With a 6-17 start to their season, there have been a lot of disappointments on the New Orleans Pelicans, but who has been the biggest drag?
Kevin: Lonzo Ball
Lonzo Ball has been a disappointment. His defense hasn’t lived up to the billing and his ability to break down a defense to create has been greatly hampered by his lack of confidence in driving to the rim.
In a recent match up, Ball drove hard into the lane inspiring hope, but was called for a charge. This reminded me of the time my painfully slow-driving grandfather was given a speeding ticket for going 3 miles over the limit. We all were concerned that this infraction would ensure a future of overly cautious slow driving — it’s the same feeling I felt when that whistle blew. A couple of games after that incident it seems my fears are being realized.
Lonzo clearly worked a ton on his three-point shot this summer, but he ignored the portion of his game that I thought could make him a radioactive spider-bitten version of Rajon Rondo — driving and kicking or finishing at the rim. Had he developed a floater or at least an attack mentality he would be the perfect engine for this machine, but his reluctance to attack and his lack of impact on the defensive end (thus far) is hurting the Pelicans.
Mike: Frank Jackson
Just as I believe it is too soon to make “permanent” rotation decisions without having had the core players of the team healthy, a trade at this point of an underperforming player would be similarly shortsighted. With regard to my expectations on which these disappointments are based, a TBD feels most fitting for most.
The injuries to Zion Williamson, Derrick Favors, Josh Hart and Lonzo Ball have limited the sample size of what each has been able to showcase. That leaves the young players, which feels unfair too. Given that there were very few expectations for Jaxson Hayes or Nickeil Alexander-Walker to do much at this point in their rookie seasons, the fact that they’ve shown anything at all should shield them from the “disappointment” label.
Frank Jackson is in his third year, though, and the slack I’m willing to cut him is a bit more scarce. He’s managed to get to the free throw line a bit more often, but other than that not much has changed for a player who could have really helped the Pelicans bear the burden of some of these early injuries had he been able to get cooking. Though his ability to catch fire, as he did in what are perhaps the Pelicans two best wins this season against the Nuggets and the Clippers with respective 21- and 23- point performances, playing time will likely be hard to come by on the healthy version of this team.
Jackson is incredibly explosive on the court and fun to follow off of it, which should be worth enough to keep him around, but I would have liked to see a bit more from the young guard so far.
Preston: Lonzo Ball
Zion Williamson having knee surgery before playing a minute of regular-season basketball could be some frightening precursor, but from what we’ve seen, I’d say Lonzo Ball. His shooting from the field has not improved, still settling just north of 37 percent from the field after knocking down 40.6% for the Lakers last season.
While his stroke from deep looks better to the eye, his 34.0% is below average considering he’s jacking up three-point shots at an alarming rate (6.7 attempts per game). The team is 2.9 points per 100 possessions worse offensively with him on the court and 2.6 points worse on the defensive end. He went from 82nd and 87th percentile defensively on the defensive end in his first two seasons to 23rd this season.
It’s now his third season in league — a time when many players flourish, and while the Pelicans should ultimately continue to practice patience, it may come at the cost of the rest of the 2019-20 season.
Oleh: Jrue Holiday
Can I pick more than one? Lonzo Ball’s contributions have not impacted winning, Frank Jackson can’t hit the broad side of a barn (he’s sporting a 17.9 FG% during this eight-game losing streak), and Derrick Favors has failed to resemble a productive player in the vast majority of his minutes. When push comes to shove though, I must reserve my vote for the one who was supposed to resemble an MVP candidate. Hey, teams are thought to be able to go only as far as their best players can take them.
“Cause he’s a killer,” said David Griffin in an NBA Radio interview over the summer. “I mean he’s not an 18- or 19-year-old kid who is learning how to play basketball. He’s a grown ass man and he knows how to win.”
Jrue Holiday, who was entrusted to be the face of the franchise, set a discouraging tone through the team’s first ten games. He missed two contests to injury but struggled immensely in the other eight games played (14.6 points, 36.4 FG%, 23.3 3PT%, team-worst -8.0 plus/minus). Had good Jrue shown up right at the start of the season, I fully believe the Pelicans would have not only beaten the Raptors on opening night, they would have knocked off the Mavericks in their next game too. Who knows exactly how much a 2-0 start would have changed New Orleans’ fate, but I’m betting it would have been significant because this young team is loaded with impressionable minds.
While there’s no hiding Holiday’s offensive numbers have improved greatly since then (22.1 points, 49 FG%, 39.7 3PT%), I can’t overlook his clutch minutes during the same time frame. At first glance, a 28.6 FG%, 40 3PT% and 40 FT% is not as bleak as it may seem when factoring Holiday’s defense, but if one eliminates Jrue’s 36-point performance against the Clippers on Nov. 14, Holiday has made just 1 of 10 field goals, missed all three of his three-point attempts and all four of his free throw tries, and had five assists versus three turnovers over the last seven Pelican clutch games.
His individual results literally couldn’t be any worse over these these 24 minutes!
“You remember a couple of years ago in the playoffs against Portland, it was a pretty dominant performance by Jrue,” said Griffin from the same interview. “That’s the kid we need him to be all the time and we’re challenging him to be that guy.”
The bar was set way too high by Griff, but nonetheless — and writing the following greatly pains me — Holiday deserves plenty of criticism for consistently failing the team when they’ve needed him most. He’s considered one of the best players in the league and he’s in his prime. There’s no doubt he’d run through a brick wall for any teammate, but the NBA is a results-based business and Jrue has posted a lousy return on investment.
Ben: Derrick Favors
Despite New Orleans’ disappointing start, I can’t point to too many players who have truly played far beneath my expectations. One player who has is Derrick Favors, largely due to health.
Favors has appeared in only nine games this season and has been underwhelming when he has, likely due to a hamstring issue. Based on his play from last season, I predicted Favors to be a defensive anchor for the Pelicans and a steady offensive force on the interior. On the defensive end, he hasn’t looked like the same player, slower and less impactful all around than previous seasons. PIPM grades him as a negative on defense when he has played (-.29), a far cry from the defensive stalwart we saw in Utah.
Maybe he can return to form with good health. The fate of the Pelicans’ defense, and likely the rest of their season, relies on it.