Fans and experts alike got their first taste of the Alvin Gentry-led Pelicans Thursday evening. As expected, the Pelicans hoisted plenty of three-pointers, but more importantly, they looked to push the pace, evidenced by the installation of an 18-second shot clock.
Although the video stream was rather grainy at times, the action was discernible enough to be able to gauge player performances, and for the most part, the play was better than expected. The players seemed to show a decent grasp of the offense and defense. In addition, the personal fouls and turnovers were kept to a decent minimum.
Several Pelicans of the regular rotation really stood out. First, Eric Gordon had both his inside and outside game working on all cylinders. After treating fans to stellar perimeter shooting last season, it was not at all unusual to see him resume right where he left off. However, it was a mild surprise to see Gordon display a little more explosiveness around the rim. If he continues to regularly get by players or convert on a lot more attempts near the rim, New Orleans might finally get to enjoy the Clipper version they had traded for so long ago.
Ryan Anderson was another player who seemed to be able to do no wrong. His movement on the floor was more fluid and athletic than at any point last season, but it was his shot that had the Greenbrier abuzz. Whether Anderson had a hand in his face or not, it mattered little as his sweet jumper was nearly automatic. He dropped in a slew of three-pointers similarly akin to a carpet bombing run by the United States Air Force.
During the broadcast, Sean Kelley and David Wesley stated that Jrue Holiday would see 45 minutes of action. Even though they were unclear on what that exactly meant (ie. do warmups figure into that minute total?), we quickly learned Holiday must have been saved for the night's scrimmage because he was on the court the majority of the time of the three 10-minute quarters.
After learning earlier in the day Holiday has been pain-free for months, it was such a relief to watch him play without hesitation. The shiftiness and quick first step were all there, and for good measure, he knocked down the scrimmage's final hoop, a contested long perimeter jumper in the waning seconds.
Anthony Davis has probably been one of the hardest workers during training camp. How do I know this? Because he was noticeably not flying around all over the floor. Davis missed several shots around the rim, and at least one of those, he would have normally dunked with authority.
Despite a summer Achilles' issue, it sure looked like Alexis Ajinca was moving around a little more quickly. Also, he may be ready to extend his range this season as he swished home a jumper from a vicinity of 20 feet.
The battle for the final two roster spots
While it was important to watch how well the team's 13 guaranteed contracts performed, the competition for the Pelican's open roster positions is worth analysis too.
Before the scrimmage began, Kelley and Wesley interviewed the general manager, Dell Demps, and he claimed that the player(s) the team retains for the regular season may not be the ones who perform the strongest in training camp. Depending on which player you prefer, that may or may not be good news; however, I can't imagine tonight's exhibition was completely meaningless because there were obvious differences in their performances.
Thus I have ranked the players below who played from best to worst.
1) Jeff Adrien. He played as advertised: the hustle and rebounding were all there. He had an impressive tip-in over several Pelicans playing opposite him, and then later in the game, he had the game's best block, emphatically swatting away a shot at the rim.
When he wasn't in the game, he remained supportive on the sidelines. I noticed him high-five all of his teammates at one point who had just sat down on the bench after a timeout. I'm positive that earned him some bonus points with the coaching staff and management.
Kendrick Perkins did not seem as effective as Adrien, yet that should have probably been expected -- the scrimmage was meant to be a track meet. Yet, if this is to be the new norm, I think there should be no question Adrien is awarded one of the final two roster spots.
2) Corey Webster. Despite exclusively playing as an off-guard overseas, Webster spent nearly all of his time at point guard and he didn't have it easy. I'm not sure if this was by design (front office likes him and wanted to test him) or out of necessity (need for a 4th PG), but both Norris Cole and Holiday covered him for a majority of his minutes.
You know what, though, he did an acceptable job. Outside of a turnover in the final seconds of the 3rd quarter, he got the ball up the floor at an appropriate pace and was able to get the team into their offense.
I counted at least 4 or 5 assists and he seemed to have developed some chemistry with Anderson, hitting him at the right moments for several made jumpers. In addition, Webster added 6 points of his own, including a tough lay-in that earned him an And-1 opportunity (which he missed the FT) and several jumpers.
As David Booth mentioned during the broadcast, Webster is known for his shooting; however, if could help the Pelicans in other areas, as he did with his ball-handling, that versatility will make him more appealing to Dell Demps.
3) Byrce Dejean-Jones. I admit I must have missed several of his key plays because I barely noticed him on the floor. The athleticism was apparent but nothing he did caught my eye. For instance, I don't recall him making a single jumper all night. In his defense, though, the pace of the game suited his style and he did a much better job than CDR or Kilpatrick.
4) Chris Douglas-Roberts. Out of a 6-year player fighting for a roster spot, I expected more. I only recall him scoring once and that was on a backdoor cut against Kilpatrick. On several occasions, the ball seemed to stick in his hands longer than it should have. His worst moment came when he was attempting an isolation move with his head partially down. Seconds later, the 18-second shot clock buzzer sounded.
5) Sean Kilpatrick. He had a night to forget. I've already mentioned the lapse on defense, but offensively, it wasn't any prettier. He shot the ball plenty more than his direct competition, yet I don't remember any of his 8 or so attempts going down. If the rest of his training camp has gone similarly, I can't imagine he has a future with the Pelicans.
Just as I had picked Adrien and Webster in an article a few days ago which broke down the Pelicans five unguaranteed contracts, nothing has changed ... Well actually that's not true, I now feel more strongly about the inclusion of these two players for the regular season. Both of them not only fill a need with the current composition of the roster, but they appeared the most comfortable within Alvin Gentry's newly implemented system.