The New Orleans Pelicans should be better than their accompanying .500 record indicates.
Before the start of training camp, the talent level on this roster pointed to a successful season on the horizon. Possessing All-NBA caliber players has historically resulted in postseason berths for teams fortunate enough to be blessed with multiple best of the bests and New Orleans has that in Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.
Even better, a big chunk of the regular season has confirmed the fact that the Pelicans are one of the league’s most potent and explosive squads. They reside inside the top tier of many important offensive categories, and the two biggest questions — ‘Can Boogie and The Brow share a basketball court effectively?’ and ‘Can the rest of the roster provide enough firepower?’ — were seemingly answered months ago.
Yet, here we are at nearly the halfway mark and staring at an equal number of wins and losses in the standings. The playoffs still remain in view, but the ride has been far from fulfilling for fans. Believe it or not, Head Coach Alvin Gentry purports that he and the rest of the team are frustrated the most by the lean results.
“I guarantee you there’s not one fan here that’s more frustrated than we are,” said Gentry after the Pelicans loss to the Knicks. “That I can guarantee you. And so all we can do is to continue to try to get this thing headed in the right direction from the standpoint of playing at home -- you know, we play well on the road — we’ve got play and do better at home. I understand the frustration. I don’t blame them. I would be frustrated, too.”
After issuing this quote to close out the 2017 calendar of play, the Pelicans proceeded to get obliterated in Minnesota and suffered a resounding defeat to a very bad Grizzlies squad. Two humiliating losses in the span of four days, and each time a consistent lack of effort and focus were to blame.
“Yeah, we wanted to try and run them, it was too easy,” said Anthony Davis after the loss to the Timberwolves. “It was tough to run them when we are constantly taking the ball out of the basket. They came in and they wanted it more.”
“They just beat us to the ball,” said Gentry after last night’s defeat to the Grizzlies. “You know, they beat us to the ball. We’ve got to be a little more physical. I thought the physicality of the game was in their favor. And then we’ve got to complete defensive possessions by coming up with the rebound.”
A lack of effort or focus hasn’t only been prevalent in losses.
“I was kind of quiet in the first half,” said DeMarcus Cousins to Jen Hale of Fox Sports New Orleans after the Pelicans outlasted the Pistons. “You know I kind of had my head in the clouds, but we pulled it out.”
For as many times as New Orleans has lit up the scoreboard, opponents have usually kept pace by piling up their own assortment of points, and all too often, walked away from matchups as the gluttonous winners. In fact, the Pelicans impressive 110.6 points per game average — the fourth highest mark in the league — has been completely neutralized by the 110.8 points per game they’ve given up to the opposition.
Nowhere are the fireworks more obvious than in the disparities between the large positive and negative point differentials witnessed across quarters. Have a look at how the Pelicans compare with legitimate playoff hopeful teams in the Western Conference because the results may surprise.
|Team Record||# of +10 Point Quarters||# of -10 Point Quarters|
New Orleans is on pace to finish the season with 53 quarters where they outscore opponents by 10 or more points and 49 quarters where they’re outscored by 10 or more points by the opposition. For comparisons sake, last year’s 34-48 Pelicans team managed just 34 double digit winning point quarters and 43 double digit losing point quarters. The previous 30-52 team registered 27 +10 point quarters and 41 -10 point quarters.
So many triumphs and fiascos, and sometimes we’ve bore witness to both occurring within the same game.
As the chart above shows, only the Warriors and Rockets have proven the most dominant, but interestingly enough, the Pelicans were ahead by double figures at some point in all four of their matchups against these two teams.
Many will tell you that’s who this team is. There’s undoubtedly a lot of truth in this statement — you are what your record says you are after 40 games, but since when must such gross underachievement remain the status quo?
Below average talent levels are difficult hurdles for desperate franchises to circumvent, but for those possessing prized game changers, improving upon smaller details, asking for more stringent player fundamentals or demanding stronger effort levels, should all be manageable deeds — at the very least, exhibit some improvement after the half the completion of an 82-game schedule.
Whether the coaching staff was unable to eloquently convey the idea of boxing out and crashing the glass or the players failed to heed and execute the request to the maximum of their abilities, giving up 14 offensive rebounds to an offensively-challenged Memphis team was just one glaring issue.
I don’t take pleasure in writing this, and I’ve wrestled with the terminology since that loss to the Knicks, but an aura of complacency appears to be the biggest reason the New Orleans Pelicans find themselves with a middling 20-20 record.
This isn’t to say that the roster is inherently lazy, the coaching staff has not positively influenced the product, or the organization possesses a bad mix of characters. In fact, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with Alvin Gentry and his assistants for implementing a productive high octane offense that can compete with any team in the league, with Dell Demps and his limited resources for filling in several glaring holes on the roster, and the players for building a close-knit locker room.
However, it hasn’t translated well enough. One cannot continue to overlook the mounting evidence of disparaging performances, lack of passion and absence of assertive leadership — from on the court to among the highest levels of management and ownership.
How is it that a below average Dallas Mavericks team can set a franchise record for made three-pointers in a game, the Philadelphia 76ers — without Joel Embiid — snatch 19 offensive rebounds through three quarters, or a 36-year-old Zach Randolph dominate two much younger and highly revered towers, leading the Sacramento Kings to a come from behind victory inside the Smoothie King Center? In addition, the Pelicans have made a habit of pissing away more double-digit leads than you can count on one hand, and they’ve come out and remained visibly lifeless in too many other contests.
Hopes were high that the Pelicans would finish 2017 on a five-game winning streak, with the prospect of greater prosperity beyond. Those unconvinced of the team turning some proverbial corner surmised a bad loss on the horizon. Few, though, figured New Orleans would lose twice in three tries on their home floor to teams with a combined road record of 10-37.
“I thought we were in a good place and playing good basketball,” said Alvin Gentry on New Year’s Day after practice. “And then all of a sudden the Dallas thing hit us. They shot the ball extremely well, but you know, it doesn’t matter, with a team struggling like that, you have to win that home game. And then against New York, I thought we did a good job of fighting back. Bottom line: When you’re up eight with three minutes to go, you can’t lose the game at home. We did that. Execution wasn’t great and then we let them have some open shots that we shouldn’t have. But you know, you’re up eight, with three minutes to go, there’s just no excuse, really. I’ve got to do a better job of making sure that we don’t give those kind of games away.”
Around the hallways of SKC or across the practice floor out in Metairie, there’s an excuse waiting to be heard. Throughout this season the members of the media have listened to despondent players or an angry coach describe how they’ve let another one slip through their fingers. Seriously, we’ve heard a heap of different explanations, and as soon as the team ostensibly addresses one sore spot, another predictably arises elsewhere.
But that’s not all.
Of late, the players in New Orleans have seemingly acted unfazed by some of the defeats and ignored the elephant in the room: They have yet to achieve a single thing as a group so why is the sleepwalking through games become so commonplace? Where’s the sense of urgency? All games on the schedule should be of the utmost importance to a team clinging to the 8th seed in the Western Conference, but the Pelicans have made a habit of not putting their best foot forward.
Following the consecutive losses to the Mavericks and Knicks, Davis replied to the media in postgame, “I’m not frustrated. We’re fine. We’re fine. We’ve just got to go take care of business on the road. We’ve got to get back to playing how we were playing before, coming out with a lot of energy, but I’m not frustrated, disappointed that we dropped these two, but I’m not frustrated.”
After last night’s loss, E’Twaun Moore echoed a similar vibe, “It didn’t go in, but it’s alright. We’ve got another game, gotta go to the next one.”
We can live with a final shot not going in, like Davis’ last second miss against the Knicks, but how about someone displaying some timely fervor for all of the errors and lackadaisical play? Or, how about accountability becoming more than just a word in the dictionary?
There are a finite number of games and the clock started ticking back in October!
A burly seven-footer, no matter how physically gifted, should not try to win the game by resorting to isolation basketball and running smack dab into a Grit-and-Grind double team.
Boogie drives and turns it over.— James Grayson (@jsgrayson) January 11, 2018
Good lord... pic.twitter.com/9JAmBikDuX
Of course, there were a million other reasons why the Pelicans lost to a Grizzlies team that had entered Wednesday’s game on a 5-23 skid. Preventing an opponent from scoring a lay-up on an unabated dash the full length of the floor with 4.6 seconds left on the clock would be a good place to start.
Honestly, the Pelicans basketball IQ is just really poor at times. Why are you pressing in this situation?— James Grayson (@jsgrayson) January 11, 2018
There is 4.8 seconds left? Don't jump the passes... pic.twitter.com/c6Noyikaqq
Or how about all five teammates moving a few limbs and trying to nab a precious rebound?
Watch Boogie on this.— James Grayson (@jsgrayson) January 11, 2018
It ain't all coaching folks. pic.twitter.com/DJF48lPotq
Following the practice on New Year’s Day, I asked Alvin Gentry to point to one reason why this Pelicans team can finish the season out similarly to the 2014-15 squad, where the Monty Williams-led team closed their campaign on a 28-19 run to seize a postseason berth.
“We’ve had some bad losses — very bad losses and especially at home,” said Gentry. “But we’ve played good basketball. In general, we’ve played good basketball. No one’s really excited about being .500 right now. We feel like we should obviously be better than that. We still have an opportunity, like you said, run off some wins and have a situation where we end up with a really good record. We’re going to have to finish games, we’re going to have to play with consistency and we’re going to have to defensively, at the end of games, be able to lock in and play. But obviously the potential is there."
That’s the rub, potential, while it can tantalize on paper and more so in live action, is meaningless when it’s not funneled properly and unaccompanied by great discipline, effort and focus. The Pelicans find themselves at .500 because they’ve earned it. Talent alone doesn’t promise great rewards.
Assistant Coach Jamelle McMillan stressed to Preston and I on a recent podcast that this team’s biggest overall weakness is their undisciplined nature. It succinctly explains why the Pelicans have looked like world beaters one minute and completely hapless the next.
But a continuous lack of consistency begins to reek of complacency when it stems from playing undisciplined all too often. When players start equating poor efforts as just another loss. When the coach on the sidelines opts for false pretenses to explain a game’s outcome.
Sorry, but Del Harris got it right here.
In games closely-decided like tonight's, Dell thinks the @PelicansNBA could've made some more "hustle plays" that would've turned the story. #DoItBig pic.twitter.com/vvoEBl6bfT— FOXSports NewOrleans (@FOXSportsNOLA) January 11, 2018
There’s so much riding on the success of this season that maybe it’s time to seriously contemplate a shake up somewhere, anywhere, within the New Orleans organization. To maintain down the current path would be like trying to fly a kite in a hurricane — none of us have reason to believe any notable positive development is forthcoming and this track surely can’t be satisfactory to the players, those in charge, paying customers or simple devoted fans.
How about #DoItBetter from this point onward!