There is no hiding it. The Pelicans have not been a good basketball team during the first week of the NBA season. They are tied with the Los Angeles Lakers for the worst record in the Western Conference at 0-4. New Orleans sits in the bottom third in both offensive and defensive rating; however, the worst has typically occurred during the first 12 minutes of action.
In the four games played, the Pelicans have compiled a putrid -43.4 1st quarter Net Rating. They have posted the worst defensive rating (130.2) and the third worst offensive rating (86.8). Simply put, the Pelicans can't buy a basket, and on the other end, they're giving up easy lay-ups and three pointers in droves.
Eric Gordon's dismal 35.3 FG% in opening frames is actually higher than Anthony Davis (31.6%), Ryan Anderson (28.6%) and Jrue Holiday (11.1%), the Pelicans supposed best offensive weapons.
Defensively the team is giving up 7 shots (3rd worst in NBA) inside the restricted area while opponents are converting them at a 78.6% clip (2nd worst). The Pelicans are also giving up 6.5 three-point attempts (worst) above the break (anywhere but the corners) with the opposition knocking them down at a 53.8% mark (2nd worst).
Why all the dismal performances? As you'll witness, a lot of it sits on the shoulders of the roster. Sure, the injury situation and playing the world champions twice while they exhibited solid postseason form has hurt, but the Pelicans players, not the coaching staff, deserve the majority of the blame.
Videos Don't Lie
For instance, let's examine the majority of the plays in the first quarter between the Pelicans and Magic.
Not two minutes into the game, Gordon missed badly on a three point attempt, yet only Davis, who fell down on the play, was the only Pelican standing on the offensive end among four Magic players.
Victor Oladipo single-handedly beat the four other Pelican defenders. For whatever reason, Gordon didn't hustle after his Oladipo assignment, Alexis Ajinca thought it was best to smother Nikola Vucevic at the elbow and Luke Babbitt decided to stay with Evan Fournier stride for stride.
One of the biggest rules in basketball is to stop penetration first. Holiday was the only one who reacted, yet he too was out of position by taking a bad angle on the play. Oladipo is too talented to be stopped in the open floor by one casual defender.
On the Pelicans next few offensive possessions, Holiday missed a contested lay-in and then Ajinca's shot at the rim was swatted away from behind by Oladipo.
Ajinca took it for granted that he was going to remain open for eternity. Yes, Davis should have gotten the ball to him sooner, but it's on Alexis to make sure a defender has finally caught up to him before casually going up with the ball.
Not twenty seconds later, the Magic scored on an out-of-bounds play when Vucevic sets a good, yet somewhat moving screen on Babbitt. Luke should not have taken the long way to chase Fournier and Ajinca should have given help by showing. Thus, Evan makes a wide-open 8-footer on a simple pin-down.
After a near turnover, Eric Gordon misses a wide-open corner 3, but fortunately for the Pelicans they get another crack at it after a careless Magic turnover that results in an Ajinca slam. Thirty seconds later, though, Alexis crashes to the floor at midcourt after trying to incorrectly slow down Oladipo bringing the ball up the floor.
That fall resulted in Vucevic streaking across the lane with his hands up high begging for the ball which in turn lured both Babbitt from the far side and Davis near side. AD's momentarily lean to the middle was enough to give Tobias Harris a wide open corner three attempt which he promptly drilled.
Offensively the Pelicans continued with the mistakes: Holiday made a bad decision to attempt a shot into traffic that was promptly rejected in his face and then Davis followed into some more traffic and turned it over. After another turnover on a pass from Holiday to Davis, the Pelicans fortunately got the ball right back following a steal by Holiday that led to a cherry-pick Davis slam.
A little over four minutes into the start of the game, the Pelicans had already missed a number of wide open looks on their end while making at least 7 mistakes -- the very definition of low IQ basketball. New Orleans was fortunate the Magic had a sloppy start as well, but as to where they started executing better, the Pelicans did not.
As soon as Ryan Anderson entered into the game for Ajinca, the Magic went to Vucevic in the post and he scored on a nice take into the paint. After a nice Toney Douglas pass to a wide-open Davis, who missed from 10 feet along the baseline, Vucevic followed with an easy putback after an Orlando miss. I'll give the Magic credit for corralling the rebound due to the long carom, but Anderson or Davis parted like the Red Sea for Nikola on the lay-in.
Following another miss of an open catch and shoot from Gordon, Harris grabbed the rebound and drove uncontested to the line of the restricted area.
Yes, all five Pelican defenders were back, but Anderson and Davis took too long to decide who would guard Vucevic and who would stop Harris. Before a decision was ever rendered, Vucevic scored on another easy putback, this time via the Kobe-assist from Harris' miss.
After Vucevic missed one from in close and Mario Hezonja walked, Gordon missed another good look from deep. Harris once again drove the length of the floor and converted another lay-in against three Pelicans. Anderson picked up him from the free throw line but was not able to slow him down in the least.
An 8-1 run put the Magic ahead 17-11 from which they would never look back, finishing comfortably ahead by 11 points after the first quarter. During the final 2 minutes, the Magic scored on four of their remaining five possessions, all on lay-ups.
Offensively, the Pelicans are not converting their looks. Collectively, New Orleans is shooting 39.8% from the floor in first quarters. Considering the team has a field goal percentage of 40% on uncontested looks (defender is 3.5 feet or further away) through four games, the scoring struggles are easily explained.
The bigger problem, though, is time and again the Pelicans exhibit trouble getting back on defense to their initial assignments. One or two switches seem to create a ripple effect that always leads to a breakdown. By my count, the team only had a handful of good stops and that was usually because the Magic didn't display better patience on certain possessions.
The first quarter difference might have even been worse were it not for Holiday, who rotated several times to stop the point of attack. The rest of the team needs to follow suit. Most of the Pelicans are not playing with active hands, not putting forth their best effort, and generally exhibiting poor IQ.
The Bird Writes will go further in depth about the specific defensive woes, but from re-watching video, it is apparent the team doesn't not have a good grasp of the reduced defensive concepts promised during media day. I believe Alvin Gentry is speaking the truth when he claims the team is coming off great practices, but something is getting lost in translation.
As David mentioned in yesterday's recap, Anthony Davis needs to grab the bull by the horns. He is in his fourth year and the undisputed leader of this team so it might as well be on the MVP candidate to lead the team out of the fray. Someone certainly has to if the Pelicans still plan on making waves out West.