It’s Melo time.
The Pelicans (4-9) take on another early disappointing team in the Portland Trail Blazers (5-8 record prior to Monday’s game against HOU) Tuesday night at the Smoothie King Center (7 p.m., FS New Orleans). There’ll be many impact players missing the game due to injury, but there’ll also be one big shiny new star in uniform for the Blazers: Carmelo Anthony.
Melo will be playing in his first NBA contest since a failed early-season experiment with the Houston Rockets last year.
But first, the injury report: the Pels are down number 1 draft pick Zion Williamson and sharpshooter Darius Miller, but we already knew about them. Last time out, the Pelicans were also missing (deep breath): Frank Jackson, Derrick Favors, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, and Jahlil Okafor. As of now, the number of players in suits might be dwindling but we’ll have to wait until tip to see who is ready to go.
The injury issue cannot be overlooked with this many guys so questionable, as it gives more time to young guys Jaxson Hayes, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Kenrich Williams, Josh Gray and Zylan Cheatham.
Thank goodness JJ Redick moved from Questionable before Sunday’s game to On Fire, as the vet banged home six made threes to help the Pels defeat the just-as-injured Warriors 108-100. Redick has been downright Redick-esque other than, like, one bad game.
Redick is shooting 46% from 3 on seven attempts per game. He’s scored 22, 24, 19, and a season-high 26 points in his last four games played and you just get that good feeling when he catches the ball with a moment to get a shot up.
The former Dukie has always drawn the attention of a team’s defense because of his constant movement. Bigs can slip screens thanks to him, and a ball-handler like Jrue or NAW can juke their defender as they look over their shoulder asking “where’s JJ?”
In the last five games, JJ Redick is averaging 22.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists on 50 percent shooting from three-point range (10.5 shots per game!) as well as 94.7 from free-throw range. He also has a plus-minus of positive 6.9— Preston Ellis (@PrestonEllis) November 18, 2019
Let’s hope he keeps it up if the Pels want to make a serious run to get back in playoff contention because his value to the offense might just be kicking into high gear.
Of course, this version of the Blazers is where Melo would find himself.
In Terry Stotts’ teams of the recent past, the Blazers played a version of the beautiful game typified by those great Spurs teams and the Warriors’ early dynasty years.
Things are different now.
Instead of Jusuf Nurkic making nifty plays around the hoop, you’ve got Hassan Whiteside, never known as much of a passer. Instead of Evan Turner finding others, you’ve got Kent Bazemore and Rodney Hood not. Anfernee Simons is a very intriguing youngster but appears to be a scorer and shooter so far in his very young career. Potential young star Zach Collins is out, and passing big Pau Gasol hasn’t played yet (who knows if he will). So all the offense has gone straight to the hands of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, neither of whom do a lot of playmaking compared to their isolation scoring — although, it should be said, Lillard is as deadly as ever.
According to CleaningTheGlass, Portland’s five highest usage players (Lillard, McCollum, Simons, Whiteside, Bazemore) are all near the bottom of the league in the assist-to-usage ratio. The only guy on the roster with an above-average mark in that stat is Skal Labissiere, although he has a terrible turnover percentage (23% is massive especially for a non-ballhandling big) to offset that relatively positive number. Melo will be yet another isolation offense option.
This team is last in the league in assist ratio, assist percentage (by a LOT), and assists per game (17.8).
FEW THROWS AND MANY THREES
The Pelicans don’t get to the line enough. They’re sixth from the bottom in free throw rate, which is too bad considering the scoring and dribbling capabilities of guys like Jrue, NAW, Brandon Ingram, Frank Jackson and all physicality of all three primary bigs (Favors, Okafor, Hayes). The Blazers foul at a pretty high clip (4th worst in the league), so let’s hope the Pels can get smart contact going to the hoop.
Meanwhile, and maybe because of this, the Pelicans jack up threes at an impressive rate, averaging over 39 attempts per game. In their win over the Warriors, they launched 48 of them, which accounted for more than half of their total shots. The Pels are also 5th best in accuracy, meaning we make a lot of our money on threes. Hey 3 is more than 2 or 1, right? Meanwhile, Portland is actually 7th best at preventing three-point attempts and makes, so this will be a big thing to watch: can Blazers defenders, including Melo, get our shooters off the arc and force Pels scorers into contested 2s?
Where To Watch/Listen
What: New Orleans Pelicans (4-9) vs Portland Trail Blazers (5-8)
Where: Smoothie King Center
When: Tuesday, November 19, 2019 7:00 PM CDT.
How: FSNO, NBAtv