Coming off the first win of the season, the New Orleans Pelicans (1-4) should now immediately have their sights set on the year’s first winning streak. Two teams with losing records lay in wait next on the schedule, with the Oklahoma City Thunder (1-4) standing in the way first.
These are not your yesteryear’s Thunder. After 11 seasons in OKC, Russell Westbrook has departed, traded to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul in the last offseason. While his stay was a much shorter one, the Thunder are now also without the services of Paul George; however, they were able to replace him with one of the most exciting young talents in the game: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Prior to agreeing to send Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers, I had identified the combo guard out of the Kentucky as the top potential trade asset for David Griffin. His name was rumored to be off the table, but as we saw shortly thereafter, everyone apparently has a price.
Gilgeous-Alexander is off to a strong sophomore campaign start, averaging 21.6 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.6 threes through five games for the Thunder. Standing 6’6, there’s very little the 21-year-old cannot do on the court and is regarded as Billy Donovan’s best weapon. Alongside of him, Danilo Gallinari, also included as a part of the PGIII trade, remains an above average offensive contributor, as evidenced by his 18.3 points and 2.6 threes a game.
On paper, the Pelicans match up well against the Thunder. Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday and Brandon Ingram have the requisite defensive ability to slow down their own against counterparts in CP3, Shai and Gallinari and pose problems on the other end. The question is, though, how does Alvin Gentry fill out the rest of the roster?
Terrence Ferguson should man the three for the Thunder, and if Steven Adams remains out, expect Nerlens Noel to draw the start at center. In the victory against the Nuggets, the Pelicans head coach elected to go bigger with Nicolo Melli and Jahlil Okafor, but with the opponent’s starting lineup likely much smaller on Saturday, Gentry could elect to go with just one big and maybe Josh Hart on the wing. That big will likely not be Derrick Favors though, who was listed as doubtful on the latest injury report.
One thing is for certain, the Thunder will not run away from the New Orleans. They blitzed the Golden State Warriors in their only win, but are averaging a mere 102.2 points overall, comparing unfavorably to the Pelicans 121.2 points per game. However, OKC’s defense is much, much stouter than New Orleans.
Donovan’s group ranks in the top 5 defensively. They’re for real, especially if Adams is a go. The Thunder hold opponents to a league low 45.4 eFG% and rank in the top 10 in holding opponent points off turnovers, fastbreak points and 2nd chance points. They don’t beat themselves, give up nothing easy and limit teams to one shot.
That said, I genuinely like New Orleans chances today. The great equalizer against really good defenses is above average perimeter shooting, and the Pelicans remain hot after showing off surprising marksmanship in preseason. New Orleans sits currently third in the league in three-point attempts (43.2) and they’ve made a seventh best 38.0% of them. The Pelicans might have to ride that potent combination if Gentry’s pace is unable to generate the easy looks we saw versus the Nuggets, but if they do, it’s nice having a rather dependable plan B sitting in the back pocket.
Where To Watch/Listen
What: New Orleans Pelicans (1-4) vs OKC Thunder (1-4)
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena
When: Saturday, November 2, 2019. 4:00 PM CDT
How: FSNO, FSOK, ESPN 100.3 FM