One of the most valuable shots in basketball is inside the restricted area. Although defenses are well aware their number one priority is to protect the rim, sometimes it mysteriously fails to work out that way. Last night against the Timberwolves, the Pelicans had all kinds of issues providing the necessary resistance.
Without Omer Asik and Anthony Davis, the Pelicans were obviously going to have problems guarding the interior; however, one does not need to be a legitimate shot blocker to curb opponents. To allow a 32 attempts and a 75 FG% at or near the rim is wholly unacceptable. As evidenced by the chart, the league average FG% in this area is 55.1%. On the season, the Pelicans have allowed opponents to shoot 61.3% on 28.7 attempts.
Who specifically was at fault? Try everybody not named Jrue Holiday.
Just putrid. New Orleans two centers, Kendrick Perkins and Alexis Ajinca, deterred all of 2 shots inside the paint in 32 minutes of action. The power forwards, Ryan Anderson and Dante Cunningham, were not any better.
Then, when one adds 23 free throws on 30 attempts to the mix, the Timberwolves were handed 71 courtesy points. Thus, although Minnesota only shot 34.6% from everywhere else on the floor, they still tallied 112 points.
Before the season started, I distinctly remember how a number of close followers of the team were genuinely surprised that both Asik and Ajinca were retained but Jeff Withey, a fleet of foot and cheaper center, was irresponsibly dismissed. For $2 million, the Utah Jazz have a reserve center who has a 41.0 field goals defended at the rim percent. For comparison's sake, Rudy Gobert carries a 40.1% statistic.
I have seldom complained about Dell Demps, but this calls for an exception. Asik, Ajinca and Perkins form a prehistoric trio whose lack of foot speed was an apparent problem long before the first game of the 2015-16 regular season. In a league that has moved towards small ball for years now, that's just bad roster construction.
For whatever reason, Ajinca has regressed under Alvin Gentry, and Perkins best role for the last few years has been to serve as a mentor glued to the bench. Yet, last night they were needed to play 32 minutes, and just as the team has failed to slow down all opponents who have ventured into the paint area in February, they proved incapable of handling the task at hand.
Injuries happen, but the front office should be accustomed to them -- we're Pelicans fans and multiple players in suits and ties at any given time are the norm. End of the bench personnel choices do matter, and it sure as hell did last night. Withey likely would have made the difference between a win and a loss. Heck, maybe even recently waived Jarnell Stokes would have as well.
Regardless, I'm not going to lose much sleep and neither should the rest of you. The playoffs have been a distant dream for some time now. Gentry, as he did with his time out management against the Timberwolves, continues to prove himself more of a problem than a solution. And one can't deny a crushing number of injuries have destroyed any hope for real continuity.
Once the regular season comes to a close, a lot of work lies ahead. Is there a fast forward button?