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Stan Van Gundy ready to teach fundamentals of defense to New Orleans Pelicans

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Class will soon be in session

San Antonio Spurs v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

Stan Van Gundy’s offensive bonafides were probably not the first thing that David Griffin wanted to discuss when the two first sat down to chat about the Pelicans’ head coaching job.

It was also likely not the second or third.

The New Orleans Pelicans have plenty of offensive talent at its disposal.

Six players averaged double figures last season and 13 had at least one game with 20 or more points.

One of the biggest factors in Van Gundy’s hiring is his ability to coach top-notch defenses.

Since the 2013-14 season, the Pelicans have an average defensive rating of 109.5, including last season’s 111.9, and an average rank of 20.1.

Living in the bottom third of the NBA hasn’t proven to be particularly conducive to winning a championship.

Van Gundy was clear about that during his introductory meeting with the New Orleans media last week.

“Guys want to win, and you’re not going to do that if you don’t get the job done at the defensive end,” he said. “Ultimately, none of the players are going to get the respect that they want in this game unless they’re part of a consistent winner in the NBA.

“What gets them there is being part of a great team, and a big part of being part of a great team is what you do at the defensive end. When guys understand that, they will put in the effort and the focus that it takes to be a good defensive team.”

Over the last seven seasons, only the 2015-16 Cleveland Cavaliers (10) and the 2017-18 Golden State Warriors (11) claimed titles with defenses outside of the top five.

During SVG’s tenures in Miami, Orlando and Detroit, his teams finished in the top 10 in defensive rating eight times.

In his first six full seasons on the bench, Stan Van finished in the top six five times, and rode the league’s best defense to the 2009 NBA Finals.

Even during his unremarkable tenure with the Pistons, he was able to improve the Pistons from 19th in his first season to 10th in his last.

He’s built high-level units with players that no one would put on an All-Defensive team.

Hedo Turkoglu, Ryan Anderson, Vince Carter, Jameer Nelson, and current Pelican JJ Redick played as solid team defenders on those Orlando teams.

Yes, Dwight Howard was the centerpiece, but the Magic’s defense was only one rating point worse when he was off the court in 2008-09, 3.2 points in 09-10, and 2.7 points in 2010-11.

When the Pistons finished eighth defensively in 2017, their starting lineup consisted of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Marcus Morris, Tobias Harris, Reggie Jackson, and Andre Drummond.

At the very least the Pelicans could have some strong building blocks to work with.

Jrue Holiday remains your favorite player’s least favorite player, and one of the NBA’s undisputed top defenders — unless, of course, Holiday turns down an extension and/or the the Pelicans decide this offseason is the best time to move him for assets that fill multiple areas of need.

Lonzo Ball displayed some incredible instincts on the defensive end at times; either as an on-ball defender, and in the passing lanes as well.

The rest of the Pelicans’ current roster has plenty of work to do.

The Pelicans fouled way too often, gave up too many points in the paint, and failed to grab a rebound to close out too many possessions.

They changed ends of the floor too slowly and gave up too many easy baskets before they gave themselves a chance to set their defense.

And let’s not talk about their rotations. Remember plays like this?

Or this?

In summary, they were poor in far too many areas.

Van Gundy’s attention to detail should serve players like Zion Williamson, Jaxson Hayes, and Nickeil Alexander-Walker immensely.

He’s a coach in the purest sense of the word. He loves the nuances of strategy and creating the right situations for his players to thrive.

Listen to Stan discuss his basic defensive principles:

Defensive Musts with Stan Van Gundy (Retired)

What are your core values on defense? Coach Stan Van Gundy shares his top five: ✅ Get back ✅ Protect the paint, MUST close and contest ✅ Pressure the ball ✅ Defending without fouling ✅ Block out and rebound Click here for more #basketball content: #CoachesInsider

Posted by Basketball Coaches Insider on Wednesday, September 25, 2019

If you don’t have time to watch the video in full, I’ll list them here.

  1. Get Back
  2. Protect the Paint
  3. Close and Contest
  4. Pressure the Ball
  5. Defending without Fouling
  6. Block out and Rebound

That’s Basketball 101, but many of the young Pelicans players have yet to either learn or consistently apply those lessons.

So the Van Gundy School for Wayward Defenders is now open.

Van Gundy will demand that the quietest team that Redick has ever played for starts communicating.

He will expect them to be disciplined in their assignments and prepared for adjustments.

They will defend or they will not play.

And to Pelicans fans, that dedication to stopping people, that relentless approach to making your opponent uncomfortable, is music to their ears.

We’ve seen New Orleans score in all manner of ways, but the time has come for the Pelicans to really protect their nest.

Tell ‘em Stan.

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @DMGrubb.