Having to drive from Mobile, Alabama early this morning, I was one of the first to arrive at the Pelicans practice facility. Thumbs up for zero traffic! However, before Dell Demps kicked off today's festivities as the first speaker, the conference room quickly filled to standing room only.
Just one year ago, this scene would have been completely unimaginable. The Pelicans were coming off a 34-48 record. Moreover, the NFL was just several weeks into their season. As regional fans know, nothing can supersede the Saints.
Fast forward to today and one of the media representatives exclaimed to Anthony Davis that today's fantastic attendance was due to New Orleans having the NBA's newest superstar. Although not completely wrong, Davis quickly dismissed the notion and he's right.
The Saints are off to an 0-3 start after finishing last season with a disappointing 7-9 record and missing out on the playoffs, a rarity under Sean Peyton. Conversely, the Pelicans mad dash for the 2015 playoffs finished with a happy ending on the final day of the regular season. In spite of a sweep, one would have never believed such negativity to be our most recent impressions of the team by today's turnout.
After the press conferences of Demps, Alvin Gentry and Davis concluded, the media walked in on each Pelican taking a turn at every designated rotation: a handful of photo shoots, dozens of promotional campaigns and personal radio show interviews by ESPN.
Once the players finished with these chores, they wrapped up their duties by doing a Q&A with the media. During the interviews, three distinct items of note emerged.
1) The Pelicans defense will be vastly improved. Omer Asik claimed last year's eyesore will finish in the top 10. Incredulous, a media representative asked how that was going to be possible considering this identical group finished in the bottom third of the league. But then subsequent players continued to echo the same thoughts. Anthony Davis claimed the top 5 was attainable. Dante Cunningham went as far as to say the team was going to be top 3!
How is this possible? Simplicity. K.I.S.S, anyone?
Davis: Pelicans can improve defensively with same core due to new schemes. Stuff has been somewhat simplified.— Oleh Kosel (@Redhopeful) September 28, 2015
According to the players, Darren Erman has already reduced the complexities of last year's schemes and the team feels really good about the changes. Since the defensive coach's hire, it makes perfect sense. There hasn't been anything in the news about switches, reading the defense and concepts that may lead to confusion. Instead, we've heard about a lot of focus on fundamentals such as positioning and close-outs.
2) The players will be better utilized according to their individual strengths. NBA fans, including their likely non-basketball viewing mothers, have heard the motto: the Pelicans are going to run and run some more. Yes, a young and athletic team should look to take advantage of an innate ability; however, there are so many more changes in store than just dialing up the pace.
Since Gentry's first interview, he has made it abundantly clear that Tyreke Evans will primarily spend most of his time at point guard. One thing has become predominantly apparent over the last several years, Evans performs best with the ball in his hands to initiate the offense. Whether it was to start a transition break or breakdown the defense, he has functioned best in a role as the floor general.
However, please don't take this to mean that fans will be in store for more isolations to finish inefficient possessions. According to Demps and Gentry, one of the primary goals of this team is to improve the ball movement. The Golden State Warriors were last year's poster child for improvement in this category. The talk of Gentry's 'ball movement and people movement' worked so it'll be interesting to watch just how high the Pelicans can climb from the depths of the NBA's third worst passes per 48 minutes.
Ready or not, one player who should thrive in the new system is Eric Gordon. Simply put, Gentry has promised him more possessions. Gone will be last year's go-spot-up-from-somewhere-along-the-three-point-line and wait for the pass. This season he'll be asked to handle a much greater load of the team's playmaking. When I asked him about this, he said he is ready and looking forward to it. He pointed out that during his days as a Los Angeles Clipper, it was commonplace.
3) The team's atmosphere seems identical to last year's Golden State Warriors. Smiles, jokes and horsing-around were contagious at the Pelicans practice facility. During Anderson's Q&A, Pondexter asked Anderson in his best reporter's voice, "Can I have a window seat." "No," exclaimed the straight-faced Flame-Thrower.
Later, Davis walked in on Pondexter's Q&A and answered on his behalf that he likes to shoot the ball. Q-Pon quickly quipped "just make sure that Anthony is happy. That's the main focus. I love my job: make sure he's happy." AD walked away half-blushing but with a full-on grin.
Perhaps the best show, though, occurred when #ColeBlooded was seen performing a series of moves in unison with Pierre the Pelican.
Yet, every single player would go on to recall on needing to play with a sense of urgency -- just as they did to close the regular season just a few months ago. Or, they would give testament to just how much hard work lies ahead. Nobody blinked. You knew they were all 100% serious about this.
In an interview nearly three weeks ago, Evans told me the Pels need to approach every upcoming regular season game like it's the playoffs. Lo and behold, he nearly reiterated the same line today. The fun and games may have been frequent, but they have never forgotten the job at hand. That's maturity.
The Bird Writes will post much more on today's Media Day throughout the rest of the week once we've had a chance to go through all interview recordings. In addition, look for a training camp preview focusing on the battle for the team's two remaining roster spots tomorrow morning, and in coming days, a general preview and the start of a number of player preview pieces.
We're still 29 days away from opening day, but I'm ready to yell from the rooftops, 'Geaux Pellies!' Who is with me?