The New Orleans Pelicans summer league game on WatchESPN tonight, I finally got the chance to take in some basketball. NOLA won 97-81, and yes, I know it's just summer league, but I put together my notes from the game both on the Pels style of play as well as the battle between Larry Drew II and Seth Curry. Here are my takeaways.
I have to start with the defense as it seemed to have undergone the most changes from last year. It is clear that the team's defensive philosophy has shifted. First, all ball screens were ICE'd. The big man dropped off to stop the ball handler immediately. Not once did the Pels aggressively hedge and pick & roll, and I found it glorious. I would have liked to see the big not drop off quite as much because the Wizards were able to drop pocket passes to a big man almost at will. The gap between the defending guard and big man was just too big. However, when you put Omer Asik, who showed a very good understanding of the technique when it was employed last year, with Jrue Holiday's wingspan in the passing lane, the Pels should be much improved in that aspect. The technique also led to a lot fewer rotations and running towards the basket with hands raised and back to the ball.
The other thing that I noticed the Pels do a few times on defense was a floating defender. When a Wizards' guard had the ball, and the off ball Wizards' guard was on the weak side, the Pels off ball defender would float to the strong side low block blocking a clear blow-by drive, but also leaving a skip pass open. Not sure if that works on the big stage with better passers and shooters, but the few times it was employed tonight, it seemed to work. At the very least, it could be an interesting gimmick a few times each game to slow the opposing offense.
Wow!! New Orleans' offense was almost unrecognizable. The Pels were constantly looking for early offense off missed and made shots. The ball was in the front court within five seconds on almost every possession. The simple volume of shots was something we did not see at all last year. Towards the end of the game, the quick offense hurt the Pels and probably kept Washington in the game longer than they should have. However, with a more veteran team, I imagine New Orleans will know when to slow the pace at the end of games with a big lead.
In terms of offensive sets, neither team ran many big sets, which makes sense considering the lack of familiarity with the playbook. I did notice though that across the board New Orleans seemed to have more movement off the ball down to simple back cuts. Also, the ball moved around the perimeter more quickly, which made the Wizards' defense at least move its feet more than when the ball just stuck in the hands of the ball handler.
Seth Curry- On offense, Curry was incredible. He had 26 points on over 50% shooting with only 1 turnover. Going left, Curry takes a shot from the foul line extended that banks in almost like a classic Tim Duncan shot, except Curry does it off the dribble. He did it at least four times tonight, and Washington had no answer. In the lane, Curry has an array of flip shots, but I did not see any floater tonight. His M.O. in the lane is flip it up early to beat the blocker, and he was effective throughout the night, but he will probably have to develop a floater and use it concurrently with the flip shots. Curry was guarded in the first half by Washington's first round pick Kelly Oubre, Jr., and Curry made Oubre look silly. Curry had Oubre biting on pump fakes and just playing slow in general.
After watching him tonight, I don't think Curry is a point guard He is a scorer though. Doug Gottlieb pointed out on the broadcast that Curry just found points, and I agree with Gottlieb. In that respect, Curry reminded me a little of Jannero Pargo. Defensively, Curry was small and at times looked lost on defense. His work around screens needs improvement, and he will be posted up by bigger players, but even with his small stature, Curry collected 6 rebounds. Curry is active defensively and finds the ball well with 4 steals, but I found that to be more of a function of Washington's poor offense than Seth's defense.
Larry Drew II- Drew also made an impact. First and foremost, Drew is a point guard. His passing is very good when he gets in the lane. Drew also showed an ability to go around the screen, stop, and put the defender on his back for a second. Drew could not hold him there like CP3 can, but that split second gives Drew the time he needs to survey the floor and pick his pass when he drives. Drew also finished multiple times with a nice floater in the lane. Last, Drew had a pull-up jumper on a fast break to score his first points of the game. That is such an effective shot, and for a guy who has the rap of a bad shooter, he was much better than I expected.
Defensively though is where I really liked Drew. He was incredibly vigilant off the ball constantly checking between his man and the ball, cutting off passing lanes, and showing himself to stop drives. On the ball, Drew looked very good in the pick & roll sitting on the guard's hip while using his reach to harass passes. The one area where I thought he was lacking was quickness to stay in front one-on-one, definitely a problem.
The Pels win gives them another game in the quarterfinals against Golden State. It provides another opportunity for players to prove themselves and teams to evaluate. That's the best part of any win in the Summer League from here on out.