Those of rational mind know not to put much stock in preseason basketball, but let’s face it, it’s sports — it isn’t very rational. We are called fans for a reason. We have trouble admitting that sports aren’t even important in the grand scheme of the universe and our collective being — so it’s hard to let three mostly stinkers slip by without some concern and overly gesticulated hand-wringing and angry fist shaking. Still, this truly means nothing — and I’m not even speaking to how it fits into our life’s essence — I’m purely talking basketball. That being said, I understand your frustrations and worry. I’m sure the coaching staff isn’t happy with what they’ve seen. The rose colored glasses we slipped on after reports of group summer workouts, media day and the first week of training camps are now covered in seagull shit. But enough of the broad view, let’s keyhole in on Friday night.
The Knicks welcomed the Pelicans into Madison Square Garden with some 2-0 youthful swagger that trickles down from a lovable coach — unless you are Marc Gasol — to the Craig Sager-like garb and Shock G-like voice of Clyde Frazier. Despite not having the face of the franchise, Kristaps Porzingis, on the court, the Knicks have a lot of young and interesting pieces. Unfortunately, local product Mitchell Robinson and his already crazy shot-blocking highlight reels would also miss this match up. Thus, ensuring that local underground wrestling hero, Danny Flamingo would maintain his strangle hold on the, “Chalmation Sensation” and “Prince of Paris Road” monikers for a tad bit longer — though I expect Robinson to snatch those away very quickly.
Despite not getting a good look at Mitchell, we would see way too much of Tim Hardaway Jr. in the 1st half, and every time I see him go off I’m reminded of the time Atlanta was trying to give him away for a 2nd round pick.
Granted, the Knicks would have just overpaid him in restricted free agency that following summer, but still.
Hardaway would be active early in this one, going 3/5 in the first quarter but also getting to the line regularly and taking seven free throws in just 25 minutes of action. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself, let’s go blow-by-blow.
Emmanuel Mudiay will start at point guard alongside Tim Hardaway Jr., Kevin Knox, Lance Thomas and Enes Kanter tonight.— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) October 5, 2018
Emmanuel Mudiay would get the nod at the point for New York, as David Fizdale wanted to instill some confidence in a struggling young player. The Knicks are in a three-way dance off at the point guard spot — Frank Ntilikina the 8th overall pick in 2017 is battling the redemption tours of Trey Burke and Mudiay. While all of these guys have things that can get you excited about them, not being able to anoint a starting floor general can be likened to having a quarterback battle between two Billie Joes. Anyway, I felt like this would be a good match up for Elfrid Payton to show some of the things we’ve been hearing about from scrimmages — Elfrid would have moments, but too often the offense would look offensive under his command (or anyone’s to be fair).
After a back-to-back deep misses from Nikola Mirotic (who made his preseason debut) and Kevin Knox, Elfrid Payton would open the scoring taking advantage of a late Knicks rotation and driving off of the baseline following quick succession of passes from a dojo-headbanned Jrue Holiday — looking like something out of a Cobra Kai and The Last Dragon mashed up universe — and Mirotic by blowing by Enes Kanter for a nifty reverse layup between Kanter and Hardaway.
(Sorry for the iPhone video of my television, but there are hardly any highlights out there of this game.)
As I’ve said, Payton had real moments in this game — several coming early. Seconds later, he would find E’Twaun Moore with a nice pass for a floater. Payton would switch effectively on defense as the Pelicans showed energy and a desire to switch in the first handful of possessions. He would use an Anthony Davis pick and drive hard to the rim and kick it out to Jrue for a wide open corner three. Another circus-like layup on a fastbreak would show Payton’s body control around the rim; however, the offense would hit a wall quickly.
There was just running and no plan.
This is somewhat expected in a read-and-react drag race score off of chaos plan the Pelicans are operating from, but once the initial surge was met with sandbags, the Pelicans struggled to come up with an alternate path to the bucket. Turnovers would also begin to be shoved in your face like food on a visit to your grandmother’s house. Payton would even dribble off of his foot erasing some of the magic of his rim attack. There were times when the smart play wasn’t made, and a shot you wanted was passed up for a shot that would make you fire up the old PS3 and EA’s Fight Night where you’d create a boxer that looked like that shot so you could repeatedly punch it in the face. Here’s what that kind of possession looks like: Solomon Hill runs a pick-and-roll with Davis, finding him for a relatively easy — or at least one we’ve seen him make a thousand times — floater for AD, but Davis kicks it out to Cheick Diallo for an approximately 15’ ugly baseline jumper. The MSG camera crew zoomed in on Alvin Gentry as he held his head in his hands for a good 25 seconds.
Gentry looks dejected tonight.— Tobias Harris to NOLA? (@phelpsalot) October 6, 2018
That shot was indicative of Cheick’s night — and really his whole summer and preseason.
He’s looking less and less like a player who is going to “get it” anytime soon. Shortly after checking in, Diallo would bite hard on a Trey Burke drive to the rim, and Burke would find the trailing Noah Vonleh who found an unprotected rim for a jam. On the next possession, he’d lose track of the ball on an E’Twaun Moore miss and give up an easy offensive rebound opportunity to Vonleh. He’s like a blind man on speed playing Frogger.
Jrue Holiday was the bright spot in the 1st quarter going 2 of 4, but one miss was on a beautiful move to the basket that didn’t bounce right — the result was as meaningless as the actual game, but the dribble was noteworthy. Holiday would also be very active defensively — again showing big men that they are at the disadvantage while trying to bang him down low in the post — forcing Enes Kanter into a turnover that resulted in a layup for Moore.
Are big men STILL trying to post up Jrue? ♂️— Preston Ellis (@PrestonEllis) October 5, 2018
Anthony Davis was definitely holding back again in this one. He didn’t seem to be playing at game speed. However, that’s understandable considering this season’s stakes and the pace he’ll have to play when the minutes count. However, even when played at 33RPMs Davis is still capable of some special things — like Dolly Parton’s, “Jolene.”
We’d see AD early jab-step-back and shoot over Kanter, go coast-to-coast for a layup, recover a lame duck Danny Wuerffel-esque Moore pass in traffic to draw the foul, but the first quarter was mostly quiet from Davis as he took only four shots and making two.
The initial “...hmmm...this may be good, fun and promising” moments of the game would deteriorate quickly, especially once Frank Jackson and Solomon Hill entered the game. Jackson could not keep up with undrafted preseason Linsanity of the moment award winner, Allonzo Trier, who is having a Frank Jackson summer workout-like love fest on the preseason court. Trier entered the game averaging 19 points per meaningless contest — meaningless or not — it’s still a contest. Though he’d finish this one with just seven points, he would still find a way of making both Jackson and Hill look foolish at times.
Jackson would also suffer at the hands of Trey Burke.
Frank STRUGGLED. We have to hope that his tweaked ankle was affecting him, which seems logical as he had trouble shaking his defender and initiating offense. We also didn’t see him push the issue like we did in his debut against the Bulls. He’d close the 1st quarter by getting blocked by one of the many troubled lottery picks looking for redemption on these rosters, Mario Hezonja. However, Hill would have a redemption song in the waning minutes, by cleaning up after that block and D-ing up Trier and Burke nicely preventing any kind of clean look to beat the buzzer.
Other 1st quarter notables were the preseason debuts of Nikola Mirotic and Darius Miller who both hit 1st quarter threes and would be the leaders in +/- at game’s end.
As the Ramones once said, “Second verse, same as the first...”
After a couple of exchanged ugly possessions from both squads Miller would break the seal from deep — a theme for the night. I’ve had my concerns about Darius this offseason, but he shined tonight.
It wasn’t just his shooting either. Miller had two assists, two steals and a block. He looked way more comfortable driving off of the line. His handle was much more confident and sturdy — being the only Pelican that played any amount of significant minutes without a turnover. Miller would also have some nice flashes on the defensive end, like when he tightly contested Kevin Knox — though Knox was bailed out by a Diallo foul. In the third, Darius blocked a Frank Ntilikina attempt, followed that with his fourth made three pointer and again showed solid one-on-one defense on a possession that ended in Diallo blocking a Kanter attempt.
Still the second would be much of the same — Diallo not being able to defend the paint, lapses of perimeter defense, no sense of a plan on offense and a lot of sloppy play putting their defense in no-win situations.
Through 2.5 games, Pelicans have not enjoyed the easy scores like they should in transition/within halfcourt offense considering fast pace + Finch's ball movement concepts. However, have noticed some of that is due to lack of chemistry -- which should start to come around..— Oleh Kosel (@OlehKosel) October 6, 2018
Davis struggled in the second, going just 3/9 from the field. The cold spell was contagious: Mirotic (2/5), Moore (1/3), Miller (2/5), and Ian Clark (0/1) had trouble connecting. Hill, Holiday and Payton had trouble even finding shots with just two shot attempts between them — both from Holiday.
Pelicans with 11 first-half turnovers so far. Almost halftime. Sometimes it seems like the Pels are going too fast on offense.— Andrew Lopez (@_Andrew_Lopez) October 6, 2018
The third quarter opened with much more promise and engaged play. Payton stole the ball from Kevin Knox in the lane setting up E’Twaun — who gave the Pels some nice minutes tonight — for a three. Jrue would follow that up with another three showing signs that that offseason goal to improve his range is paying off, going two for four from deep tonight. Holiday would also show his hawk-eye pass perception, deflecting an interior pass that should have given Kanter another easy bucket — and Kanter had several of those giving the Pels fits to the tune of 20 points, 15 rebounds (seven on the offensive end), five assists and nine free throw attempts in 28 minutes, where he mainly made Cheick Diallo look like a child.
But back to the good...Jrue sent a bounce pass to Payton who found Moore in the corner for another three. He’d follow that up by running a 1-2 pick and roll with Holiday, who would convert with a very, “new Jrue, who dis?”-like layup. Jrue and Elfrid would show you reasons to be excited about the potential of that pairing early in the third. Jrue was clamped on Hardaway Jr. and knocked him off his first half rhythm, holding him to just two second half points after 19 in the first. Payton would bail Jrue out after he stumbled and lost the ball by single handedly stopping the ensuing fastbreak.
Payton with a defensive stop and draws the foul on the other end.— Kumar (@FearTheBrown) October 6, 2018
That's twice Payton has totally stoned someone in the post and forced a turnover.— Kumar (@FearTheBrown) October 6, 2018
Davis would cap off the final feel good moments of the early third by crushing a Kevin Knox dunk attempt.
This would usher in Sloptober Fest with both teams turning the ball over in the most disgusting ways — including Diallo throwing the ball well into the stands like he’s a t-shirt cannon. The Pelicans would have 19 turnovers with 3 minutes left in the 3rd quarter and would suffer through nearly five minutes without a made bucket.
It’s getting harder in trying to sell myself on Solomon Hill. We don’t need him to do a whole lot, but I’m still working it like Blammo! trying to sell chunks of wood to children.
While I’m barely balancing like a #drunkpeopledoingthings Instagram post, I’m not ready to fall of that fence yet. Hill — mostly bad — had moments in the third. He showed flashes of that perimeter defense we were sold on. He also showed more aggression offensively — though he only took two shots (and made them both). He did take eight free throws, even if he only made four of them. Still, he looked more competent and even rebounded well with five boards in just 18 minutes. He also finished with 1 assist, steal and block, all resulting in a positive 5 plus/minus. He would eventually get murdered by Vonleh on a dunk, but we will take baby steps right now.
The fourth quarter opened with Diallo flailing wildly and flinging his body out of position in an indefensible defense of the rim.
If diallo was a cornerback he’d be P.J. Williams— Ryan Hebert (@RyanHebert89) October 6, 2018
The Pelicans also opened the fourth with passes only Jake Delhomme in a playoff game could relate to (I mean, while we are using football references).
The Pelicans finished themselves off with 23 turnovers compared to just 19 assists. It was ugly, ugly offense. The game was over even if the clock and scoreboard did show the Pelicans could rally.
Nikola Mirotic certainly wasn’t aware that this didn’t matter as he and Darius Miller would keep one of New Orleans’ nostrils above water occasionally enough to breathe a little life. Miller would actually find Mirotic with a laser pass from beyond the arc, setting Niko up for an open dunk. Mirotic would also work Luke Kornet with a crafty spin and layup. Holiday was solid, Davis was coasting, but Mirotic and Miller were almost starring — even with Mirotic playing 37 minutes and not scoring efficiently at all. He was finding ways to impact the game with a +8 plus/minus in what would be a six-point loss. Miller was right behind him with a +7. In what could be a way too early freak out about stat, Davis was a negative 21 in 28 minutes. Flares are definitely popping off in the flock.
AD watch. -11 in 1st half, the 2nd worse starter is -4. Am so afraid this is the old iso AD, ADvw/out Rondo's assists— M Tuman (@mctuman) October 6, 2018
@kevinbforbounce I'm worried. AD fell off the adv stats charts in Gentry's 1st yr based on a diet of iso ball: 61st in RPM, 33 in WS, 40 in VORP. Now he has Klutch telling him he's #1 & we see more iso. No 1 else on team, few in NBA, shooting off-dribble, contested mid-range J's.— M Tuman (@mctuman) October 6, 2018
However, while the above concern can be considered warranted, it was hard to get a picture of how this offense will work with Davis so obviously saving himself for the regular season. I reserve my right to panic for later.
Outside of Mirotic and Miller there wasn’t much inspiring from those playing in the fourth. Jackson continued to struggle — but not as bad as in his initial stint. Gentry kept a pretty tight rotation with only 10 players getting more than 10 minutes. We really didn’t get to see any of the non-guaranteed guys outside of five solid minutes from Kenrich Williams. With the offense being so sloppy, it may have been nice to see if Jarrett Jack could get some semblance of flow going. It was a weird and disappointing game, but it isn’t one that should stick to your ribs for any extended amount of time. While you surely want to see beautiful basketball and consistent effort and progress in the preseason — not seeing it isn’t the end of the world. If the Pels get back to health I believe they should be poised to flip that switch.
Final -— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) October 6, 2018
Mirotic - 19p | 12r | 1a
Davis - 15p | 13r | 4s | 3b | 2a
Miller - 15p | 2r | 2a | 2s |1b
Moore - 13p | 4r | 1a | 1s | 1b
Holiday - 12p | 2a | 1r | 1s
Payton - 9p | 7a | 5r | 1s
Hill - 8p | 5r | 1a | 1s | 1b
Diallo - 4p | 10r | 1b
Clark - 3a | 2r | 1s
Jackson - 3p
Miami Heat 10/10/18
Will Jimmy Butler be there? More importantly, will more effort and focus be there? Stay tuned for that preview and recap to find out.