As the sun moves lower and lower on the horizon for the New Orleans Pelicans and their hopes of playing another meaningful game during the 2019-20 campaign, it’s time to shift gears in earnest and start looking towards the offseason. So, let’s start with this roster’s biggest need: a good-sized defender on the perimeter who can better attempt to slow down some of the best players in the game.
In case you failed to pay close attention, the Pelicans struggled much more than usual against all the longer, super-talented scorers in the league.
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Throw the patented small sample size argument out the window because the domination was so complete by everyone that it’s impossible to dismiss the trend. To solidify the point, Tobias Harris (31-point average, 67.2 TS%), Bojan Bogdanovic (29.7-point average, 68.8 TS%) and Harrison Barnes (30-point average, 86.8 TS%) also took turns pulverizing New Orleans defense, posting numbers significantly higher than their season averages.
All nine of these names mentioned above finished in the top 15 in scoring against the Pelicans. Their efficiency, as you can plainly see, also wound up through the roof. Not so fun fact: New Orleans combined W-L record against opposition carrying the aforementioned players when they were in uniform? A laughable 2-17!
It’s understandable a team sitting eight games below .500 would struggle to beat better opponents, but the outcome shouldn’t have been this lopsided, especially with the Pelicans displaying vast improvement after December 18th.
Close to half of New Orleans 36 losses came against teams featuring elite size/length on the perimeter. They went 0-4 against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. Ditto versus Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks. And they made Jayson Tatum and Pascal Siakam look deserving of All-NBA First Team nominations.
Jayson Tatum scored 41 PTS in three quarters for the @celtics in January!— NBA (@NBA) May 17, 2020
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Despite his extensive defensive resume, Jrue Holiday isn’t Superman. His combination of excellent strength, quickness and instincts is negated by larger-framed athletes who do not suffer from either a lack of speed or savvy. These matchups naturally pose disadvantageous for other solid defenders on New Orleans roster too because Josh Hart, Lonzo Ball and Frank Jackson are not apt to handle greater size. No, the onus deserves to fall on the longer forwards, but therein lies the problem — none are considered even average defenders yet in their careers.
Brandon Ingram can harass players with his length, and he did a better job of that later in the season, but his slender frame is too easily outflanked. He needs to get stronger and wittier on that end of the floor. Zion Williamson was still immersed in learning basic principles like maintaining good positioning on all actions before the current season was suspended. Darius Miller has been unavailable all year, but he’ll never been confused with a defensive stopper. Kenrich Williams is a good team defender and possesses great instincts, but his on-the-ball defense requires more refinement.
With all that said, it’s no surprise why Derrick Favors made such a noticeable impact. His ability and experience were vital on a team requiring excellent help coverage to plug the various holes. However, he can only do so much to stem the tide.
At the start of games and third quarters, Favors’ presence proved golden when a large defensive ace on the perimeter wasn’t of the utmost priority yet. Teams generally don’t go to their best players consistently until stars either feel a need to take matters into their own hands or contests enter winning time. (Hello, dastardly clutch minutes!) But once that occurs, an adjustment needs to be made; however, Alvin Gentry never had the luxury of making the right move. He didn’t have that kind of stopper sitting on his bench.
You’re seldom going to shut down the greats, but you’ve got to offer some deterrence when they flip that proverbial switch. Say keeping LeBron out of the lane a little more often with a bigger body or forcing Luka to shoot over a taller defender.
Until Ingram or Zion enjoy the necessary growth in certain areas, David Griffin would do well to add a player to this roster more suited in slowing down the larger studs in the league because that may represent the best chance for this core to make a nice leap forward next season.