With a 7-3 record in their last ten games, the New Orleans Pelicans have been one of the hottest teams in the NBA. It’s a most welcome sign for a team that has been plagued with injuries over the past few seasons that have derailed their playoff aspirations.
The start to this season looked like it wasn’t going to be any different from years past. In the offseason, starting small forward Solomon Hill tore his left hamstring during a workout. At the earliest, his expected recovery time would place him back near the end of the season, if at all. To add to that, the Pelicans’ draft pick, Frank Jackson, a promising young point guard out of Duke, also underwent surgery for a foot injury.
If that wasn’t enough, Rajon Rondo, one of the Pelicans’ top free agent signings, missed the first 13 games of the season with a muscle injury. For a team that already had shaky depth coming into the season, this could have been an early death knell for the Pelicans. Rondo was expected to be the primary playmaker for New Orleans alongside Jrue Holiday in the backcourt.
With Rondo sidelined, however, DeMarcus Cousins stepped into a new role as a point center. Cousins often initiated plays from the top of the key and so far on the season, he’s averaging a career-high 5.4 assists per game. Cousins has always been one of the best passing big men in the league, but he’s taken that to another level this year and it’s really helped the Pelicans stay afloat in the Western Conference. Having the ball in his hands a lot more has also led to a career-high 5.2 turnovers per game, but it’s something the team needed and are better off because of it.
One player who was definitely a beneficiary of Cousins’ playmaker role was his fellow star in the frontcourt, Anthony Davis. Davis’ scoring numbers are down a bit, 25.9 points per game compared to his 28.0 last season, but he’s been scoring much more efficiently. He’s shooting career-highs from the field (56.5 percent) and from three-point range (37.8 percent).
Another big reason for the Pelicans’ early success has been their bench. Even before the injuries hit, this was a team that had questionable depth. The rash of injuries forced the Pelicans to sign veteran point guard Jameer Nelson and he’s helped lead the charge off the bench. He’s no longer the borderline All-Star he was in Orlando, but his veteran leadership and poise have brought a stabilizing presence to the team.
In his first game with Pelicans on Oct. 22 against the Los Angeles Lakers, which coincidently was their first win of the season, Nelson had five points and five assists while making a noticeable impact on the court. Two games later in a win over the Sacramento Kings, Nelson put up a season-high 18 points to go along with six assists, and four rebounds.
Also giving the Pelicans a major boost in the second unit is Darius Miller. Once a highly-touted recruit at Kentucky, Miller struggled to make much of an impact in the league during his first stint in New Orleans from 2012-2015. The Pelicans cut him early in the 2014-15 season and he found himself playing in Germany the past two years.
Now, in his second go-round with the team, he’s emerged as a valuable contributor off the bench. He’s averaging career-highs in shooting from the field (51.9 percent) and from the three-point line (49.2 percent). What’s important about his shooting from downtown is he’s become a deadly three-point shooter on a team that has lacked shooting from the outside. In the past five games, Miller’s put up 12.6 points per game on 68.8 percent shooting.
To make matters even better, Rondo made his season debut on Nov. 13. Since he’s been back, he’s taken the reigns from Cousins as the Pelicans primary playmaker. His 5.6 assists are second on the team behind Holiday.
Currently, the Pelicans sit in seventh place in the West, although they are a mere half game back of the San Antonio Spurs and the third seed. Their 11-8 record is the best mark they’ve had at this point in the season over the past three years. Their upcoming stretch of games is going to show a bit more of what they’re made of.
In the next ten games, the Pelicans will play the Golden State Warriors twice, the Minnesota Timberwolves, Portland Trail Blazers, Denver Nuggets, Philadelphia 76ers, Houston Rockets and Milwaukee Bucks, all teams with winning records. The Warriors, Wolves, Trail Blazers, Nuggets, and Rockets are all ahead of the Pelicans in the West standings.
With Cousins and Davis playing at superstar levels and the bench giving them a surprising boost, the Pelicans are looking to make their mark in the Western Conference this year. At a time when the majority of the NBA is changing and teams are focused on elite outside shooting and non-traditional lineups, the Pelicans are hoping to buck the trend. They’re trying to pound the rest of the league into submission with the best big man combo in the league. Only time will tell if they’ll be successful this year. So far, they’re off to a good start.
High-Performance Mindfulness: What Players Can Learn From Brandon Ingram
By implementing a Daily Gratitude Practice, Brandon Ingram may be ahead of the game. Jake Rauchbach dives in.
For younger players, maybe one of the most important elements of successful progression is their ability to mentally and emotionally self-manage.
Throughout a career, and as the stakes increase, the amount of external variables that a player is faced with processing can multiply exponentially both on and off the court.
For players with effective and leverageable skill sets for clear decision-making, as well as mental and emotional self-management, this is a valuable asset. However, for many, it can be like a trial by fire. This means that habits picked up through a career to cope can be either supportive or destructive.
However, players who have the foresight to employ proactive self-management tools — before the volatility of life hits — have a leg up on overall well-being, and with on-court performance.
Brandon Ingram, who is still only 22 years old, helps to shed light on how important it is to have mental and emotional processes in place.
Ingram, who is having a career-best year in New Orleans, averaging 25.4 points per game on 49% shooting, experienced ups and downs during his time with the Lakers.
Whether through proactively seeking out mental skills or by picking them up along the way, BI has seemed to find a process that works for him. He also seems to have found an understanding of how important it is to train these internal habits.
“People around me, they can give me talks, they can tell me what to do, but if I don’t have the right mentality, then nothing good is going to happen for me because I’m not going to be confident,” Ingram said.
As one of the younger up and coming players in the league, it is no coincidence that Ingram learned early the importance of implementing a Daily Gratitude Practice. He employs this tool both in the morning and at night after practice.
Neuroplasticity & Epigenetics
As neuroscientists like Dr. Joe Dispenza are now showing, the differentiating factor in human potential may be the ability to harness thought and emotion. In his Wall Street Journal bestseller, Becoming Supernatural, Dispenza provides several studies showing how these two variables are being shown to directly affect the up or down-regulation of the human gene. Meaning, for every thought or emotion that is produced in the body, there is a corresponding chemical reaction. Each one of the reactions, whether positive or negative, either up-regulate or down-regulate the gene. This is especially true for longstanding thought patterns.
According to neuroscience, Ingram, through his Daily Gratitude Practice, may be positively influencing more levels to his game than he consciously realizes. Players like Ingram who can entrain to higher mental and emotional habits can positively influence physiology and performance.
Conversely, a player with chronic and ingrained negative thought and emotional patterns, such as depression, often produces volatile or underwhelming on-court results. On a psychosomatic level, their mental and emotional states are affecting their physiology and performance.
A player like Ingram, who self admittedly went through many ups and downs, has been able to stabilize and hit his stride this season with the Pelicans. What about the players that have not been able to right the ship?
A deeper understanding of how mindset and emotional states affect a player’s physiology and performance can help us understand what is going on under the hood.
Player Development tools that do this can work to reshape long-standing mental and emotional patterns. Furthermore, providing players with a systematic way of shifting well-being and performance upwards can provide alignment.
Energy Psychology – Player Development
As discussed in previous columns, Energy Psychology – Player Development works on the habit level of the player to remove mental and emotional barriers that inhibit peak performance and overall wellbeing.
Based on Dispenza’s neuroscience findings, when holding all else constant, there seems to be real evidence to show that a player’s thoughts and emotions are the drivers behind overachievement. With this, EP methods help player’s upshift mental state, physiology and performance by neutralizing subconscious blocking thoughts and emotions.
Whether by the player proactively implementing these techniques or through standardized programs set up by the team, working in this fashion goes much deeper than just getting up shots.
Younger Players & The G-League
Ingram is ahead of the curve in regards to implementing elements of consistent mental skills training into his everyday routine. Other players should take heed.
For younger players still on their rookie contracts — or those just coming into the league — support like this may be a deciding factor in how they move throughout the rest of their career.
The G League also may be an ideal proving ground. A proactive mental performance initiative could provide players still trying to solidify an opportunity for an added skill-set. This could provide a leg-up, not only on the court once that call-up opportunity does come.
NBA Daily: Sixth Man of the Year Watch — 12/6/2019
A Washington sharpshooter joins the ranks of the league’s best reserves, but the Sixth Man conversation still focuses on Los Angeles in Douglas Farmer’s opinion.
In this update on Sixth Man of the Year candidates, one name must be bid farewell. Unexpected to begin the year but increasingly expected in recent weeks, Charlotte Hornets guard Devonte’ Graham has played too well to keep coming off the bench, most recently shining with 33 points on 10-of-16 shooting from deep Wednesday. In a lost season for the Hornets, Graham’s emergence may be the brightest silver lining, hence his starting their last 13 games.
A similar fate is set to befall another name below in the absence of an injured superstar, but technically speaking, that Brooklyn Nets guard has not started half his team’s games yet, so he remains in this listing one more time …
5. Dāvis Bertāns — Washington Wizards
Bertāns’ recent shooting spurt has not brought the Wizards many wins, but it has led to him reaching double digits in eight of their last nine games, including four instances of 20 or more points. During that stretch, Bertāns has hit 47.5 percent of his looks from beyond the arc, the type of shooting that earns notice.
At this point, he is averaging only 13.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, numbers that may not bring out the checkbook this summer, but if Bertāns keeps at his recent pace, his contract year should elicit a worthwhile payday. That would be true in any summer, but even more so in an offseason devoid of many pertinent free agents like 2020 should be.
4. Dwight Howard — Los Angeles Lakers
No. 39’s numbers have not taken off, and they will not, but this space will continue to trumpet Howard’s impact because it has been surprising and quietly important. Even beyond his counting stats — 7 points and 7 rebounds per game — playing fewer than 20 minutes per game will keep Howard from broader recognition for most of the season.
In the Lakers’ 12 wins by 10 or fewer points, Howard has totaled a plus-38. As long as Anthony Davis stays healthy and Los Angeles is the title favorite, Howard’s contributions should not be diminished, even if he is not the prototypical sixth man candidate.
3. Spencer Dinwiddie — Brooklyn Nets
When the Nets face the Hornets tonight, Dinwiddie’s nominal bench status will be in the rearview mirror for the foreseeable future. Through 21 games, he has started 10, fitting the sixth man qualification by one role night. With that distinction, his 20.8 points and 5.8 assists per game place him firmly in this conversation.
If he will have started half Brooklyn’s games by the end of the day, then why include him between Howard and a three-time Sixth Man of the Year winner? Because when Kyrie Irving returns from his extended absence (shoulder injury), Dinwiddie may return to the bench and skew his games off the bench back to the majority of his action.
That effect combined with Dinwiddie keeping the Nets steady and in the East’s top half without Irving is a unique combination of a contribution.
2. Lou Williams — Los Angeles Clippers
Death, taxes and Lou Williams. He has broken 20 points in 14 games this season with two more cracking 30, averaging 21.1 points per game. That was to be expected, even with his slow start to the year. The 14-year veteran is a metronome of a bucket-getter.
His 6.3 assists per game, however, are on pace to be a career-high. While that may not have been anticipated, this will be Williams’ fifth year in a row raising that average. Those dispersals have not shorted Williams’ scoring, as everyone knows. That is all to say, the league’s ultimate sixth man, maybe its best ever, has improved as a complete player in the latter half of his possibly interminable career.
1. Montrezl Harrell — Los Angeles Clippers
At some point this year, this biweekly Sixth Man listing may need to become a one-man testament. Harrell is rendering the preceding four nominations moot. His 19.1 points and 8.0 rebounds per game are impressive, but his pivotal role with the Clippers is even more deserving of lauds.
His 29.7 minutes per game are fourth for Los Angeles — a category Williams actually tops — and his plus-156 leads the Clippers handily, with only Kawhi Leonard’s plus-144 within 60 of Harrell. Yes, Harrell’s on-court impact in Los Angeles rivals Kawhi Leonard’s, despite one of them coming off the bench in 20 of 22 games and the other being the reigning Finals MVP.
The season is still in the early aughts — but some classic and new frontrunners are here to stay. For now, we’ll have to see how Paul George, Kyrie Irving and others ultimately impact the leaders on this list, but the Sixth Man of the Year race has only just started to heat up.
NBA Daily: Equal Opportunity System With Butler Fueling HEAT
Seemingly always trapped in “good but not good enough” territory, the Miami HEAT have finally turned a corner. They might even be contenders, writes Drew Mays.
209 wins, 202 losses.
That’s what the Miami HEAT have to show in the record column since LeBron James left in the summer of 2014.
Their record tells us out loud what we’ve known over the last five years: Miami is a proud franchise. The team maximizes what it has and is a perennial postseason threat no matter who is on the roster.
Middling seasons aren’t necessarily a good thing by NBA standards, however. Competitiveness is a stepping stone to title contention. Without contention, it makes sense to bottom-out and rebuild through draft capital and assets. 40-win seasons are neither of these things.
But what the HEAT have in their favor is their location. NBA stars love South Beach. And this summer, Miami got what it needed: A star to push them over the hump in Jimmy Butler.
Butler wasn’t the shiniest addition, but he was one of the most important. A top-15 player, Butler’s antics in Minnesota frustrated his value over the past few seasons.
Those annoyances were overshadowed by his play for Philadelphia in the playoffs last spring — even with Joel Embiid, Butler may have been the 76ers’ best player. Either way, he was definitely their most important. He took control of games as a ball-handler down the stretch, repeatedly working from 15-feet and in and running pick-and-roll when the games screeched to a halt and defenses were loaded up. With Butler in tow, the Sixers were a few bounces away from the Eastern Conference Finals — although, he’d tell you they would’ve won the whole thing.
Instead of running it back in Philadelphia, Butler flew south in free agency to where he’d always wanted to go: Miami. His signing, followed by the arrival of rookie Tyler Herro, the emergence of Kendrick Nunn, a jump by Bam Adebayo and the support of the rest of the roster has the HEAT at 15-6 and poised to make a deep playoff run.
Miami has seven players averaging double figures. Kelly Olynk, averaging 9.2 per game, is close to making it eight. The balance extends beyond scoring numbers – those eight players all play between 23 and 34 minutes, with fifth starter Meyers Leonard as the lowest-used regular at just under 19 minutes per game. No one shoots the ball more than Nunn and his 13.8 attempts per game, and four players average over 4 assists each night.
While most teams are built on top-down schemes with a few stars and role players filling in the blanks, Miami is thriving in an equal-opportunity system. Much of this has to do with their culture and ability to amplify each player’s talents.
This even attack wouldn’t exist if Herro wasn’t flourishing in his rookie season; if Nunn hadn’t become a revelation after going undrafted in 2018; if Adebayo hadn’t made a leap, detailed recently by Jack Winter; if Goran Dragic hadn’t accepted going to the bench after starting essentially the last seven years; if Duncan Robinson hadn’t developed into an NBA rotation player.
All of these things are hard to predict individually, let alone them coming together at once. But with Miami, and with what we know about Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra, it was almost a foregone conclusion.
Butler’s infusion into Miami’s culture has been the perfect marriage 20 games in. His toughness matches the HEAT’s, and he seems to respect the work ethic of his teammates – something that’s been a huge problem in the past. He’s been able to be “the guy” without forcing it, leading Miami in scoring, but trailing Nunn in attempts per game.
The HEAT’s diversity on offense has led to an effective field goal percentage of 55.2 percent, second-best in the league. They’re 3rd in three-point percentage, 6th in two-point percentage, and 7th in free throws made. They’re 10th in assists. Even with their league-worst turnover percentage, they are 11th in offensive rating and 6th in overall net.
Defensively, the team is doing what Miami has traditionally done. They’re eighth-best in opponent field goal percentage and 2nd in the entire league in three-point percentage at 31.6%. In today’s NBA, defending the three-point line that well will breed success.
After defeating the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday — and the defending champions’ subsequent loss to the Houston Rockets — the HEAT are tied with them for third place in the Eastern Conference standings. And we’re 20 games in, so what we’ve seen from them so far is real. They are contenders to represent the East in the Finals in June.
Toronto and the Boston Celtics are good. They’ve both had strong starts, bolstered by the ridiculousness of Pascal Siakam and the insertion of Kemba Walker, respectively. But they aren’t markedly better than Miami. Are their offenses good enough to overcome the HEAT in a playoff series?
The Milwaukee Bucks, the proverbial frontrunner, still have the glaring non-Giannis weaknesses. They lost Malcolm Brogdon and showed their vulnerability by losing four straight in the conference finals last year. Philadelphia struggled out of the gate, but have won 8 of their last 11. But sans Jimmy Butler, the Sixers face the same questions they faced before his arrival in 2018-19: Who is the guy down the stretch? Who can create offense late in a playoff game?
That hasn’t been answered for Philadelphia yet. There’s no assurance that it’ll be answered at all. That question is answered in Miami.
They have Butler now. They have their star.
Combine that with Herro, Nunn, Adebayo, Dragic, Justise Winslow — who they haven’t even had for half of their games thus far — and the rest of the package, and Erik Spoelstra has what he hasn’t had since LeBron James was still in Miami.