelson has left in the tank until Rondo can return. A 1-2 record may not be the sexiest start for the Pelicans 2017-18 campaign, but it could have been 0-3 if not for the new point guard. In a pressure-packed season, game-by-game success is welcome.