Welcome back to the world of MVP brilliance, Anthony Davis!
Better luck next time, New Orleans Pelicans.
Despite Davis erupting for 50 points on 17 of 34 shooting, it was not quite enough as the Pelicans fell 107-102 to the Denver Nuggets in the first game of the 2016-17 season. All indications are that the beast once hailed as the NBA's next big problem are once again open and valid.
Davis could not be stopped, and this is a Denver team that has a pretty big and rugged frontcourt. The aggressive doubles were effective at times, but Davis passed well out of them and New Orleans exhibited a lot of very positive signs despite falling to another team most are not considering postseason-bound.
As it may be expected with a loss, there were a few more negative signs than positive ones, but this was a close game and it showed that if the Pelicans can get Davis some offensive help this team should compete most nights. Buddy Hield did not set the world on fire, yet he looked relatively composed. His quiet game is not really too much to be concerned about given his 13 point per game average in the preseason—and the simple fact that shooters have off nights.
Shooting, though, will begin our diagnoses of some issues that the Pelicans have to resolve before game 2 Friday night against an 0-1 Golden State Warriors squad. Gulp!
Five Big Problems
1) Poor three point shooting (3 of 19) & poor three-point defense (8 of 24, Nuggets).
The Pelicans cannot shoot this wickedly bad from behind the arc and succeed. Fortunately, this is what we will for now chalk up as "small sample size theatre," or "a bad night," and move on. But, the Pelicans could use Jrue Holiday and Quincy Pondexter’s marksmanship soon.
The defensive rotations on Denver's threes were not good, and the Nuggets really could have made New Orleans pay significantly worse. Jameer Nelson and Danilo Gallinari both bailed out New Orleans by missing some shots they ordinarily hit, and Denver still had this as their biggest advantage in the game. At some point you have to question why your guys are just leaving veteran sharpshooters like Nelson wide open and continually ducking under screens.
2) Frontcourt production outside of Davis was all but non-existent.
Omer Asik and Solomon Hill combined to make just 2/10 shots, and off the bench Terrence Jones, Alexis Ajinca and Dante Cunningham were another 2/10. A 20% field goal percentage outside of Davis will lose a lot of games.
Among the 10 points scored, this group of Pelicans missed a lot of easy ones, including several by Asik. For all the appearances of his offensive improvement and signs of perhaps better hands, it really did not seem to be on showcase as he consistently blew what were pretty make-able buckets. If he would collect himself and go straight up, it would do him a world of favors. The flips and contorted looks around the rim seem to be the least effective in particular.
3) The Pelicans need some scorers to step up, period.
Lance Stephenson certainly had some emphatic highlights and nice plays, but he was also out of control at times as he is known to be. He finished with eight points in 26 minutes, while Hield and Galloway combined for just 9 more.
The Pelicans really need about twice that total of points from that trio if they are going to get by on nights when Davis is not scoring 50. Stephenson at times reminds me of Bonzi Wells, which is both good and bad. If he could harness the pure energy and play under control, which seems to be no small feat for these types of players, the Pelicans could really benefit from having him at his best. Try to think back to how good Stephenson was while with the Indiana Pacers, because it was not all that long ago, and theoretically he should still be capable of that two-way brilliance.
4) Davis cannot do it all on the glass.
New Orleans was out rebounded 58-34 in the game and gave up 11 Nuggets’ offensive rebounds. It was hard to keep the Nuggets wing players off the glass, and Denver also controlled a majority of the 50/50 balls — especially when Asik was off the floor.
Pelicans grabbed 76.9% of available DRebs when Asik was on the floor. That's a good number. 63.6% with Ajinca. Absolutely terrible.— David Fisher (@DavidFisherTBW) October 27, 2016
Late in the game, Barton both corralled one of those 50/50 balls and forced a loose ball foul on Anthony Davis, a two-possession swing which really helped Denver seal up the victory.
Of course, Kenneth Faried ended up leaving the door wide open by missing two free throws that could have served as the nails, but Denver held on when E’Twaun Moore missed a pretty good look at a triple from the right wing.
Denver had too many second chance points, and...
5) The fact the Pelicans scored just 15 fast break points when the Nuggets turned it over 25 times is disturbing.
New Orleans has to start punishing teams after forcing miscues, and though this was just one game, Davis had 7 steals and Terrence Jones had 3. That kind of defense should result in loads of easy offense, but New Orleans blew a lot of buckets in transition. Hopefully the Pelicans can learn to run more efficiently; otherwise, it’s time to start calendar watching for the returns of Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans.
Now, finally, onto the good stuff.
Four Very Good Signs
1) High Assists and good team play were on showcase: 31 assists on 38 field goals.
The Pelicans moved the ball well and found cutters. Davis had five assists as a result of the Nuggets aggressively doubling and his teammates moving to the right spots on the court. Frazier did a great job of breaking down the defense and finished with a game-high 11 assists. (More on him in a bit.)
2) Anthony Davis cannot be stopped, and fouling him only prolongs the suffering.
Last night marked Davis' second career 50-point game as he converted on 17/34 FGs and 16/17 FTs. Davis did his damage from all over the court and continued to both score and create even after Denver got really aggressive doubling him. The problem is going to be getting him some help. There is no clear candidate to be a No. 2 scoring option among those currently active, though hopes remain quite high for Buddy Hield even after a 2/8 performance.
Kenneth Faried did force two really tough shots from AD in the fourth quarter that helped Denver secure victory, but Davis may have started to tire in a game that saw him log 41 minutes. He certainly got good looks, but he had much better ones earlier in the game and it may not have been all Faried's timing and length that bothered Davis at that point.
3) The Pelicans kept their turnovers low (11).
New Orleans did a good job of taking care of the basketball, and the miscues were especially low in the first half. The shots just were not falling. New Orleans hit just 3 of 19 from behind the arc, and during the first half they were 1 of 9. Moreover, the team outside of Davis was shot just 9 of 31 in the first half. By night’s end, New Orleans—collectively outside of Davis—was 21 of 58 (36 percent).
4) Tim Frazier is a very talented point guard and will be a vital part of this team even after Jrue Holiday returns.
Frazier makes good decisions, and once he begins to trust his shot, he might be better still. He connected on 6 of 10 from the floor, but Jameer Nelson was daring him to pull up from three (he obliged and drilled one to bring the Pelicans to within six points with minutes to go.)
The Pelicans starting point guard finished with a big double-double: 15 points, 11 assists, two steals and five boards in 37 minutes.
For 14th time in 17 games with the New Orleans Pelicans, Tim Frazier has scored in double figures. (13 points + 9 assists) pic.twitter.com/32ZqtGEzUT— Oleh Kosel (@Redhopeful) October 27, 2016
Frazier played very well in his 16 games in New Orleans last season, averaging 13.1 points, 7.5 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game while playing 29 minutes a night. So we already had the expectation that he could perform at a high level.
Though he is just a 32.3 percent career three-point shooter, he hit 42 percent down the stretch with New Orleans last season. Frazier is about to turn 26, and though he is getting a bit of a late start into his duties as a rotation player, he appears to be a solid option as the primary backup once Jrue Holiday does return. For the time being, he is easily the best floor general.
All in all, the Pelicans looked about like what they were projected to be, a decent team that is still likely bound for the 2017 lottery. That is okay. There were good signs, and anytime a franchise player exhibits just what makes him that — namely Anthony Davis going bonkers and dropping 50—it is hard to feel too bad about the state of affairs.
We already knew Davis was going to need some guys to step up, and the only problem is we still do not know which guys will take up that challenge and become more prominent cogs. Terrence Jones seems like a candidate. Lance Stephenson certainly has to be considered. And everyone wants it to be Buddy Hield. The truth is we just do not know yet who, if anyone, will become the legitimate No. 2 scorer to ensure Davis' heroics are rewarded more often. But it should remain fun to watch.