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Pelicans lean on familiar plays when offense goes cold

Anthony Davis pick and roll is still the go-to.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports


This is what my daughter has called her pacifer since she first started to talk. Some children (like my youngest son) go to their thumb, others have a favorite stuffed animal, or even a blanket. Young children cling to familiar soothing objects and our favorite NBA basketball team, the New Orleans Pelicans, are no different. Faced with adversity after a poor start to the third quarter against the Cavaliers on Saturday, they too reached for their noonie, and once again they were back on track.

We’ve written about this play for ages. I called it the double pick and roll, Zach Lowe called it the “New Orleans Bunch” and I’ve seen it referred to as “Spain PnR” in other places — as the Spanish National Team rolled it out with the Gasol brothers in recent years.

The basics remain the same; out of a horns set, Anthony Davis sets a ball screen and the player on the opposite elbow pops to the weakside wing. Sometimes that opposite player is a big (frequently Ryan Anderson), and other times a sharpshooting guard, like Eric Gordon, would do. Set the pick and roll higher and the man on the other elbow can sneak in a back screen for AD’s roll before popping out.

This is the Pelicans’ Noonie.

Last night the Pelicans came out of the locker rooms for the third quarter cold as ice and the Cleveland Cavaliers promptly shaved a 13-point lead down to just five. Enter the Pelicans’ Noonie, but even more problematic for opponents now with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins standing on the elbows. Cousins, the better shooter, ball handler, and passer, is the natural choice to pop while Davis is still the league’s most terrifying roll man. New Orleans ran the same play three straight possessions to score seven points and get back on their feet.

Kevin Love switches onto Jrue Holiday and Tristan Thompson sags to try to take away the entry pass to Davis. Once Iman Shumpert has recovered, Thompson gets back toward Cousins and the Pelicans exploit and obvious mismatch for a layup. The weak side defender is held by the threat of an on fire E’Twaun Moore.

Davis is hung up on the initial pick and does not dive hard. Still, reversing the ball to Cousins give the big man plenty of space to attack off the dribble for a second straight Pelicans layup.

Cavaliers move to trap the ball handler and take away Anthony Davis. LeBron James is too busy taking a nap on the weak side to stunt toward DeMarcus Cousins, who buries the warm-up 3-pointer.

Some of this is the Cavs defensive apathy to be fair. But, the Pelicans have been running this play since they were called the Hornets. Monty Williams used this as his go-to play for years.

When things get rough offensively it makes perfect sense to lean on Anthony Davis pick and roll; it creates havoc for opponents who must choose between the league’s most terrifying pick and roll threat or allowing open threes. I expect this play, and how the opponents intend on defending it, lies near the top of every single team’s scouting report for New Orleans.

And it still works.

Ball movement had its moments last night and hopefully the team keeps buying into the scheme Alvin Gentry and Chris Finch have devised. The Pelicans currently rank fifth in offensive rating and 12th in assist rate. Yet, when the chips are down, expect New Orleans to turn to old reliable.

The Noonie.