The Pelicans will play their fifth game of the regular season against the Atlanta Hawks. New Orleans will be looking for their first win of the season, after falling to 0-4 with a 103-94 loss at the hands of the Orlando Magic. The banged up Pelicans will try to continue to hold down the fort with everyone looking to return soon. Just recently, guard/forward Tyreke Evans said he would like to get out there by Thanksgiving.
The biggest thing seen from New Orleans is that their offense is continuing to run after a promising preseason. Under Alvin Gentry, the Pels are sporting the league's fast pace, 105.06, four games in. The only problem is that the Pelicans are 26th in the league in offensive efficiency. Part of that could be the play of their best player ushed as an MVP candidate to start the season, Anthony Davis has struggled to shoot the ball - 20.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, but a 37.9 from the field and a 49.6 TS% overall.
Davis is not all to blame for the team's offensive shortcomings. Eric Gordon is struggling on both sides of the ball at the moment, Ryan Anderson isn't hitting anything but threes and Jrue Holiday is hitting 37% from the floor. And missing guys like Quincy Pondexter, Tyreke Evans and Norris Cole, as flawed as they are in other aspects, do remove an element from the offense.
The defense is both a work in progress and slightly concerning under assistant head coach Darren Erman. Currently, the Pelicans are 29th in the league with an 111.0 defensive efficiency mark, only the Los Angeles Lakers are behind them. Nylon Calculus' Seth Partnow mentioned this on twitter, but a reason for that could be New Orleans allowing high percentage on Moreyball (shots from three and at the rim) attempts.
Allowing the third highest field goal percentage at the rim (28th at 64.0%) and the highest percentage from 25-29 feet at 51.4%, the Pelicans will have to somehow figure that out if they want to pick up that elusive first victory of the season.
And they can start that against the Atlanta Hawks.
The Hawks are currently 5-1 overall and have looked good early in the season. They don't sport the most proficient Moreyball numbers (14th in the league at 56.7% at the rim and 21st from 25-29 feet at 27.7%), but they sport a tactical offense, capable of feeding off of a defense. The duo of Al Horford and Paul Millsap could give New Orleans' defense from the mid-range, and have experienced with the Millsap, Horford, Tiago Splitter trio at the 3-4-5 combination as well.
With Horford, Millsap and Splitter in place, the Hawks have Jeff Teague to run the show, a battalion of shooters in Kyle Korver, Thabo Sefolosha, Mike Scott (kinda) and Kent Bazemore (I forsee Tim Hardaway Jr. and Justin Holiday joining the fray at some point this season), and the wild sparkplug Dennis Schroeder. Take those players, combine them with an excellent, Spursian system and one of the best coaches in the league in Mike Budenholzer, and you have a pretty successful Eastern Conference team.
Three keys to victory
Stop Atlanta's spot-up plays
The Hawks are second in the league with 119 plays total spot-up plays, sporting a 0.91 PPP. Not great, but there's a reason why the Hawks take the shot. Al Horford and Paul Millsap are maestros of that shot. Unfortunately, neither have thrived right away, with Horford shooting 36.4% and Millsap hitting just 16.7% of them. The Pelicans have allowed them 18.3% of the time for a point per possession (PPP) of 1.05. You don't want the Hawks to catch the groove on their spot-ups plays, because they have the players to make it a long day for the Pelicans.
Stifle Jeff Teague
The Hawks have two point guards we talked about previously. Schroeder is an electric point guard, but Teague is both the starter and the more balanced of the two. Currently, Teague is averaging 19.2 points, 5.8 assists and 3.3 rebounds. He's hitting on 50.2% of his two-point attempt. For a Pelican team looking to stop allowing people to thrive at the rim, Teague and his driving ability is going to be a problem. Teague is at 9.7 drives per game, shooting 56.7% from the field.
The issue is who can efficiently defend him, as I question if any of New Orleans' guards can stay with Teague. Jrue Holiday should be able to bother him, but for how long is the question, due to his minutes restriction. Eric Gordon isn't a good defender and could be overmatched by Teague's speed. I can see recent acquistion Toney Douglas getting a bulk of minutes to defend him, but one has to doubt for how long that works for an NBA journeyman.
A balanced and efficient offensive effort
The Pelicans are undermanned, which puts more of a requirement to get the best shot. It's a balanced effort from Anderson and Gordon spacing the floor. More Holiday and Davis could help, as the duo of a 107.4 offensive efficiency together (good!), but an 118.1 defensive rating (not good). Against a team with the offensive abilities of the Hawks, New Orleans and head coach Alvin Gentry will have to find something that can work offensively to match.
I'm not worried about the Peicans just yet, but with Portland looking better than expected and Phoenix and Utah looking good, the Pelicans need to get that first win of the season and start to look like the Pelicans we expected heading into the season. #Fullsquad will have to wait as the guys currently on the roster will have to step up.