New Orleans’ home opener is going to be a much juicier matchup than anyone could have possibly imagined before the start of the 2022-23 regular season.
The New Orleans Pelicans have the second-best net rating (+16.0) in the league after two games. Much more shockingly, their opponent, the Utah Jazz, sit closely behind in fourth (+12.0).
Despite the torrid starts out of the gates, few outside of New Orleans probably believe that the Pelicans are one of the best teams in the NBA, but I can guarantee you that no one thinks the Jazz will remain a force following the offseason trades of Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic.
Welcome to small sample-size theatre, where anything can happen.
This doesn’t negate the fact that the Pelicans are a good team though. Many picked them to reach the playoffs again, with Zion Williamson returning to a roster that squeezed into the previous postseason. However, it remains to be seen just how good they’ll be in the long run.
The offense, of course, was expected to shine and it has behind the five starters. The talent is obvious, with four players averaging more than 20 points per game. The Pelicans are averaging 127 points per game overall, second to the Jazz’s 127.5 PPG mark. They’ve been efficient (123.3 ORTG — 3rd), thanks to good shooting (58.2 TS% — 8th) and a decently low turnover percentage (14.1% — 12th).
On the other side of the floor, the defense has held their own, limiting opponents to 110.0 PPG (10th) and a 45.2 FG% (10th). They’ve done a great job of not fouling (17.5 PFs — 1st) and thus sending the opposition to the free throw line.
The biggest key to the game, though, may very well be in an area that the Pelicans have a decided advantage over the Jazz: the paint.
New Orleans is the league’s best rebounding team. They’re among the best in gobbling up defensive boards (75.5% — 5th), but stand alone in grabbing their own misses (42.3 OREB% — 1st). They also average more points in the paint than every team outside of the New York Knicks.
Utah, on the other hand, has done a poor job of rebounding opponent misses (6th-worst DREB%) and give up the most most points in the paint (66.0 PITP — 30th).
If these tendencies remain, it’ll be a bloodbath down low, with the Jazz needing to dominant the perimeter — which is precisely what they’ve done in posting a 2-0 record.
Only the Golden State Warriors (44.5 3PTA) are averaging more 3-point shot attempts than the Jazz (44.0 3PTA). On top of that, Utah is converting at a good rate. In their win over the Nuggets, the Jazz made 16 of 38 treys (42.1%) and then hit 20 of 50 (40%) to beat the Timberwolves.
Please notice the Jazz have knocked off two expected playoff teams.
It’s no secret that the 3-pointer has changed the game. Those who command that line can overcome a lot of deficiencies in other areas to still walk away with a win.
The Pelicans must force nearly all of Utah’s regular rotation into either difficult attempts or drive them off the 3-point line completely, paying particular attention to Lauri Markkanen (20.5 PPG), Jordan Clarkson (19.5 PPG) and Malik Beasley (15.0 PPG).
That trio is averaging over 25 3-point attempts a game — that’s more than the Pels are shooting as a team in games (24.0 3PTA).
Beat them up on the inside, but don’t get torched from the outside.
Easy peasy, right?
Who: New Orleans Pelicans (2-0) vs Utah Jazz (2-0)
When: October 23, 2022, 6:00 p.m. CT
Where to watch: Bally Sports New Orleans, NBA League Pass
Where to listen: WRNO 99.5
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.