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Question of the Week: What Have You Seen So Far?

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The New Orleans Pelicans are a week and a half into their season and sitting at 2-3 on the year. There is a lot of noise in the stats, small sample sizes, and injuries making it hard to properly evaluate the team. But the internet isn’t a rational place, so we’re doing that any in the first of what will be a weekly Question of the Week (we will come up with a better name) here at LockedOnPelicans.com.

We’re five games into the New Orleans Pelicans season, and it’s still likely too early to draw conclusions, but talk about one thing that has jumped out at you so far:

Jermaine: When it comes to the Pelicans, injuries – more specifically how we respond to them – are always the name of the game. As such, I am intrigued confused by the signing of Josh Smith. Much like a total solar eclipse, this personnel move requires fans to view it indirectly and in total darkness while wearing protective eyewear for safety.

On the bright side, Smith’s tank appeared bone dry at the beginning of the 2015-16 season, so the decision to reanimate his corpse to stomp around the court blowing defensive rotations and missing open jumpers is a hilarious Halloween prank. Trick-or-treat!

Raby: Meet the new offense, same as the old offense. This offseason was rife with optimism for many reasons, but chief among them was the hiring of Chris Finch, whose effect in Denver left many Pelicans fans, myself included, dreaming of big things to come offensively. But through these few games, there have been flashes of cohesion, but nothing that suggests an untapped explosive offense.

More troubling than the stagnation on offense, however, is the complete breakdown of something the Pelicans were actually good at last year: taking care of the basketball. Last year the Pelicans were 4th in the league in turnover percentage with 13.1% of plays ending in a turnover, according to cleaningtheglass.com. Through the first four games of the year, the Pelicans have turned it over on 17.3% of their possessions. Can’t get into a flow if you don’t hang onto the ball.

Rory: Jrue Holiday. I don’t think any of us expected Holiday to live up to his price tag, but no one could have foreseen…this. His NBA.com/stats (note: prior to last night’s game) numbers actually aren’t awful: 11.3 PPG, 5.0 assists, 1.8 steals, and “only” 3 turnovers per game. But to be frank, he looks lost. This can mostly be chalked up to an offseason planning to play alongside Rajon Rondo and having to adjust on the fly. But Holiday has primarily been a point guard his entire career up until this point, so the adjustment shouldn’t be this painful. It appears his confidence is down, which is interesting considering how much time and attention the team has invested in him. Maybe we can get him to view this video before games?

Alex: The defense has had its ups and downs but it feels like there are more blown rotations at crucial times. I would love to put this down to new players or a new system but a lot of the issues have been with returning players who know Erman’s system. In the 4th last night, the Pels D got spun around so badly that Boogie didn’t even both turning to watch Koufas put in the easy layup (he missed). Blown rotations are as much a factor in the losses to Memphis and Golden State as the offense going stagnant, and it almost cost them the comeback win last night.

And yeah, I’m all in on team headband. Love the starting lineup with 4 headbands (when Jrue rocks his) and then the first sub making it 4 headbands for most of the first quarter.

Luis: As much as I’d like to point to a trend over all 5 games, it’s a bit tough because of the sort of early season randomness we’ve already had. So I’m going with the most recent official signing. As Rory pointed out, while his counting stats are fine, Jrue has looked like a guy who was told “hey you won’t be the PG” and forgot everything about running a team when he was thrust back into the lead guard position. Enter my surprise, the transition of Jameer Nelson. Like the wily old mentor in every western, the 35 year-old just makes everything seem better. Sure, it shouldn’t be a surprise since Rondo should have been the point guard, but hey I’m a Pelicans fan and anything working out well is a surprise. Jameer has looked better in every game and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that his best game as a Pel lead to Jrue’s emergence into what we were hoping we’d see from him this season. Even if it was just for one night.

Speaking of last night I don’t know if I am allowed, but I’m adding a small second surprising thing. It is the use of a lineup of not 1, not 2, not 3, but 4 guards and Boogie versus the Kings. Gentry made a stink in the offseason about the idea of playing 3 guards with the bigs after the Solomon Hill injury, and it’s looked like it has some promise (currently a top 10 lineup for those over 20 minutes according to NBA Stats lineup data) against the Kings & Blazers, coinciding with Nelson looking more comfortable in his role and with Dante Cunningham as the 4. I’m looking forward to seeing more of what I dubbed the Biggie Smalls lineup last night (Boogie-Brow-Jrue-Moore/Clark-Nelson) when Davis comes back.

Jason: The defense. Not the transition defense… because that has admittedly been pretty awful. But the halfcourt defense has shown some signs of being really good, especially with the two star bigs on the floor. DeMarcus Cousins is only second to Kevin Durant in both total blocks and blocks per game so far this season, and Anthony Davis has maintained his usual behemoth presence on the court, being able to be 6’11” yet run in a split-second to get a block.

But beyond the bigs, the rest of the team has created a gritty defensive mindset and identity behind associate head coach Darren Erman. The Pelicans starting lineup of Holiday, Moore, Cunningham, Davis, and Cousins currently rank No. 4 in +/- among all five-man lineups in the NBA, and a large part of that is due to how they’ve bothered teams with their defensive play, which has allowed the team to start off first quarters with huge leads. Really the only rotation player who’s a question mark on defense would be Ian Clark, but I would argue that he makes up for it with extremely smart team play and an effort steal every now and then. I expected (and hoped) that the makeup of the roster would allow the defense to be good, but even I’m surprised at how well it’s been able to work so far.

Agree with our writers? Disagree? Did something else jump out at you? Let us know in the comments below!

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Jake J. Madison is the host of the daily Locked on Pelicans podcast. Covering the Pelicans and NBA since 2010, you can catch him on various sports programs around New Orleans and nationally.

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