Following two wildly different preseason games, one thing we know about this year’s New Orleans Pelicans is that they won’t be boring.
After trailing by as many as 23 points in the second half, the Pelicans (2-0) stormed back to defeat the Chicago Bulls (0-2) 127-125 to win for the second time in three nights.
Led by the second and third units, the Pels outscored the Bulls 41-18 in the fourth quarter. Nickeil Alexander-Walker (13 points, 7 assists), Frank Jackson (12 points), Josh Hart (11 points) and Jahlil Okafor (13 points) led the charge as the quartet shot a combined 17-31 (10-17 on threes).
While they were shooting lights out, the Bulls were shooting blanks. Chicago was a freezing cold 5-22 from the floor over the final 12 minutes.
“It speaks loudly about the depth that we have,” said Alvin Gentry. “For those guys to be able to come in...I thought that they did a good job. The thing that I was most impressed with was the defense. Obviously, we did not play very good defensively to that point.”
No, they did not. Trailing 25-26 after the first quarter, the Pelicans proceeded to be outscored 81-61 in the second and third.
But the cavalry arrived, as the “other guys” stepped up and showed out.
Alexander-Walker is building a solid case to play meaningful minutes and showed great improvement, especially in running the offense. He committed just one turnover against Chicago after giving it away four times against the Hawks and dishing out only one assist.
Outside shooting was supposed to be the biggest concern for New Orleans, but as a whole, the Pels have been on fire from distance. After making 17 threes in Atlanta, they added another 14 on Wednesday night and are converting nearly 40 percent of their attempts in preseason.
To be honest, the Pelicans were scoring effectively no matter who was on the floor. They had an ungodly 54.5 percent shooting percentage, 40 assists, 64 points in the paint, and a 24-12 advantage in fast break points. It may be hard to imagine a limit for this team’s offensive potential.
As impressive as all of those numbers are, it feels like I’ve buried the lede.
Zion Williamson continued to do “Zion” things — You know, freakishly athletic and explosive, yet agile and controlled.
The rookie looked nothing like a first-year player as he racked up 29 points in 26 minutes on 12-13 shooting. Every one of his field goal attempts came within five feet of the rim.
He scored on lobs...
This Lonzo/Zion duo is going to be so fun pic.twitter.com/QIxGL9V6eb— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) October 10, 2019
He scored on drives…
And he did this...
Rookies gotta look out for each other pic.twitter.com/FUrsUqlf3C— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) October 10, 2019
In 53 preseason minutes, Williamson has tallied 45 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, and four steals, while shooting 69 percent from the floor.
With Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus no longer in operation, Williamson is a contender for the title of “Greatest Show on Earth,” or the NBA at the very least.
But a great show isn’t enough to create a winning basketball team. Williamson’s stats, gaudy as they were, yielded a +/- of -18. The rest of the starters didn’t fare much better. The Pelicans fell behind by 23 points because of a defense that still looks disjointed and hesitant as they learn Jeff Bzdelik’s system. Gentry was visibly frustrated and demonstrably angry at times with his team’s competitiveness on that end on of the floor.
The Bulls presented a much different challenge than the Hawks, even without big man Wendell Carter in the lineup. Chicago’s other four regular starters; Tomas Satoransky, Otto Porter Jr., Zach LaVine, and Lauri Markkanen, had no problem putting up points from the moment they stepped on the floor.
LaVine had 28 points to lead the Bulls, making 10 of his 16 attempts. Porter Jr., Markkanen, and Satoransky, filled the stat sheet, combining for 39 points, 22 assists, and 16 rebounds, with only 8 turnovers.
Chicago scored at the rim and from long-range. When they cut, they found little resistance. And when they missed, they hit the offensive glass. Up until the decisive run in the game’s final stanza, Chicago ran through the Pelicans like they were in the streets of Pamplona rather than the Windy City, shooting 53.6 percent.
The best thing about the preseason is that the games don’t count. There’s time to fix things. Moreover, the Pelicans still have at least 85 games left to play. The team we see in April will be much different, and hopefully much improved from the one we see now.
And still, with the visible flaws there for all to see, the Pels continued to compete. Final score aside, that’s the biggest takeaway. The Pelicans will compete with each other and their opponents at every opportunity. The rough edges should get smoother, but that fight is either there or it isn’t.
Given their first chance to do so, the Pelicans didn’t back down. They fought back and they won. Perfect endorsement for the team’s new identity, wouldn’t you say?
Nickeil Alexander-Walker on postgame radio @ESPNRadioNOLA, after being asked what #Pelicans showed during 23-point comeback in 4Q: “Exactly what we go by, our identity - Won’t Bow Down. That’s living proof of it right there. Down (23), we found a way to pull it out.”— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) October 10, 2019
Let’s see if another lesson has been learned.