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NBA Preview: Pelicans’ Ingram versus Kings’ Barnes good early season matchup

Can some of New Orleans’ struggling producers find the mark against Sacramento?

NBA: Sacramento Kings at New Orleans Pelicans Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans will host the Sacramento Kings on Friday evening, looking for their first victory at home this season.

While the Kings have missed the playoffs now 15 years running, hope is abound. Every new campaign forgets previous failures, at least momentarily, but they’re also off to a 2-2 start. That’s quite respectable considering their completed schedule is a who’s who list in the Western Conference: Suns, Warriors, Jazz and Trail Blazers.

Leading the Sacramento charge has been none other than ... Harrison Barnes. That’s right. The nine-year veteran is averaging 26.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 4.3 threes. He’s shooting over 50% from the field and 3-point range.

Those numbers slightly eclipse Brandon Ingram’s in most facets, but a line of 25.6 PPG, 7.6 REB, 4.6 AST, 2.6 3s and a 47.7 FG%/48.1 3PT% is nothing to scoff at.

No one, of course, should expect for Barnes to maintain these MVP-like numbers all season, but the point is, the Pelicans are going to have to contain one of the hottest players out of the gates. Fortunately, David Griffin drafted a defensive dynamo in Herbert Jones.

The question Willie Green must answer before tip-off, though, should he deploy his blossoming rookie on the current fireball or a player who torched the Pelicans last season, De’Aaron Fox? If the coaching staff believes in recency bias, the choice may be an easy one.

Through four games, Fox is averaging more field goal attempts than points, shooting 16.7% from deep and turning the ball over 4.3 times a contest. His struggles have even carried over to the free throw line, where he is converting at an anemic 54.5% rate.

As a team, the Kings offense has been middle of the road: 110.5 PPG (12th), 44.4 FG% (18th) and 34.2 3PT% (13th). One area they’ve performed well in, however, has been in transition. They’re averaging 17.3 fast break points, third best in the Association. That’s a red flag for the New Orleans coaching staff as the Pels are allowing a league-worst 20.4 fast break points per game.

There’s little doubt that the Pelicans must play well defensively to win, yet the most alluring part of tonight’s matchup in my eyes will be when New Orleans has the ball. It’s no secret, the offense has struggled, just barely eclipsing 100 points per game. Their offensive rating is next to last. Thankfully, the Kings defense still appears on the easy pickings side.

Sacramento’s defensive rating (111.2) sits 24th in the league. Outside of Davion Mitchell, Maurice Harkless and Richaun Holmes, individual effort has not been up to par. They put opponents on the free throw line often (23.3 FTA — 27th) and do a lousy job on the defensive glass (70.0 DREB% — 29th). Will the Pelicans enjoy their best offensive performance on the young season? The odds are good and it could prove beneficial for those slumping.

Outside of Brandon Ingram and Devonte’ Graham, the shooting percentages for the majority of Pelicans could use a shot in the arm. Jonas Valanciunas has been fantastic overall, but the usually efficient big man has struggled to put the ball through the hoop in three of the five games. However, there’s no one who could use a bigger boost than Nickeil Alexander-Walker — and he knows it.

NAW has made just 27.8% of his field goals and 13.8% of his threes over his last three contests. Considering he’s attempted 18 field goals a game over that stretch, his performance has been a huge drain on the offense as a whole.

In fact, having NAW, Kira Lewis Jr., and/or Naji Marshall rediscover the touch would be great. So too would be the Pelicans winning their second game of the season.

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (1-4) vs Sacramento Kings (2-2)

When: October 29, 2021, 7:00 pm

Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans

Where to listen: ESPN 100.3 FM

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 @OlehKosel.