Following a recent loss to the Sacramento Kings — the Pelicans eighth straight to start the season — Anthony Davis talked about New Orleans needing to be more competitive at the beginning of contests in his postgame comments.
“We just got to come out with better starts. [The other teams] always come out with better starts than us and we got to come out more aggressive, more physical. We kind of found our way through the mid first, end of the first, and for the rest of the game. But we got to come out the way that we end games.”
Through 10 games of the 2016-17 schedule, the Pelicans have lost the first quarter by an average margin of 4.3 points, and there hasn’t been the typical disparity between home and away games as with most other NBA teams.
This problem sounds awfully similar to one of the excuses used throughout last season’s disappointing campaign. For instance, look at what Davis said following a loss to the Orlando Magic last December.
"We just don't play hard all the time. It starts with our first unit. Coming out and setting the pace, setting the tone for the rest of the game."
Although the Pelicans trailed by an average of just .7 points after one in 2015-16, they were 6th worst in third quarters (-1.5 points). This season, that figure stands at -2.4 in the third.
Wait, what the hell is going on here?
The Pelicans were supposed to have addressed their difficulties in starting games and coming out of halves. Following the flurry of activity in the offseason and reinforced by comments from both Alvin Gentry and Dell Demps on media day, effort was never supposed to be an issue again, as Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon were replaced by a blue-collar work ethic.
“We have a lot of guys who made it the hard way. They had to grind their way to have success. Our fans are going to appreciate seeing that on the court.”
Well, after Davis left the game in the third quarter against the Lakers on Saturday, there was absolutely no evidence of this famed grind. In a span of less than 6 minutes, the supposedly improved upon defense gave up 16 points, and all but 2 of them came at the rim or behind the three-point line — the most sought after field goal attempts.
Yes, the Pelicans lack of talent is a real problem, one that is infinitely worse without the services of Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Quincy Pondexter. It’s Anthony Davis and then a whole bunch of incomplete characters. The front office deserves to be reprimanded for the roster construction from the last two summers; however, we must save that topic for another day as it’s appropriate to put Gentry’s 31-61 record with New Orleans on the stand first.
Injuries have most definitely been an issue, but it doesn’t exclude the head coach’s in-game adjustments, overall strategies and unusual remarks. If we are to believe the incoming troops are brimming with grit, then why are they having issues consistently displaying it?
According to Dell Demps, the Process was to take precedence this season with an emphasis on doing things the right way.
“That process is going to be our daily work: focusing on our defense, making sure we’re doing the right things — playing hard, playing smart, and playing the right way.”
Against the Lakers, for instance, Gentry mentioned their reserves thoroughly had their way with the Pelicans, basically scoring at will. I watched in horror from the stands as Archie Goodwin was repeatedly burned by Lou Williams. The reports are true: Goodwin’s defense is as bad as advertised because he offered no discernible skill on how to stay with Sweet Lou. Yet, Gentry kept him in the game for over a 5-minute stretch.
Then, of course, there was the whole Alexis Ajinca receiving 24 minutes of run. If Gentry’s substitutions can be trusted, why did Ajinca play nearly twice as long as Omer Asik? Both the eye test and statistics are in sync: one player sports the team’s best plus/minus, the other, the worst. Guess who's who.
Thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn the news emerging from over the weekend: Gentry sits on the hot seat.
Several NBA coaches/GMs say Alvin Gentry's coaching seat on fire in New Orleans. May be just matter of weeks, if not days, they believe.— Sam Amico (@AmicoHoops) November 13, 2016
Alvin Gentry earned the job in New Orleans because he was going to install an unparalleled, high-octane offense. Monty Williams was fired, despite realizing the ultimatum of reaching the postseason, because Anthony Davis needed further unlocking. Care to wager whose offense is considered more efficient by per possession statistics?
|Overall PPP||PPP after made shot||PPP after defensive rebound||PPP after live turnover|
|2014-15 (Monty)||1.06 (9th)||1.05 (5th)||1.05 (13th)||1.17 (20th)|
|2015-16 (Alvin)||1.04 (17th)||1.00 (19th)||1.07 (12th)||1.13 (29th)|
|2016-17 (Alvin)||0.99 (29th)||1.01 (17th)||0.94 (30th)||1.11 (25th)|
These numbers fail to support Gentry as one of the great offensive masterminds in the game, and we've witnessed his share of questionable decision-making in specific instances. Against the Suns, the Pelicans head coach completely ignored the fact that Terrence Jones had 19 points, 5 assists and 4 blocks through the first 40 minutes because the former Kentucky Wildcat sat all but 16 seconds of the final 13 minutes of an overtime 1-point loss.
Perhaps more shockingly, Alvin Gentry put the onus on Davis and his 31.1 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3.0 blocks for not doing more in that same game.
“[Davis] has to find another way to help us,” Gentry said. “They did a good job. They’re not going to let him catch it and iso and beat him, so he’s got to find other ways to do it. He’s got to become a screener. He’s got to become a guy that gets out on the break. He’s got to become an assist guy.”
“There’s other ways that he has to help us if they’re going to play him to the point of where we can’t throw it in to him. And the other thing is we can’t hold it and aim, aim, aim if they’ve got a guy in the front and back. We’ve got to get the ball moving.”
I’m sorry but a head coach who has stood on the sidelines for 30+ years should know better than to throw shade at an equally unhappy superstar. Gentry may have even been right, but words of this nature must stay behind closed doors. Never, EVER, upset one of the association’s biggest meal tickets.
But, my favorite all-time Gentry goof occurred last season when the combination of Evans-Holiday-Davis received just 160 minutes together in 18 games. The team’s three best players were kept apart for balancing the rotation, yet everyone on the sidelines failed to comprehend the fact that production is not linear. A +23.5 net rating rivaled the league’s best three-man lineups. Are you all sure you would still prefer Gentry over welcoming back Tyreke?
To remind everyone, I disliked Gentry from the start. My coaching preview was far from a positive one because I failed to understand the fit.
After spending the last several seasons griping about Monty's demeanor, Gentry looks like he'd actually make for a worse fit. His defensive philosophies have not worked. Young teams have trouble responding to him after a certain length of time. Lastly, his creative offensive strategies may not mesh well with the existing Pelicans. As I've mentioned on numerous occasions, New Orleans is very poor in transition.
I gave him a grade of 4 out of 10 and was ridiculed for it on social media. Unfortunately, I caved somewhat to the sunshine pumpers and was convinced by the vast majority that a sound defensively-minded assistant would offset Gentry’s faults. Bah, I should have stayed true to my convictions because how’s that working out so far?
Here’s the thing, though, I don’t advocate the Pelicans fire Gentry just yet, not until rumors of divisiveness start to arise like this possible episode last year anyways. To fire a coach now would echo a lost season and perhaps send the wrong message to all potential replacement andidates as well as important members on this squad.
Hey, AD, ready to start talking about next year?
Sadly, it’s best to give Gentry more time, especially with Holiday slated to return this week because it doesn’t appear the head coach has lost the locker room yet. Maybe give him one more chance at solving the Holiday-Evans-Davis riddle too.
However, if he’s still failing at epic proportions sometime well into next month and has all his big guns, then by all means please send him packing. As I mentioned last year, having a fun locker room is failing to translate into wins. It shouldn’t take too many more games for ownership to accept the responsibility of correcting their mistake when a better suited coach for this roster was jettisoned for an ill-advised attempt to mimic the Golden State Warriors.