Remember when the firepower consisted of Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and frequently little else? When bringing a consistent effort level from game to game was all too often a problem? When Alvin Gentry used to go to his bench and leads subsequently evaporated or deficits multiplied? Well, the New Orleans Pelicans disposed of the Atlanta Hawks rather easily in a 133-109 victory, and if this first preseason game is any indication, all of those recent demons could quickly become distant memories.
Yes, this contest doesn’t count, it’s just the first of many, and the opponent was the Hawks, but the first 48 minutes of action couldn’t have gone any better when considering hopes and future dreams of this New Orleans franchise.
Derrick Favors, who was questionable to play with hamstring tightness, was limited to eight minutes, but the rest of the starters sparkled. Zion Williamson (16 points, seven rebounds, three assists, three steals) scored the Pelicans first five points and that included a highlight worthy dunk inside the first two minutes of the game.
Zion just caught his first body pic.twitter.com/vymG2QMZbN— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) October 7, 2019
Jrue Holiday (21 points, three assists, three threes, two blocks, 7-9 FGs) soon made his presence felt, displaying those usual defensive chops but also contributing efficiently on the offensive end through a myriad of scores — Did you happen to notice his three-point shot looks cleaner, quieter and less mechanical?
Speaking of long distance shots, say hello to a new Lonzo Ball (nine points, seven assists, five rebounds, three threes)?!?
Lonzo from deep for the third time this half pic.twitter.com/RIkPkfE5Nr— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) October 8, 2019
Did you read the tweet above? That was Ball’s third made three-pointer in the first half of an NBA game! Did you watch the shooting motion? That’s not the same form we witnessed when he was with the Lakers! Am I overly excited? Why yes I am, but let’s keep rolling through all the good stuff before my head explodes.
Trailing 34-29 after one, the Pelicans put a mammoth hurt on the Hawks in the second quarter, one that we never once witnessed throughout all of last season.
New Orleans posts 46 points in Q2 at ATL...The season-high for second quarter points last season for the #Pelicans was 40 (twice).— Pelicans PR (@PelicansPR) October 8, 2019
Following halftime, Brandon Ingram (19 points, six rebounds, two threes) found his groove, scoring 11 of his 19 points. I noticed some gripes about his play on social media during a lackluster first half, but come on, he wasn’t able to touch a basketball for months after season-ending surgery with the Lakers! The talent in that born-to-hoop body is evident. He is a bit of a throwback because he likes to look for his offense after a few dribbles, but you can’t teach length and a scorer’s mentality. He’s going to be just fine in this system because he exudes plenty of team-first vibes — don’t be surprised if he leads New Orleans in scoring this season though.
Now if you thought the starters were a blast to watch, the Pelicans bench really did steal the show. Most of us have been preaching ad nasueum about the depth on this team and the whole crew certainly didn’t disappoint. The outside precision of JJ Redick (seven points, one three), E’Twaun Moore (five points, one three) and Josh Hart (six points, two threes) was quickly made apparent, but Jahlil Okafor (11 points, six rebounds, three assists), Nickeil Alexander-Walker, (12 points, two threes, two steals), Nicolo Melli (11 points, eight rebounds, four assists, two steals), and Kenrich Williams (three points, five rebounds, two blocks) did lots of beautiful things!
- Okafor carried the offense after the starters received their first rest, and he did it the old fashioned way: by crashing the glass for multiple putback scores. The Hawks couldn’t keep him from getting his mitts on everything. He also featured an incredibly lithe body and how about those three assists?
- NAW went ham. Zion is fearless, but so too is Alexander-Walker — and he’s got a much prettier three-point stroke to boot. To be honest, he’s the guy to watch for the rest of preseason because after Lonzo, Jrue, Zion and Ingram exited the game, the offense bogged down with Redick, Moore and Hart leading the charge. We saw how well the Pelicans summer league team ran under NAW’s guidance, so Alvin Gentry might be forced to give this rookie more minutes earlier in the season to avoid the same predicament again.
- Melli did a little bit of everything and that’s perfect considering the other bigs on this team do not remotely possess a similar skill set. Nicolo is a savvy role player who can shoot, pass, dribble and his IQ always ensures that he’ll be in the right place or make the correct decision. Don’t ask him to carry you, but he has the look of a great supporting player.
- Kenrich Williams was Kenny Hustle and that’s precisely what the coaching staff wants to see every time out: Diving for loose balls, making third and fourth efforts, and providing staunch defense regardless of position. He did make some mistakes, but I don’t think enough noticed the number of good flashes, and as we saw in the open practice, he’s now more aggressive in looking for his shot or making a play when opportunity presents.
Frank Jackson (nine points, two rebounds) didn’t enter until the game was pretty much decided in the second half, and Zylan Cheatham (two rebounds) and Jaxson Hayes (two points, three rebounds) saw a handful of closing minutes in garbage time.
For those who missed the game, here’s a good video containing the highlights.
New Orleans next plays on Wednesday, when they’ll face the Bulls in Chicago. Until then, let’s geaux Pels!