It’s the Holiday season!
The Pelicans finally strapped a victory to their belt for the first time since before Thanksgiving!
Like Christmas in the Oaks, our Pels’ decisive victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves gave fans plenty to share a smile about. Between gazing at Jaxson Hayes’ ferocity to Brandon Ingram’s tenacity late, Josh Hart’s contributions all over the floor, JJ Redick’s consistency and Jrue Holiday’s franchise setting night, the win was covered in all aspects.
And yet, we can be selfish, right?
The victory is a relief, but we want and deserve more! Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?! Putting together a hilarious list of things we think we deserve only to be downright furious if we come up short?
But unlike Neil and Laura Miller, we know Santa can’t possibly bring us everything we want as Pelicans’ fans this year.
Santa, if you’re reading this, here’s my modest Christmas list. If that ticket for an illegal u-turn keeps me from getting all of them, I’ll understand (but that’s a ridiculous thing to get pulled over for).
More Offensive Responsibility for Jaxson Hayes
The Pelicans have one of the longest and most athletic fives in the NBA in Hayes, and he’s already a problem for opposing defenses. Hayes saw his workload steadily increase after Derrick Favors was forced to miss time and it’s paid off enormously.
Hayes’ jaw-dropping leaping and finishing drew the attention of the national media during his first minute of summer league play. Since then, he’s become one of the most dangerous pick-and-roll men in the NBA. He’s 15th in scoring frequency as well as being the very best at getting to the line (38 percent). He’s also seventh in converting And-1 opportunities (8.1 percent).
However, Hayes is only averaging 2.5 PnR possessions per game, prompting the question:
Why not more?
At the same time, Hayes is also among the worst at committing fouls on opposing shooters, sending rollers to the line at an alarming rate. Due to his lack of physicality and inexperience, this was to be expected. However, he showed against Nikola Vucevic that he’s beginning to resist the urge to leave his feet as the initiator, allowing headier players to accept the contact.
This will only continue to improve.
Very soon, Gentry could let Hayes begin to initiate from the high post as Vucevic or Joel Embiid do. Hayes even has the athleticism to take a pitch-action from the perimeter just as Ingram and Zion have done this season.
Remember the pitch action used to get Zion a full head of steam? It works for Ingram as well. Each one of these set actions opens up the offense on successive possessions. When the Pelicans execute these actions, the offense hums perfectly.— Preston Ellis (@PrestonEllis) November 24, 2019
Retweets appreciated! ✊ pic.twitter.com/nO76XX5HlP
That may take time, but right now Hayes possesses the passing ability to play the Andrew Bogut-role in the former Golden State offense, from dribble-handoffs to pitch-and-rolls to post splits. There’s an endless list of ways he can improve this team offensively.
Hayes is ready to do more offensively, but with Brandon Ingram and Jrue Holiday driving to the paint nearly 30 times per game, there hasn’t been enough basketball to go around. The coaching staff should make room for Hayes to navigate sets from the post while Ingram and Holiday run the split and watch the runways clear.
This is my first Christmas wish.
Jrue Holiday, the Closer
Jrue Holiday has been one of the worst shooters in the NBA in clutch minutes (30 percent) thus far. As a result, Holiday and many of his teammates find themselves at the bottom of plus-minus totals during the end of close game situations. These guys haven’t taken care of business during winning time and Holiday deserves as much blame as anyone for submarining the Pelicans to a 4-12 record.
David Griffin gave Holiday a bold call-to-action this summer when he enlisted his star “permission to dominate.” The Pelicans’ defensive shortcomings have been disappointing, but so too has Holiday’s ineffectiveness during moments that matter.
Holiday is an All-Star, a two-time Defensive Teamer and an underrated offensive weapon. He’s shown he can be an elite-level complement to a superstar on the national stage so he should have had an extra gear with Anthony Davis out of town. His numbers have largely remained unaffected but when his team needs him most, he’s continually come up short.
There is evidence to suggest this is an early season fluke. Last season, it was Anthony Davis who destroyed the Pelicans’ odds late in games with a horrifying negative 28.6 plus/minus per 36 clutch minutes throughout the entire season. Holiday was a negative 18.3.
But in 2017-18, the Pelicans won 30 games in critical situations and Holiday was a positive 9.4. He shot 50.5 percent from the floor and over 40 percent from three! Is it a matter of playing him off-ball more in those moments?
It could be as simple as placing him next to a positive facilitating point guard who can manage those possessions late and free up Holiday to work the baseline or make a secondary attack.
But even a proper point guard can’t keep Holiday from shooting 50 percent from the free throw line during these situations. Though he was a strong net positive in 2017-18, he shot 55 percent from the line.
Why Holiday misses his shots in these moments is confounding, but a stark 180 would make for an excellent second Christmas gift.
Less Lonzo on Ball
Now, this isn’t what you think.
Lonzo Ball was anointed the team’s best facilitator since Rajon Rondo, but he hasn’t lived up to expectations nor even accepted that responsibility. He’s relied on his three-point shot more than ever in his career, thus attacks to the rim are down, consisting 24 percent of his shots. He drives the ball to the basket just 5.7 times per game and passes to the Pelicans most dominant offensive players (Jrue and Ingram) on 40 percent of his passes.
He’s been timid.
Lonzo Ball is currently the Pelicans' 7th-best three-point shooter but shoots 25 percent more threes than anyone else. pic.twitter.com/hHByb8oBgB— Preston Ellis (@PrestonEllis) October 27, 2019
If you think back for a moment, we faced this problem with Jrue Holiday. Rajon Rondo would get Holiday going early with backdoor cuts and other easy scores that gave him confidence within the structure of the new offense. As the season progressed, Holiday became the All-Star caliber player, who went on to score 40 points in a series-deciding playoff game.
Why not try it for Ball?
There’s reason behind this prompt.
Ball has been a horrifying negative 14.7 as a ball dominant player this season. He’s initiated just 3.5 PnR possessions per game, converting just .57 points per possession on those attempts which ranks among the 30 worst in the NBA.
An example of what we mean when we say we'd like Lonzo Ball to be more aggressive. He has played well tonight but I'd like to see him dictate more of the offense, push the pace and challenge the defense in the paint via penetration or pick-and-roll. pic.twitter.com/MlOrMUJAE7— Preston Ellis (@PrestonEllis) December 19, 2019
Interestingly, he’s been a positive 3.8 working off of Nickeil Alexander-Walker (according to Cleaning the Glass). The Pelicans score over 116 points per 100 possessions with Lonzo at the 2, compared to just over 101 with him at the one. He also shoots more frequently from the corner than above the break and better overall (54.5 percent!).
But what does it mean to be off-ball? It means that Lonzo needs to do more than send an entry pass to the post then hang out beyond the three-point line. He needs to constantly engage himself in the offense like JJ Redick: running the floor, spotting mismatches and creating opportunities for teammates with his body and with his mind.
He can also use this time to refocus on the defensive end where Lonzo has gone from an 87th-percentile defender in 2018-19 to a 34th-percentile in 2019-20.
Lonzo Ball can still possibly become a great player. His confidence has suffered as the Pelicans season has plummeted. Working in a reserve role should continue to increase it, but the Pelicans need to find ways to get him rolling to the basket with easy looks early.
Start Nickeil Alexander-Walker
With the franchise’s longest losing streak likely destroying all realistic playoff odds, the Pelicans plan of action must shift to the future. Playing JJ Redick in the starting lineup may make the team a bit more of a competitive loser, but his presence has not had the impact necessary to prevent the Pels from thinking long term (though he has been terrific).
1/5 NAW thread. If you haven't heard about this kid yet...— Preston Ellis (@PrestonEllis) October 13, 2019
Behind-the-back dribble to get to the inside, then uses Zion to bait the big before dropping Exum with a hesitation step followed by a left-handed finish pic.twitter.com/AqFnjJc7AK
Walker is raw confidence personified. He’s already attacking the rim 12 times per 36 which is demonstrably more than Ball. He allows Holiday to shift more off ball and can begin to find comfort and rhythm alongside Brandon Ingram, the team’s other cornerstone.
He’s inevitably going to struggle. He’s currently managing just .71 points per possession in pick-and-roll. He creates with his own combination of size, speed and dribble hesitation but needs to learn to use his teammates to his advantage.
In transition, NAW puts his nose to the ground and drives directly into his defender in transition. Derrick Favors bails him out and NAW rewards him for the effort. Favors sees the benefit of NAW’s aggressiveness and capitalizes. As NAW becomes more comfortable, he’ll begin to anticipate this action and use it to his advantage.
A nice play by NAW. Puts the pressure on the defense in transition, uses his herky-jerky shoulder action/euro to open up the paint. Then, easy pass to the cutting big who gets the easy look at the basket. pic.twitter.com/yxEZFedFsx— Preston Ellis (@PrestonEllis) December 19, 2019
But the basketball ability, size and mental acuity are all in place. NAW lit up the scoreboards this preseason and was lethal from distance. He took opponents off the dribble, utilized a step back a hesitation step, drop step, all sorts of fun holiday trinkets for fans to enjoy.
But beyond his individual measurements, his most important skill is navigating and directing his teammates. This is what will change the direction of the Pelicans.
Even if he doesn’t start initially, the Pelicans need to become consistent with his minutes. 20 minutes per game should be suitable for his rookie season.
This is my fourth Christmas wish.
A Healthy Zion
As horrifying as it may be to say out loud, there exists a tangible possibility that Zion will not play this season.
The six-to-eight week threshold has come and gone and we still have no identifiable timeline for his return. In addition, he’s only begun the very first bits of on-the-court activity.
David Griffin addressed the latest sighting of the number one overall pick by saying ‘if we’re going to see a setback, now would be the time.’
Zion’s rehabilitation was supposed to have come and gone by this point. Ultimately getting him back on the court at 100 percent health with zero risk of injury is what every Pelicans fan and every NBA fan wants. While we don’t know what Griffin’s metrics for recovery are, he labeled Zion as being “still a ways away.”
Not the best of signs.
So, we can perhaps push Zion’s anticipated return into January and hope to see him before February’s trade deadline (barring a setback). Seeing the Pelicans new franchise player for even half the season will still give the team and fans the assurances they need to comfortably attack the offseason with decisions coming on Brandon Ingram, Derrick Favors, E’Twaun Moore and more.
It’s important to have Zion step onto the court in a timely manner to put the franchise in the best position going forward. Seeing how he performs next to this conglomerate of players far outweighs the benefit of a few more ping pong balls.
This is my fifth and final Christmas wish (and most important!).
I hope everyone enjoys the games this Holiday season!
Now, these are just a few of my wishes for the Pels this season. Obviously a stretch of wins and improved defensive performance should be up there, but that’s what you’re here for. What would your Christmas wishes be?
Remember that you can catch our Pels on Christmas evening against the Denver Nuggets at 10:30pm eastern on ESPN.
If you’d like to add a little fun to your holiday, check out the NBA Christmas Day Props Game Lines at TopBet.eu.
The Pels finally broke their 13-game losing streak and have a manageable slate coming up. Plus, Zion may return just in time for the New Year!
Merry Xmas and let’s geaux, Pels!