As we all angrily shake our fist, gray our hairs that are now blowing off our heads like dandelion fluff in a tropical storm, and waste hours on the ESPN trade machine trying drastic measures to blow up a team that was in the playoffs just a few months ago, let’s take a deep breath, chill, drink a warm masala tea and listen to the infinite wisdom of babes and the sort-of-wisdom of a guy that makes a pretty mean old fashioned.
The Arlo Post
In the days since we shocked the world by defeating the Empire in the final game of the 2014-2015 season to reach the playoffs, I shocked my family and friends by moving in with my girlfriend and her three-year-old son, who is full of brilliant takes on the world. I've had the privilege of taking him to his first basketball game, which also marked the Pelicans first win of the season. We armed him with a plush Anthony Davis doll, a Pelicans t-shirt and a cup of rainbow Dip’n Dots. He screamed for Davis, perfectly mimicking the in-arena MC and the ingrained racer in him fell in love with the extremely speedy, Ish Smith. We've taken him to one other game since and he's watched several on TV, but his basketball exposure is still very limited. However, whenever we drive past the Smoothie King Center on our way to Tan Dinh, Arlo exclaims, "That's where the Pelicans live! That's the house that Anthony Davis built!"
Arlo may have Adam Morrison’s hair, but he is definitely a young basketball genius (his basketball IQ is light years ahead of Ryan Anderson’s). He comes from the Gregg Popovich school of rest. Before the Portland game Arlo was waking up from his afternoon nap while clutching his Anthony Davis doll. He opened his huge golf ball eyes, brushed his hair aside and said, "Anthony Davis needs to sleep longer, he has a game tonight." He tucked AD in and we started to play basketball on the tiny goal hanging from his door frame.
This game showed me that not only does Arlo understand the importance of game preparation, he also understands how to use personnel. He handed me his Pelicans basketball and said, "You be Tyreke, I'll be Anthony Davis." Then in basketball newbie crude three-year-old instructions, he actually called a pick and roll. I dribbled around him, he cut to the basket. I softly bounced a pass back to him. As he sloppily gathered the ball and caught up to me, I scooped him up and he slammed it home. Sheba— our dog — watched defenseless like Jimmer Fredette standing in the way of a CP3 to DeAndre Jordan lob. She walked off to the living room, tail tucked firmly between her legs. Arlo called this play repeatedly and it worked every time.
This is the main flaw since the Gentry-fication of the offense. There are few picks. The ones that exist are often more chewed up cinnamon flavored toothpick than a body-on-body brick wall. I despised Monty Williams as a coach, but he understood the dominance of the Evans/Davis high pick and roll. This play has gone the way of the white rhino in Gentry’s system. We do see the occasional half-assed pick from AD on Tyreke’s cover, but what we don't see is Davis rolling to the basket. He has consistently stepped out for a pick-and-pop. I don't understand why one of the most athletic big men in the league, who also possesses a guard’s handle, is refusing to drive or even play around the hoop. Don't get me wrong, I love his jumper, but it should not be the main weapon in his arsenal. Also, by stepping back/playing out of the post, we lose all of those put-backs he gave us last season.
A number of my fellow writers at The Bird Writes may not like this suggestion -- as many don't want the ball in Evans’ hands so consistently, but it would serve them well to not only look at this season’s +\- numbers (even with Evans being saddled with Asik and Gee) and go back to watch the final 20 games from last season. This is what carried us to the postseason and this is what had Anthony Davis posting historic PER numbers. I'm all for pace and space, but even within that system, there is room for a heavy dose of the high pick and roll.
Before I move onto my own suggestions to fix our offensive woes, I’ll leave you with one last golden nugget from our Lil Pop. During a commercial break featuring a Ryan Anderson promo for holiday ticket packages in the recent brutal loss to the Orlando Magic, Arlo said, "I don't like him." When I asked why he responded, "He doesn't share." This was perfect foreshadowing to our disgrace of a game to the Mavs towel boys. 2/12 with a putrid +\-, costly turnovers, no defense and a coach that kept a player that was absolutely killing us with his shooting addiction in a winnable game in a sort-of-hotly contested 4th quarter. People hate on Tyreke for his ball pounding, but at least he’s usually looking to create. There is no greater villain to the ball movement mantra than Mr. One-Legged Spinning fadeaway when doubled. When he's hot, he can win a game by himself. However, those nights are scarce. I’ve actually waited on Ryan Anderson once and I can tell he’s a very solid guy — he’s a good tipper, he gives Christmas gifts to needy children, he’d probably give you the shirt off of his back — he just won’t pass you the basketball. It's time we move on and get a piece better suited for our roster construction/offensive scheme.
We Were Promised Jetpacks
You remember all that talk about how ingenious and inventive our new offense would be? I do too. I had visions of Eric Gordon running around screens off of the ball to get free on the perimeter. I expected us to fly up the court on fast breaks leading to lobs for AD or drives from Evans or Holiday resulting in easy lay ups or kick outs to trailing shooters. I thought I'd see a ton of off ball movement. I was hoping to see early initiated high pick and roll - sometimes with two screeners - one rolling, one fading. I thought I'd see Evans doing dive cuts along the baseline and catching a pass in motion for a layup. I was hoping for Asik screens at the elbow freeing up AD for drives to the basket. I wanted to see the ball getting kicked out of the post and then swung around perimeter.
We wanted to see the future, but we have been stuck in the worst parts of the past. We've removed that one thing Montyball did well and borrowed his horrible lineups and his lack of off ball movement. We do see some extra passes, but most are just going through the motion half-hearted short give-and-return tosses between the guards at the top of the arc - nothing inventive or even overly effective. Everyone stands in place no matter who the play initiator is (this isn't exclusively a Tyreke problem). With penetrating guards like Evans, Holiday, Gordon and the gone but not forgotten Ish Smith, we should have seen the off ball players rotating to other spots, causing panic and making the defense have to make quick decisions. The slightest of movements could result in at least one mental breakdown causing a great look. However, we stand and watch and give the defenders an easy day at the office.
Another issue I have with Gentry’s bloodshot vision is his misuse of Anthony Davis. We all heard about his Mitt Romney-styled binders full of ways to make AD the most dynamic player in the game. I'm starting to think they were less Xs and Os and more clip art. I like that he wanted Davis to work on his three. Anything you can do to add a weapon to your game is great. AD has a very velvety stroke and is money from 15’ - 20’ so expanding that range isn't something that seems far-fetched. Still, Davis is at his best and makes the team better when he's around the rim. Take the three when it comes naturally in the flow of the game, almost never run a play to create that shot. Too often AD hangs away from the basket, almost playing in a guard’s spot on the court. Usually his first shot is from 18’, which he is efficient when taking, but getting him easier buckets than that should be the mandate. This is not entirely a Gentry era problem. Davis usually started every game with that same shot under Williams. Perhaps he's fallen in love with his jumper, which can be a bad habit that needs breaking.
When Gentry gets Davis to play around the rim, he gets him to post up with his back to the basket. This isn't AD’s game, at least not yet. Davis is a facing big with very little in the post move department. Remember, Anthony was a guard his whole life until an unexpected growth spurt got every college coach drooling. He wasn’t raised on post moves. After his spurt and in his brief college career, he was not used as a back to the rim big man. His coaches relied on his athleticism and guard’s handle to drive to the basket, catch lobs and score off of putbacks. Once he was in the league, the Williams-led staff chose to build his offensive game by improving his jumper, which made him the best facing four in the league. His post game was put on hold. That's not an indictment of Monty, players need multiple offseasons to add to their game. Also, Davis is only now at a size where he can operate effectively against NBA bigs, so Monty was protecting him some by discouraging banging down low. Now that he has added weight and muscle, it's time for him to develop some post up moves. However, the time to work on that is practice and the offseason. He can't just expect to make it work in-game on the fly. These post ups are why we are seeing Davis’ efficiency drop near the basket — he isn’t comfortable.
Speaking of practice — why are we cutting shootarounds? One of my main concerns when Gentry came on board was that a team that already lacked discipline was getting everyone’s favorite drunk uncle to set the tone. Don't get me wrong, I like trying to make practice fun with music etc., but I also believe in PRACTICE. Every one of us has given this staff the excuse that we went all offseason and the early season without key players, making it impossible for guys to learn the system and the staff to tweak the system to fit what the players do best. With that lack of time together in the offseason, why would you even consider reducing court time during the season? It's mind-boggling.
Here’s another practice-ish gripe that I have and it occurs every pregame shoot around. I’m always at the arena early, watching the team shoot jumpers trying to determine whose stroke looks on point and who seems to be mailing it in. I know this ritual is more about loosening muscle and keeping them warm, but it seems to me you should work on shots you’ll actually take during the game. Every shootaround I watch angrily as Jrue Holiday shoots from out of bounds behind the basket from the Crescent City Basketball logo. This is a shot he’ll never take in-game, but he spends most of his warm up taking it. Again, I know warmup shots are just that, but why not get in rhythm from the arc or the elbow or the corner or even work on some layups? This ritual seems to have no chance of positively affecting your in-game rhythm. This seems like something the coaching staff should have noticed and pointed out to him.
After the Pacers’ game and the ridiculous lack of basketball skill Omer Asik displayed, he can’t possibly return to the starting lineup, can he? Is he the new Greg Stiemsma? Will Gentry keep forcing us to watch the most painful offensive game of all time? David Fisher made the case for Cunningham to replace Gee in the starting five seemingly an eternity ago, and we finally saw it against the Pacers. The team started with energy, Cunningham set good screens, we didn’t lose much defensively in the move, and while Cunningham wasn’t an offensive force tonight, he at least made the defense think about coming out to guard him in the corner. I’m for giving Dante a few more looks until Pondexter is finally resurrected from the dead — I really hope QPon hasn’t expired.
However, it may be time to roll out the three guard lineup as Oleh recently mentioned. I’ve liked Holiday coming off of the bench, but we need more scoring injected into the start of games. As for Omer — I’ve seen enough. Either he’s really hurt, or he just cannot play basketball anymore. We either need to package him with Anderson (lessening the value on our return but dumping a terrible player and contract), or we need to send him off with a future pick. If you can dump him — even by sending a 2017 or 2018 1st rounder out and create enough space to make a real run at Whiteside, DeRozan, Batum or Horford— it isn’t the worst idea. It’s a shame that it has to come to this, but sometimes divorces are messy, and sometimes it’s better to give away an asset than to cling onto a bad life partner.
If we see no lineup reshuffling and/or improved consistent effort on the floor by late February, do we have to fire Gentry? One thing I notice from my seat behind the Pelicans’ bench is that it is actually Darren Erman doing most of the one-on-one’s with players. He’s up and yelling at the team while they are on defense. He gets in guy’s faces for lack of effort and bad execution. I don’t see a lot of coaching from Alvin Gentry. Should we give Erman that interim coach label and see if he can at least bring consistency in our effort each night? I have to say that I’m leaning toward it. The only thing we can point to that is improving is our team defense (not that it’s anything to really pat him on the back for), and Erman is the man tasked with running that side of the ball. I wasn’t onboard with Gentry’s hiring, but I really wanted it to work.
Unfortunately, the plane is crashing into the mountain — I’m really not trying to be a cannibal, but Gentry and Anderson are the first two courses on my menu if we somehow survive the impact. Then again, QPon turned the tide for us at the trade deadline last season, could he completely right the ship again this year? Until the bubblegum holding his knee together finally hardens, we’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed and hope for a soft landing.