The Boogie-Brow era isn’t off to the greatest of beginnings like everyone had hoped and dreamed over the All-Star break. In fact, it’s gotten off to an awful start.
The Pelicans lost at home to the Rockets by 30 points, the highest margin of defeat this season, and it can be considered the 2nd worst rout, behind only the 29-point shellacking they experienced at the hands of the Nets a month ago. And then two nights later, New Orleans lost again, this time to a universally accepted less-talented Dallas team by a 96-83 margin.
The Fire and Ice combo has been outscored by 21 points during this stretch. Despite the gaudy numbers posted by both megastars — AD averaging 34 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 2 blocks and Boogie averaging 19.5 points, 14.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 4 steals and 2 blocks — the team has lost by an average of 21.5 points.
Those two losses have obviously put a damper on whatever good vibes the All-Star break produced and seemingly the entire NBA twitterers is in uproar about the playoff odds. The Pelicans now sit 3.5 games behind current 8th seed holder Denver Nuggets.
So clearly, let’s all panic.
“It’s a process, huh”
This is what Chris Trew, resident New Orleans comedian, heard over and over again from the Rockets bench as they nailed one 3PT basket after another. It was a not-so-veiled slight at the raucous crowd welcoming its new superstar and the Rockets’ bench way of removing the shine on the new media darlings of the NBA.
But remove the “huh” and it becomes a not so subtle — but oft forgotten — reminder that the NBA is indeed a process. Following major transformations, most teams need about a month or two to find their bearings, an identity and really hone in on what they do best.
The Pelicans, pre-trade, were already there. After a horrendous 2-10 start, including eight straight losses to open the season, the Pelicans found themselves firmly as an average team after two big rotation pieces returned to action (Holiday and Evans). They finished the next 45 games 21-24, with a Net Rating of -3, rooting themselves firmly between average and just below average.
They were a defensive team, ranking 5th since Jrue’s return (and 8th overall), using an aggressive switching scheme that limited the amount of driving lanes for opponents. They used Davis as the fulcrum of their defense, funneling defenders into him (Pels have the 8th best FG% defense in the league) and then a conservative, no-gambling approach that resulted in one of the least foul-happy teams in the league (5th lowest foul rate) but also the 12th worst at producing turnovers.
On offense, they were going to live and die by Jrue and AD. This was especially true with AD, whose 32.7% usage rate ranked 7th in the entire league and the highest, by a wide margin, of his career. They were surrounded by a bunch of streaky, barely-above-average 3PT shooters in E’Twaun Moore, Solomon Hill, Dante Cunningham and Langston Galloway. That consistent lack of shot creation and elite level spacing resulted in the Pels anemic offense which still ranks 4th worst.
That was who we were pre-Boogie: A strong, switch-heavy and conservative defensive team that could barely hold its offense together. It took about 12 games -- the equivalent of three weeks worth of NBA action (and practice, mind you) — for the Pelicans to even start finding their identity. It took another three weeks for them to fully commit to that identity and win with it.
So, of course, you all expected the new-look Pelicans to go 2-0 in their first two games because, why not?
New Orleans didn’t have to overhaul the defense too much even though they just lost 4 major rotational players — 3 to the trade, 1 was a PR move (i.e. doing right by the player) who were part of the switch-heavy scheme. In their place, DeMarcus Cousins arrived, who has played almost exclusively on Ice or trap teams. Omri Casspi (part of the Cousins trade, waived), Hollis Thompson, Jarrett Jack and Reggie Williams, not to mention Tim Frazier (who fell out of the rotation thanks to Reke and Galloway), have seen big minutes over the last two games.
The Pelicans also didn’t have to change the offense that much. They only lost their primary creator from off the bench (Reke), 2 above-average-but-not-shot-creator shooters (Buddy and Galloway) and a versatile big man in Terrence Jones. In their place, Boogie was inserted — a more talented (like WAY WAY WAY) and burlier big man than #MrPumpFake. Also, Omri Casspi (part of the Cousins trade, waived), Hollis Thompson, Jarrett Jack and Reggie Williams, not to mention Tim Frazier (who fell out of the rotation thanks to Reke and Galloway), have seen big minutes over the last two games.
(See what I did there?)
New Orleans didn’t have to move from a perimeter oriented attack (heavy on drag screens and side ball screens) to a more paint-heavy attack (heavy on duck-ins and post ups).
The Pelicans didn’t focus more on offensive rebounding (which in turn, changed the dynamics of our transition defense).
The team didn’t just completely have to change our identity on both sides of the floor.
But they did -- in case you missed the sarcasm.
The number of drives/game have reduced drastically from 27.8 per game pre All-Star break to 19 after and have been replaced by post touches (12.9 to 20.5) and paint touches (11.0 to 15.0).
Early indications point to the Pelicans becoming a stronger offensive rebounding team, going from 18.2% Pre All-Star break (2nd lowest) to 22.6% in the last 2 games (14th), yet that may negatively affect the transition defense. (Opponent fast break points went from a middle of the pack 13.8 to a 5th worst 21.5 over the last 2 games). Some of those fastbreak points were from turnovers born out of unfamiliarity: not knowing how and when Cousins rolls or pops, new players being out of position so the spacing is cramped up, and guys literally just overpassing. But most of the turnovers were just plain ass bad, which isn’t anything trade related and something Alvin Gentry stressed in Saturday’s post-game comments.
So here we are two games in and many are back to their usual routine: Demps sucks, Gentry sucks, everyone on the roster sucks (except AD, and maybe now, Cuz) and we’re better trading everybody away and trying again with a whole bunch of new faces next season.
Instant gratification is so common place nowadays, what with the proliferation of retweets, likes and reposts, that people often forget that everything in life is a process. People don’t learn a new language in a year (kids do though but that’s more because of the structure of their brains), but somehow we should expect the newest members of the team to understand unfamiliar concepts and strategies immediately?
Trust can’t be earned in two months time, let alone one week. A lot of repetition must come first before a key building block of winning is in place. The first time you trust someone is the easiest (or the hardest, depending on the person), but the next few steps usually take into account the results of the first. So, when Cuz and one of the new guys fail on sets (both offensive and defensive) because they couldn’t understand what their teammates were telling them or they were unfamiliar with it, the trust can’t start building yet.
This isn’t 2K, a video game where you can start putting 130+ points up with a new-look Pelicans squad because literally the movement of the 5 players on the court are commanded, usually, by ONE guy. No, we are prisoners of time, and the sooner people understand, the faster they should realize that the excitement that the Boogie trade generated wasn’t really about the present. Sure, everyone weighed in on the Boogie trade, often making the Pels favorites to earn the 8th seed, and it may still happen — but don’t count on it.
Instead, try to focus on future ramifications. AD’s departure suddenly doesn’t loom over the entire franchise as badly as it has over the past two seasons. Ditto for Jrue’s impending free agency. Heck, even Boogie’s subsequent free agency (in 2018) has yet to be talked about as it was prior to his trade.
Also, realize that AD is 23, and Jrue and Boogie are 26. The pressure on the franchise to win big in free agency isn’t as important. The Solomon Hill (48 over 4) and the E’Twaun Moore (43 over 4) contracts -- both drawing flak — now look 200% better because they do not have to be expected to carry a much bigger role than they’re accustomed to (which was a big problem, particularly for Solo). You can question Dell Demps about his penchant for trading picks, but if there’s one thing that current general manager does well is he can pull marginal talent out of thin air into helpful contributors.
Guys, let’s just enjoy this season, playoffs or not, and remember to be more excited about the prospects of a big 2017-18 season after the team has had a training camp under their belts.