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NBA Preview: Pelicans look to stop bleeding against Knicks

New York’s hot start (4-1) should have New Orleans’ fans worried

NBA: New York Knicks at New Orleans Pelicans Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Is 2021-22 already slipping away for the New Orleans Pelicans?

At 1-5, the Pelicans may not be betting favorites outside of an OKC or HOU matchup until, well, a long time. Check the schedule and you’ll start to rattle off: ‘well that’s an L ... so is that ... that’s probably a loss ...”

With tonight’s match against the Tom Thibodeau-solid New York Knicks, and a four-game roadie at PHX, SAC, GSW, and DAL right after, it’s getting late early. The biggest, Zion-sized problem is the absence of an All-NBA type guy, while a collection of youngsters at guard and wing backfill missing points and rebounds.

Recent performances by rookie Herb Jones can excite a certain segment of Pelicans fans — this is us, people! — but the concept coming into this season was: WIN GAMES NOW, not LET HERB FLY.

Now at 1-5, and staring at 1-10, the Pels desperately need to make things happen against Julius Randle, Evan Fournier, and Kemba Walker.

The problem right now: the Knicks shooting the heck out of the ball. Fournier, Walker, Derrick Rose and even Alec Burks are streaking to start the year. Mitchell Robinson is a premium athlete at center, the real physical menace and shotblocking threat of the Knicks defense. Last year’s edition finished fourth in the league in Defensive Rating, including excellent work preventing fastbreak baskets. Typical Thibs right? How does that change now with two new guards at the top of the defense? And especially since neither comes with much of a defensive reputation.

Thibs All Offense?

The Knicks, led by a historically unimpressive cast of marksmen, is suddenly leading the league in made 3s. Will it last? Their defense ranks in the middle of the league. Sure, they’re in the top half of the league in rebounds and fewest turnovers, but if they have actual threats as shooters, Thibs’ crew will win a bunch of games.

Kemba Walker (58.1% 3FG) detailed in a recent Lowe Post Podcast just how much his shot went under construction while he was a youngster in the league. Fournier (41.9% 3FG) has always been excellent from behind the line. But Burks (39.1% 3FG)? Most of his years he hardly attempted non-corner 3s, but maintained his game through time by living at the line. Derrick Rose (54.5% 3FG) ... what can you even say about his career at this point? Just let he and Taj Gibson stick on the roster for however long they want, a la Udonis Haslem in Miami.

RJ Barrett and Randle haven’t even shot it well, yet!

Woes Around NO

The Pelicans offense is putrid, near the bottom of the league in points per game and shooting categories (2nd lowest in True Shooting% in the league). Just last night, they shot under 43 percent, which in 2021 is super bad, and under 30 percent from 3 in a loss to the Sacramento Kings.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker, expected to not only start/play major minutes, but also be a primary guard scoring option, is OFF to start the year. Even Devonte’ Graham has had long stretches of bricks — last night, he went 0-5 inside the 3-point line.

Turnovers have been a common topic, albeit with no one particular player a huge contributor outlying their usage — like, yeah, we’ve seen Ingram have some rough turnovers.

This team, without Zion, doesn’t have the depth going into roster slots 5-10. Two rookies, a second-year and a second-year undrafted guy soak up a ton of minutes — and we like their style and compatibility with the other players — but young players generally do not help your team win.

Let’s hope they prove me wrong tonight!

Who: New Orleans Pelicans (1-5) at New York Knicks (4-1)

Where: Smoothie King Center

When: October 30, 2021, 6:00 pm

How: League Pass, Bally Sports New Orleans, ESPN 100.3FM

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 @trabeta.