It’s going to be a rough start for the New Orleans Pelicans.
New Orleans fell to 0-2 on the young NBA season, after being stampeded by the Chicago Bulls 128-112.
Brandon Ingram led the Pelicans with 26 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists. Devonte’ Graham gave his second strong performance of the season, adding 21 points, six boards, and six dimes of his own.
They were far from enough though, as Chicago led by as many as 30 points before the Pelicans were able to shave a few points off of the final margin late.
Zach LaVine led all scorers with 32 points in 32 minutes, and DeMar DeRozan put up 26 of his own.
And, adding insult to injury, former Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball racked up a triple-double with 17 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists; to go along with three steals, a blocked shot and zero turnovers in 35 minutes on the court.
While the game didn’t play out in the same manner as the team’s opening night blowout loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, the Pelicans on court problems were the same.
Offensively, New Orleans was inconsistent. While the final shooting numbers looked good, as they had against the 76ers, they were inflated by the diminished resistance provided by the Bulls in the fourth quarter as the game was out of hand.
The Pels shot 6-for-21 in the opening frame, and were actually better from three point range (3-9) than from inside the arc (3-12).
Meanwhile, Chicago was taking advantage of New Orleans’ poor shot selection and turnovers to race out for easy points in transition.
The Pelicans’ 17 turnovers turned into 27 points for the Bulls. New Orleans was outscored on the fast break 24-16, and lost the battle for points in the paint.
Yes, the Pelicans are missing Zion Williamson, but their defensive effort to start the season has to be concerning to Willie Green and his staff, though he’s confident things will turn around sooner rather than later.
“We’re still building. This is just something that we have to go through as a unit,” Green said. “I told the guys in the locker room we’ll go through it together. I can see improvement game by game. We’re not where we want to be. But we’ll get there.”
Based on the numbers, the improvement from game one to game two is hard to find. The Bulls shot it better, and got more easy looks than Philly. And, they did so while getting a subpar performance from their interior scorer, Nikola Vucevic (10 points on 4-11 shooting).
|FG%||3PT%||Points off turnovers||fastbreak points||points in the paint||bench points|
New Orleans ranks 28th in the NBA defensively after two games, with a defensive rating of 121.3. The Pelicans have the league’s fourth-worst net rating (-17.8), barely topping the also winless Dallas Mavericks, Orlando Magic, and Oklahoma City Thunder.
And they are dead last in fast break points allowed, surrendering 26.5 per game.
Coach Green’s “.5” offense hasn’t clicked either, as New Orleans is closer to last in pace than it is to first.
The absence of Williamson from a team built to complement his unique skill set is impactful, but it doesn’t explain the lack of ball movement or player movement when the Pels have the ball.
New Orleans’ offensive rating of 103.5 (23rd in the league) will improve whenever Zion does return, but it shouldn’t be this bad with Ingram, Graham, Nickeil Alexander-Walker (19 PPG), and Jonas Valanciunas on the floor.
The start of this season has felt far too familiar when compared to seasons past, and it’s just the first week.
Inconsistency, lack of effort, and lack of leadership, all still appear to be areas of concern for the Pelicans at times. Another unexpected development after the offseason proclamations that no Pelicans team of recent vintage had competed so hard in its workouts.
That hasn’t been seen on the court.
There have been bright spots. NAW continues to look like a budding star. Ingram has maintained his numbers from a season ago, but his overall impact has been mixed. Graham has exceeded early expectations by being the team’s second leading scorer (19.5 ppg), most accurate shooter (56.5 FG%, 58.8 3P%), and providing 5.5 assists as a secondary ball handler.
Herbert Jones, who got the start in place of the injured Josh Hart, and Naji Marshall have provided the greatest resistance on defense, and are the only two Pelicans with positive plus-minus numbers.
However, it couldn’t help to hurt, seeing Ball excelling, while the Pelicans’ return from his sign and trade, Garrett Temple and Tomas Satoransky have combined for three points, two rebounds, three assists, and two steals so far this season.
Jaxson Hayes has yet to show the type of intensity or maturity that would suggest a breakout season is on the horizon.
And Jonas Valanciunas has struggled mightily since signing his two-year contract extension, making less than 37 percent of his shot attempts while averaging 13.5 points per game.
With two games against the Minnesota Timberwolves coming up, it will be difficult for things to turn around quickly.
The Wolves are another team that can punish the Pelicans both in the paint and from the perimeter. They are led by three strong scorers in Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, and D’Angelo Russell.
After beating the Houston Rockets 124-106 in their opener, Minny leads the NBA in pace, and rank seventh in ORTG (114.8), third in net rating (16.7), and fourth in true shooting percentage.
They also blocked 12 shots against the Rockets, showing off some rim protection not seen in years past.
The Pelicans desperately need not only a win, but they can’t keep losing the way that they have. They can’t return to New Orleans winless before facing the Atlanta Hawks next Wednesday.
It can’t get any worse. Can it?