Throughout Media Day, one of the common themes that developed was the players all mentioned how happy they were about the installation of new defensive concepts due to simplified schemes. So much so, many Pelicans, from Anthony Davis to Dante Cunningham, went on record stating their team defense will rank somewhere in the top 10 of the NBA.
Today, we learned the details of the defensive simplification and it's a rather precipitous drop in the number of difference schemes. According to Eric Gordon, the Pelicans had roughly 15 defensive calls under Monty Williams. This season, the Pelicans will initially employ just 3 of them under Alvin Gentry.
Gordon went on to explain that last year's group "tried to take away too many things." Thus, the chances of a breakdown were significantly higher because the slightest hesitation on a responsibility resulted in a missed assignment, and hence, a normally wide-open look for opponents.
On the simplification, Gentry said the purpose of reducing the number of defensive calls is to take the thinking out of playing basketball. For instance, when the Pelicans encounter a pick and roll in the near future, they're going to play it one specific way.
The best part is that this type of strategy has been successfully employed by a Gentry-led team before. Seth Pollack alerted me to the fact that the 2010 Phoenix Suns did the same exact thing.
Last season, according to several people in the Suns organization, the team simplified the defensive schemes primarily to help Amare Stoudemire. One of Amare's issues over the years has been thinking too much and not reacting quickly enough on the defensive end of the floor. While it often appeared to the observer that he was a disinterested defender, the reality was that he simply didn't have the ability to read and react to various scenarios as they were unfolding at NBA speed.
Although, Seth went on to state that good teams will find effective ways to exploit a simple defense, this decision is a sound one by the new coaching staff. The Pelicans struggled mightily on the defensive end as evidenced by too many paralysis-by-analysis moments. An athletic and talented team would be better served by initially relying on their instincts.
After the 2010 Suns team simplified their defensive concepts, that had been installed a year earlier, they went on a run that saw them advance all the way to the Western Conference Finals.
Entering this season, the Pelicans defense needed a starting point. It sounds like a reduction in the number of defensive calls, even if it seems overly simplistic, is a good place to begin. Once New Orleans masters the concepts or opponents start carving them up, then it'll make sense for the team to move onto the next step.