In 1992 Louisiana’s own James Carville, then the campaign strategist for Bill Clinton’s presidential bid, wanted everyone to stay on message. To that end he broke their focus down into three short statements totaling just 13 words which hung in their headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas. The most famous of these carries on to this day throughout the political sphere; “It’s the economy, stupid.”
For the New Orleans Pelicans a similar collection of statements could be hung this election year in the offices on Airline Drive.
- Play blue collar desperate.
- Focus on the process.
- It’s the defense, stupid.
Two were uttered during media day. The last of these, taken from that 1992 presidential campaign, is the focus today.
When discussing lineup options, almost everyone discusses spacing and shot creation. New Orleans needs a certain number of three point threats on the court to properly give Anthony Davis and Tim Frazier the space to run the pick and roll. Questions surround who else will create the offense beyond the point guard at the moment. This ignores the most pertinent fact about the Pelicans.
This franchise has been absolutely terrible defensively for the last four seasons. That’s not a fluke, it’s an established culture of porous defense. The last time this team was better than league average defensively Chris Paul was in a Hornets uniform flanked by Trevor Ariza, David West, and Emeka Okafor — ages ago for anyone following this team.
Instead of asking whether a lineup will score, we as fans and writers should ask if a hypothetical lineup can defend first and foremost. The combination of Anthony Davis and Alvin Gentry is reasonably expected to score points at an acceptable rate. Even last season’s cast of D-Leaguers finished near league average (18th according to Basketball Reference) on offense.
All of this came to a head tonight at the team’s open practice.
Just guessing, but don't think it's a coincidence that blue team opens with: Frazier, Buddy, Hill, AD, Ajinca. Could be the regular starters— Justin Verrier (@JustinVerrier) September 28, 2016
Tim Frazier in a potential opening night starting lineup is almost a given. He’s the purest point guard available and Gentry’s system is uniquely dependent on a point guard. Solomon Hill and Anthony Davis are the expected forwards. What the team decides to do around those three pieces (one negative defender in Frazier and two positive defenders in Hill and Davis) sends a message on what the coaching staff values. Both Buddy Hield and Alexis Ajinca are offensive first choices.
It’s the defense, stupid.
At least one of the two positions beyond the three locks (Davis, Hill, and Frazier) should be a solid defender. Thankfully the Pelicans have a number of options available to them! Both Langston Galloway and E’Twaun Moore are plus defenders who could play shooting guard beside Tim Frazier. That would also mean both guard combinations would include a minus (Frazier with starters and Hield on the bench) and plus (Moore and Galloway) in the back court.
At center the options are more muddy. Ajinca and Terrence Jones are negatives where Omer Asik (if healthy) is a positive. While I have been less than kind to Alexis Ajinca’s defensive capabilities, given enough support in Moore, Hill, and Davis around him he could pass muster. Asik, of course creates problems on offense. But...
It’s the defense, stupid.
The Pelicans coaching staff should not lose sight of their campaign slogan. Offense is fun. Offense is sexy. Offense being both fun and sexy is an enormous part of why Alvin Gentry got this job in the first place. Winning, however, is what will help him keep it. And to do that a good bet would be to lean on his coaching to create points and let his lineup decisions focus on the area of greatest concern. The defense.