NBA Daily: Youthful Pelicans Figuring Things Out

After a very worrisome start, the Pelicans have seemed to figure out winning. Jordan Hicks caught up with Alvin Gentry and a few players after a road game last week to discuss the current state of their season and where things land moving forward.

Alan Draper profile picture
Sports Editor
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Losing Zion Williamson in the preseason — the expected franchise player moving forward — was a huge blow for the New Orleans Pelicans. Whether or not that news led to their dismal 1-7 start we’ll never be certain, but it definitely appears that the Pelicans are starting to turn things around.

Since that start, New Orleans has gone .500 over the last 10 games with two of those wins coming against the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers and all four losses coming against various top four teams in either conference.

With the team learning how to win games, it’ll make them far more dangerous once their presumed top player returns from injury.

Basketball Insiders recently had the opportunity to speak with Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry as well as Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball. They each gave their two cents on the season thus far and how they view specific players on the roster, their role with the team and where they see themselves going forward.

Rookie big man Jaxson Hayes has had a coming out of sorts over the last 10-game stretch. His raw athleticism is unmatched by most players — let alone bigs — in the league, and his innate ability to play above the rim makes him a nightmare of a matchup against most team’s frontcourts.

“Just being out there, defensive positioning and understanding game plans and stuff like that, he’s gotten better at that,” Gentry said of Hayes, “He’s got a long way to go…the only way you can get better is be out there playing. He’s got to do a better job of taking away the cheapy fouls.”

Gentry is not wrong. Hayes still looks like he’s struggling at times to be in the correct spots, but it’s apparent he is improving with every contest.

Jrue Holiday, the de facto leader of the group, has high praise for Hayes.

“I feel like this is crucial for him to play like this so early,” Holiday said. He brings something that a lot of guys don’t bring — rim protection, offensive rebounding, his athleticism above the rim is crazy. He’s always going to be a problem.”

Whenever a veteran has this many positive things to say about his young teammate, you know things have to be headed in the right direction.

Holiday has been a key component in turning the Pelicans’ season around. During the first eight games, he was averaging 14.5 points on just 38.6 percent from the field. In their last nine — where it seems like the Pelicans are starting to figure things out — he’s gone for 21.4 points per game on 45.2 percent.

After a close loss to the Utah Jazz on the road, Holiday reiterated how New Orleans can be successful.

“I think we are best when we’re aggressive on the ball, make it hard for guys to score, get into our paint and make plays,” Holiday said.

At one point in the game, they were down by 20 points but ended up losing by just eight, although they were within four with 20 seconds left.

Holiday has played at an All-Star level for at least the last two seasons, so expect him to continually pick up his level of play. Through the first chunk of the season, it’s pretty apparent that his play will be a big indicator of wins and losses.

Ingram has slowly turned into the go-to guy at the end of games. He scored seven straight in the closing minutes to hold off the Phoenix Suns on the road last week. When asked about his mentality late in close games, Ingram took a team-first approach.

“The mentality is just trying to win the basketball game,” Ingram said. “Trying to get to my spots and try to get a win at the end of the day.”

Unprompted, Ingram then went into what he can improve.

“Where I got to get better at is me coming into games like that, having a mentality of being the aggressor,” Ingram said. “Making sure I’m getting into the paint and getting my teammates shots also so we can have a rhythm going into the fourth quarter.”

Ingram is averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, and assists, despite playing slightly fewer minutes than his previous two seasons in Los Angeles. He’s also shooting a scorching 45.9 percent from three. In fact, he’s already made more three-pointers this season than he did all of last season.

“I think I’m more confident, I put up repetitions every single day to be confident in making those shots,” Ingram said. “So whatever the defense gives me, I just try to knock those shots down.”

The team is awaiting the return of Williamson, but another key player — Lonzo Ball — has missed some time this season and has been on a minutes restriction the last three games. When asked how he felt, Ball said, “I’m great, I wish I didn’t have to be on [a minutes restriction] but I’m just trying to be cautious so I don’t get hurt again.”

Gentry mentioned how Lonzo is a “tremendous passer,” but that it’s difficult to find minutes for every player on the team.

“It’s tough to play 10-12 guys, as a coaching staff you just have to make a decision on 8-9 guys,” Gentry said.

This could be why minutes have been so sporadic for some guys on the roster. Surely things will even out as the season goes, but Gentry definitely made it clear that there is plenty of young talent on the roster and it is hard enough to spread the minutes now. Just imagine how difficult it will be when Williamson returns and gets at least 30 minutes per game.

The New Orleans Pelicans are definitely in a solid position. To a degree, they have started to figure out how to win games. They are still struggling on the defensive end, but offensively things are beginning to tick. In fact, they are scoring 115.7 points per game, good for fifth in the league. Their offensive rating of 109.9 also lands them in the top 12.

The most surprising thing this writer heard during the rounds of interviews? Gentry talking about players wanting the ball late in games.

He was discussing how Ingram wants the ball late in crunch time and was asked if most players ask for the ball in those situations.

“No, they do not. Trust me on that one, they do not,” Gentry said.

New Orleans may not be playoff-bound this season. But their roster is young, dynamic and set up perfectly for the future.

Losing Anthony Davis was always going to be devastating, but the Pelicans’ future is about as bright as anyone could hope just months after losing its franchise player.

Alan is an experienced writer of online betting and casino guides. He is one of the main editors of Basketballinsiders.

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