The New Orleans Pelicans wrapped up their preseason with a 134-119 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Thursday. The good news is the team will begin a regular campaign the healthiest in years. The bad: the Pelicans finished exhibition play without notching a single victory to post a disappointing 0-5 record.
In what was supposed to be a dress rehearsal, New Orleans gave up a whopping 134 points to a Toronto Raptors team sitting all of their starters. Pascal Siakam looked like a borderline All-Star, posting a line of 21 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and four steals. He tallied twelve free attempts for the game!
While preseason can simply be a warm-up for some, it’s hard to overlook the lack of defense put forth by the Pelicans at the start of a second consecutive season. For those who don’t remember, the Pelicans also played terribly on the defensive end last preseason — which trickled down to a very mediocre start and a .500 record come the New Year.
One year ago, the Pels gave up an average of 113 points per game over their four contests. This season, however, they allowed a whooping 124 points. Neither are ideal, but New Orleans did eventually become one of the better defensive teams to close out 2017-18.
Communication and effort are two very important aspects of even the most average defenses, and NOLA has failed to exemplify either in a consistent manner. The hope is that when the games officially matter so will many other elements. Thursday’s game, however, wasn’t just about poor defense. It was a struggle against a group of reserves while New Orleans utilized their full hand. Before we close the book on Thursday’s exhibition finale, here are a few takeaways.
1. The turnovers continue.
One factor contributing to the bad defense for New Orleans is the amount of turnovers. After finishing with 17 miscues on Thursday, it’s clear that ball security and better decision making will need to be a clear point of emphasis before the real games begin. Careless and risky passing were problematic early last season, but the group ironed out those problems. Should we expect for history to repeat?
2. Anthony Davis and Julius Randle will be fun.
At this point, it doesn’t matter if Julius Randle starts with Anthony Davis or not, it’s going to be fun watching them play together. Both are skilled ball handlers, rebounders, and underrated passers when willing — Davis and Randle should make a dominating pair all season. AD poured in an easy 36 on 18 shots to go with 15 rebounds and four blocks. Randle finished with 20 points 11 rebounds and four assists in 25 minutes. The rotation for the Pelicans could remain fluid, but at least they know they’re well secured up front.
3. New Orleans has some rough rotation decisions to make.
One reason the Pelicans were so eager to give Cheick Diallo a chance last season was a need for his youthful energy and effort. After a rookie campaign that showed flashes, the hope was his development could take that next step. While he didn’t perform nearly as consistently as many had hoped, his struggles have been far worse during this preseason. Jahlil Okafor was always likely to move ahead of him on the depth chart, but now he doesn’t look like he belongs on any 15-man roster. But if the team’s preseason habits are a true preview of what’s to come, can they really afford to show him the door?
And what about Frank Jackson? While he’s quite the blur and verifiable scoring machine at times, he can appear a little too fast for his own good and a defensive liability. However, the Pelicans do not have many forms of instant energy like Jackson. With Ian Clark struggling and Jarrett Jack’s future cloudy, can Alvin Gentry afford to play Jackson sparingly?
All of this is without mentioning the biggest elephant in the room: the consistent struggles of Solomon Hill. The starting small forward in 2016-17 has been most unimpressive. While he is still owed two years and $25 million, other options on the roster have looked better — and it hasn’t only been Darius Miller and his sharpshooting. The unconsciously attacking Troy Williams seems like a better choice going forward at this point.
While the roles of the starters are clear and defined, the reserves have been a mixed bag at best. They could certainly use more run than just a handful of pre-season games, but that’s not in the cards. We’ll get our first look at the finished product — whomever it contains — next week when the Pelicans land in H-Town to face the Rockets.
Cross your fingers.