It's a simple question, with a not so simple answer. Has Alvin Gentry been good this year? It is a fair question to ask, even in what has been an unfair season for the Pelicans head coach. The Pelicans have been one of the most injured teams in the NBA this season. According to ManGameLostNBA, the Pelicans are the only team in top 5 of both numbers of games players missed and impactful players to miss games. Nonetheless, injuries only makes it hard to judge Alvin Gentry's performance this season, not unfair to do so.
A lazy mans analysis would be to look at the Pelican abhorent record and conclude Gentry is not a good coach. An equally lazy analysis would to be conclude that you can not judge Gentry at all because of the Pelicans injury woes. The Pelicans were injured a lot. That helps inform us why, in part, the Pelicans record has been so bad; however, it does not insulate one from objectively observing Gentry's performance this year.
Good News First
The Pelicans offense has looked okay and dare I even say good at times this year. Even though the Pelicans have sustained more injury bug bites than Kyrie Irving, the Pelicans offense ranks 14th in points per a game and 16th in assists per a game.
To put all the numbers in context, the Pelicans offense is almost as good as it was last year, even with all the injuries they have sustained this year. Their overall offensive rating is 103.2 this year, compared 105.4 last year. Again, down - but still to be congratulated - given the quality and quantity of injuries the Pelicans have suffered this season.
Gentry has been hard on the players all season. Mostly, the criticism of the players individual effort has been fair and well deserved. Gentry has shown that he is not playing favorites and has even been critical of Anthony Davis at points. Per a report done by NOLA.com Pelicans beat writer John Reid, Davis has gone so far as to acknowledge that Gentry was right to do so:
''He gets on everybody coaches, players,'' Davis said. ''He doesn't care who it is because he wants all of us to be better. If that's what it takes for us to be better then I'm down for it. Like I said, he got on me during Saturday's game and I was totally fine. Perk (Kendrick Perkins) gets on me, I don't care. I know that they have my best interests.''
Probably unfair to say that Gentry has not been tough on this team. He has. If the Pelicans show up without energy, it doesn't appear to have anything to do with Gentry. Everyone, however, is saying the right things. Consequently, the consistency of the effort has become more stable as the season has gone along. In a league that is as grueling as the NBA, perhaps that is the most anyone can ask for.
Point Guard Play
Gentry has been harping on ball movement all season. And the Pelicans have moved it better and more completely as the season has gone on. Gentry deserves credit for this. I don't think he knew how low the basketball IQ of this team was before he got to New Orleans. He deserves credit for reinforcing that more assists tends to equal more wins, something the players continually reference in pre/post game interviews.
Several of the Pelicans point guards are enjoying a resurgence in their play under Gentry's offensive system as well. Jrue Holiday, Ish Smith, and Toney Douglas have all posted career highs in PER over the past five years. Norris Cole, however, well not so much . . . (To be fair, Gentry has asked Cole to play out of position a lot this season)
After Time Out Plays (ATO)
The Pelicans continue to be extremely good in ATO plays. Regardless of what you think of Gentry, his knowledge of the game is undeniable. He helped usher in the modern NBA offense and it shows in his ATO play efficiency rank. (One caveat, Monty Williams also ranked highly in ATO play efficiency, so perhaps part of the reason is the players.)
Bad News is Worse
Most of the Pelicans problems, besides being injured, can be summed up in one word: Defense. The Pelicans defense is approaching Sanjaya level bad.
The Pelicans rank last in half court defense . . .
San Antonio's halfcourt defense has come back to the pack, though just a little: pic.twitter.com/ftGnVDbZVm— Seth Partnow (@SethPartnow) February 11, 2016
They rank 25th in Opponents points per a game . . .
The Pelicans rank 26th in Defensive efficiency . . .
Time Outs & End of Game Situations
One personal pet peeve of mine this season is how Gentry is utilizing timeouts (or lack thereof) during end of game situations. More than a few times this year, Gentry has either spent all of the timeouts or failed to use all of his time outs in end of game situations.
The one that sticks out in my mind the most is the Houston game. The Pelicans played the Rockets back in early January in what, at the time, was a must win game for them. Nonetheless, down one point, with 34 seconds to go, Gentry elected to not foul. So instead of running a play out of a timeout with 20-30 seconds to go in the game - at most down three points . . . Gentry elected to run a full court set with 4 seconds to go in the game. The set bombed, and the Pelicans, unsurprisingly, lost.
That kind of stuff cannot happen in the NBA. Period. There is no excuse for it. The worst part about how the game ended with Houston is the Pelicans are actually really good at running plays out of time outs. As mentioned earlier, Pelicans have the highest efficiency in the league when it comes to ATO plays.
Line Up Hell
Gentry, for some unbeknownst reason, prefers line up hell; at least, that is what one is forced to believe at this point. There is no other NBA team in the league which keeps two of their three best players on the bench, except Gentry and the New Orleans Pelicans.
For all but a handful of games this season, Jrue Holiday has come off the bench: minutes restriction, no minutes restriction; fighting to make the playoffs, slim chance to make the playoffs; Tyreke Evans, no Tyreke Evans. Gentry adheres to the notion that Jrue is best off the bench. In a recent report done by ESPN Pelicans beat writer Justin Verrier, Gentry stated:
"He really likes it. He likes the group that he plays with. It's been successful, so there's no reason to change it," Gentry said. "I don't see any reason to change it now. Next year, we'll have to re-evaluate it again and see how it is, but right now, I think he's as good as any sixth man in the league. Obviously, [with] our record, we've struggled. But from his standpoint, he's as good as any sixth man in the league. He should have considerations for that, I think."
Jrue Holiday coming off the bench, in an absolute sterile environment, without any context whatsoever, is fine. Unfortunately, we don't live in that a world without context. So watching Jrue Holiday coming off the bench, absent any excuse, is a mind-boggling move by Gentry, which creates more long term questions than short term answers.
For starters, if we are all to believe that continuity is important, and Jrue Holiday is a long term piece, as has been insinuated many times, then playing Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday together should be of paramount priority in an otherwise washed season. So far, it hasn't been. Tom Haberstroh explained why this is so frustrating:
Anthony Davis with Jrue: 27.5 PER, +75— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) February 24, 2016
Anthony Davis w/o Jrue: 22.9 PER, -165https://t.co/mQ7dqbsUfE
Some have pointed out that Jrue Holiday's minutes have gone up with AD. Which is true, and a good start. Still, Norris Cole's minutes with AD have likely gone up as well. The context missing - in the correlation equals causation assumption - is that Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon, two of the Pelicans starting guards, have been out during the rise in Jrue's minutes with AD. Which is part of the reason why, as Tom Haberstroh pointed out, AD's minutes with Jrue Holiday is more telling.
Questions remain about whether Gentry is actively seeking to pair Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis together more, or whether the recent occurrence is due to two of the Pelicans starting guards being out. If Jrue Holiday was moved into the starting lineup, I think one assertion would be much easier to deduce as true.
Perhaps the best argument for keeping Jrue Holiday on the bench is that Gentry, as most coaches in the NBA, values the short term benefits of winning over the long term gains of growth. Under that presumption, perhaps leaving Jrue Holiday on the bench brings balance to the force. The balance argument might be acceptable if the Pelicans third best player, Ryan Anderson, was not also on the bench. The numbers bear this out.
Despite keeping Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday on the bench for most of the season, the Pelicans rank 23rd in point differential, being outscored on average by 2.9 points per a game. On a quarterly analysis, the Pelicans tend to break even on the 1st quarter but get outscored by about one point every quarter thereafter.
I don't doubt that Gentry wants to win games and believes Jrue Holiday coming off the bench is the best way to do so. I doubt whether it is actually working. Perhaps if Gentry shook things up, we would could get a better picture. But alas, he refuses to do so.
Gentry's refusal to insert Jrue Holiday into the starting lineup is concerning. It ignores any possible short term gains to be achieved in terms of wins. It also ignores long term gains of having Jrue Holiday and AD maximize their minutes together, and Jrue getting comfortable to starting again. At its very least, it shows Gentry is stubborn. At its very most, it shows he is incompetent.
Final Grade & Final Thoughts
For a final grade, Alvin Gentry has earned a D+ for now, and a possible opportunity to get a C- depending on how the season ends. He get's a D- outright for effort and the strong amount of leadership he has shown in a very trying season. Gentry get's upgraded to a D+ because the offense has looked very good at times this season. I wouldn't go above a D+ because I'm not sure the average NBA head coach could have done much worse.
Gentry's refusal to move Jrue Holiday or Ryan Anderson into the starting lineup, and instead surround Anthony Davis with sub-par NBA level talent is a deep cause of concern for me. Not because it is the right/wrong decision per se, but because it shows an abject failure of ingenuity, daringness, and creativity that every NBA coach needs. The injury situation does not shield Gentry from this, instead, it enlightens us to his philosophies.
Moreover, as head coach, Gentry has to take some share of the blame for the defense. Gentry and Erman must continue working together so that Gentry's potent offense can be paired with a presentable defense. Lastly, Gentry has to work on his end of game management for next season.
Luckily for Gentry, there will very likely be a next season. So this season was only the first test, and a tough test at that. Perhaps the test next season will be both easier and produce more fruitful results. A boy can dream.
Side-note: Gentry's suit game gets an A+
Sharp-dressed hombres. pic.twitter.com/jssYWE7AU7— Jared Wade (@Jared_Wade) February 26, 2016
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