The New Orleans Pelicans lost their second straight preseason game on Monday, falling to the Atlanta Hawks by a 116-102 margin. John Collins (18 points), DeAndre Bembry (20 points) and Trae Young (11 points, eight assists) led the way for Atlanta.
Bigger than the meaningless loss, however, was needing to watch several Pelicans’ players leave the game early due to injury. Tonight, Frank Jackson and Julius Randle had their numbers called, but as we’ll get to, both are expected to be just fine going forward.
Prior to the maladies striking, New Orleans showed consistent pace offensively and fluid movement on the defensive side as they forced Atlanta into some tough decisions and several turnovers. The box-score won’t show it immediately, but there is some excellent promise on both sides of the floor among the core unit.
For the second time in two days, the starters showed how dangerous they are running the floor, and gave a glimpse of how they’ll create spacing when both Randle and Payton are on the floor simultaneously. Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday were their usual awesome selves, finishing with 16 and 13 points respectively as they again only saw first half minutes. Elfrid Payton poured in only seven points, but his seven assists were more than welcome. Outside of some struggles at the free throw line (0-3), Randle was on his way to another fine contest before leaving with 11 points and seven rebounds.
As for the reserves, veteran point guard Jarrett Jack made his first appearance of the preseason as did summer league standout Trevon Bluiett. While Jack didn’t light up the gym, Bluiett scored a tidy eight points in 16 minutes, which included a couple of jumpers from downtown. Troy Williams continued to show his scoring flashes as he ended his night with 11 points. Cheick Diallo added five points and six rebounds. Solomon Hill rounded out the bunch, continuing his shot struggles finishing with four points while going 0-4 from the field.
What we liked:
The fun pace and pieces
Everyone seems to know their roles in the Pelicans’ offense. From the minute a player steps onto the floor, they know they have an opportunity to contribute. Whether it’s bringing the ball up the floor, initiating the offense, or having a quick trigger with a shot attempt, not much opportunity is lacking.
Previous Pelicans teams had the spacing, unselfishness, and penetration ability, but “if healthy,” this version may trump them all. The early wrinkles and play style showed several possessions where every Pelican touched the ball at least once. Off-ball curls weren’t just catch and create chances, they were instant touch-pass worthy. Anthony Davis spotted up in various positions on the floor as Payton, Randle, or Holiday created.
This style of offense allowed quick tempo baskets and multiple shot attempts all the while appearing in the natural flow of the game. And speaking of “several shots”:
The Pelicans have at least 97 shot attempts in each of their first two preseason games.— Will Guillory (@WillGuillory) October 2, 2018
Only seven teams (CHI, NOLA, NYK, OKC, PHX, SAS and TOR) had consecutive games with at least 97 FGAs last year (in regulation). None of them extended that streak to 3 games.
Those shot attempts weren’t just a couple of guys feeling themselves either; they were spread out and cheered as seven different Pelicans players attempted at least seven shots. As we learned last season, that pace can be extremely fun if it’s controlled. The new pieces to the fold only seem to enhance that potential. Not to mention, this glimpse we’ve received has been done with several important members dealing with injury.
What we didn’t like:
More injury scares
Let me know if you’ve heard this before: “The New Orleans Pelicans could be so much fun if they can just find a way to stay healthy.”
After tonight, that rhetoric seems to be going absolutely no where fast.
As Jahlil Okafor, Nikola Mirotic, Alexis Ajinca and Darius Miller all sat on the injury report entering Monday’s contest, promising second-year rookie Frank Jackson failed to return back to action after spraining his ankle in the second quarter. And if one key injury scare wasn’t enough, Julius Randle added his name to a suddenly cluttered list.
With 10:27 left in the third-quarter, Randle received a pass from guard Elfrid Payton and appeared to be in line for an easy two points. Hawks forward John Collins, however, attempted to block Randle’s dunk attempt, resulting in a foul and a hard fall for Randle.
Randle’s back hit the floor first, creating a loud thud, and it was reported he later gingerly limped into the locker room. Thankfully the news brightened afterwards as he was said to be “walking with no problem after the game.”
New Orleans forward Julius Randle left game tonight after a hard fall in the third quarter, but he's expected to be fine, league source tells ESPN. He was walking with no problem after the game.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) October 2, 2018
Jackson’s injury was later clarified as a precautionary measure, but with his injury history and the recent sprain to his other ankle in his summer league debut — the cause for concern for such a promising young talent is warranted. Hopefully we can get Jackson a new pair of shoes, or have him have a long conversation about basketball — and ankles.
Gentry indicated Frank Jackson had a minor ankle sprain that led to decision to not put Jackson back in game in 2H. Gentry: “It didn’t make sense to stick him back out there. We’ve got three more (preseason) games to play and plenty of minutes for him.”— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) October 2, 2018
We can only hope neither player sustains any more setbacks and they can quickly return to building on the small flashes of excitement that we’ve anticipated and witnessed.
New York Knicks 10/5/18
The Pelicans will look to head to the big Apple Friday with their first preseason win in mind. Leaving without an injury wouldn’t be so bad either. Stay tuned for that preview and recap!