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Trying to Find the Smile
Before I drown in sorrow, I just want to say
How will I laugh tomorrow, when I can’t even smile today?
— Suicidal Tendencies, How Will I Laugh Tomorrow
New Orleans Pelicans News
The losing streak stretched by 3 to 8 over the last week, dropping their record to 15-24. They have gone 4-13 since they were last at 0.500 . . . falling to 11-11 on December 15 in Denver. They are currently 7.5 games behind the 8th seed in the West (ignoring tie-breakers) with 4 teams in between, which means the playoffs are all but a mathematical impossibility. On the other end of spectrum, the Pelicans have the 9th worst record in the NBA, placing them deep in the lottery, with just a 6.1% chance of a top 3 pick, which is the only way a team in the 9th slot can land in the top 5, and being in the top 5 is the only way the Pelicans keep their first-round pick this season.
The 101-95 was actually closer than the score indicates, as they led the Spurs for about 2/3 of the game. The Pelicans took the lead partway through the fourth before San Antonio took it back for good with 6:11 left in the game . . . only 9 seconds before Tim Duncan fouled out. Yup. The Pelicans could not take advantage, however, as the Spurs just stiff-armed them, with the lead never being smaller than 2 after the 2:05 mark. During that final stretch, the Pelicans made just 1 shot, a short shot by Roberts. They missed 1 free throw and 4 field goals with only the last 2 after the intentional fouling began.
The loss to the Rockets was closer than that to the Spurs, 103-100, and it was far closer than the score for this game indicates. The Pelicans led for almost 47 minutes of the game but the Rockets led fr the final 28 seconds, which counts far more in the record books. After losing the lead with 58 seconds left to play, the Pelicans tied the game just 11 seconds later thanks to a made free throw from Davis. He, however, missed his prior one, and the team missed 2 field goals after losing the lead, including a good shot by Miller to tie with 3 seconds on the clock, but it clanged off the rim and the Rockets rebounded the ball, passed it, then tossed it down the court to kill the clock for good.
In the interest of balance, the 97-87 loss to the Warriors was far worse than the score indicates. After playing nearly 2 quarters of relatively solid basketball, the Warriors cut an 11-point lead to a 2-point one over the course of just over 4 minutes. Atrocious offense, atrocious defense. The Warriors outscored the Pelicans 45-33 in the second half, and dropped the game. The Warriors won this game by carving up the Pelicans’ interior. They shot 50% from 2, which made their 2-point shots more efficient for them than their threes, on which they were 6 of 22. The Pelicans got to the line more than the Warriors and scored more there, as well. Despite their rebounding advantage, the Pelicans’ missed shots haunted them throughout the second half, with Eric Gordon going just 3 of 17 in the game, missing only 5 in the first half, 12 in the second half.
The coming week features four games, all at different times, which is a rare occurrence. The Pelicans play in Memphis later today at 4 p.m. (and the game is on NBATV), then the team returns home Tuesday to host the Kings. Friday the team is in Detroit, then Orlando comes to the Crescent City Sunday evening.
On the player front, Tyreke Evans returned from his latest ankle setback, and Jason Smith missed the Warriors game after being diagnosed with loose cartilage in the knee. He’ll have surgery on Wednesday to address that.
Also, Dell Demps addressed the possibility of calling up Pierre Jackson, as detailed by Nakia Hogan:
“We made an agreement before the draft that if we drafted him he’d be one to go overseas for a year because of our (depth at guard) and next summer we would come back and re-evaluate if it was going to be a good fit or not.
“We did that for a number of reasons: one, because it is an overloaded position; and two, we do not have a draft pick this coming up year, so we are thinking of him as our draft pick for 2014.
“When he went overseas, things didn’t work out and he ended up coming back, then he went to the D-League. He’s playing exceptionally well. Obviously when a player is playing well he wants to expedite that process. But we are still not ready to do that.
“Obviously, we don’t want to hold the kid back. We have been working with his representatives to try to find a win-win solution for everybody. For us, our original plan for him was to evaluate the situation next summer. Unless something drastic changes, we want to keep the same plan. But we are open if something else comes along that makes sense.”
It does not look like he’ll be a Pelican this season.
There are other nice tidbits in the article, as well.
The Pelicans are also reportedly trading for Tyshawn Taylor, a point guard with the Nets. The Pelicans will also receive cash while sending a heavily-protected second-round draft pick. This is likely just a dump for the Nets, and the Pelicans will likely keep their draft pick. Taylor would not likely have a major positive effect on the Pelicans on-court performance should he play much at all.
Around Bourbon Street Shots
On this week’s In the NO, you can imagine the topics of discussion . . .
Chris Trew was joined by Joel Meyers on this week’s Trew 2 the Game.
With injuries stirring the rotations, writers put on their thinking caps and took a look at the roster and the team’s performance thus far. Jake Madison looked at how the players’ performances differed in the first half compared to the second. Then, Michael Pellissier looked at how much better Davis plays in the fourth quarter and why now might be a great time for Eric Gordon to shine.
`Voices’ of the People
Here’s a comparison of our center options:
Stiemsma: ZERO wins produced per 48 minutes. No clue who to box out or how. Can’t run on a fast break. Poor to average finisher. Rarely gets open to receive a pass in the paint. No leaping ability. 8 fouls per 48.
Ajinca: Average, with .1 WP48. Exceptional height and wingspan. Best blocker of the 3. Shooting touch out to 15 feet, but at an average percentage. Slowest foot speed and quickness of the 3. Looks to receive the ball, finishes with dunks or smooth shots. Gets lost on defense and is too slow to catch up. Not much of a leaper. Even more fouls than Stiemsma.
Withey: over TWICE average production at .242 WP48, but with smaller sample size. Looks for his man to box out on defensive end. Soft touch around the basket. Does not take mid-range shots, leading to efficiency in his scoring. Can run in transition. Can recover after a screen. Gets himself open along the baseline. Not much of a leaper. Biggest knock – No experience playing against starting centers. Let’s get him some.
Davis: Best WP48 at .260. Quick and long enough to recover from anywhere in the paint. Range out to 18 feet. Best leaper, best hands, and most confidence of the group. Fastest in transition. Respected by the officials. Can defend on the perimeter as well as the paint. We should keep this guy.
Liked what I saw on defense. Tired Houston legs probably helped, but a good, smart effort overall. Now if the bigs would stop fouling all the time we might see some wins.
Miller looks to be a solid bench guy. He made mistakes, but he made so many smart plays too. Loved watching him yell at Withey on defensive positioning.
AD’s post game has surprised me. I didn’t think he was this far along. To be fair, his posts were coming v weaker defenders (Parsons, Montiejunas, and Casspi I believe). Spot on about his drives. His quickness and length shock defenders and bail him out of tough shots with foul calls. It works, but he needs more polish.
I just don’t see it with Rivers at all. His ceiling looks like a rotation player. His defense seems to get more praise than it deserves- and no I don’t care about Harden breaking his ankles. He isnt a pg. He can get to the paint but he will likely never be a good finisher and he doesn’t have good vision. I hope he continues to improve, he is better this year, but he is still a very flawed player
Actually EG’s performance against the Rockets proves Michael’s point. With 3 of the big 5 hurt, EG’s role is expanded in the offense and he’s putting up more points. But Michael is also right that EG skills are redundant when Holliday and Evans are healthy.
Besides there are 2 ways this team can significantly improve in the offseason – find someone willing to trade for EG which could free up significant cap space and/or land a top 5 pick that’s protected in the draft. Both of these have a better chance of happening if Anderson, Holliday and Evans stay off the court for as long as possible. EG will continue to put up big numbers when he is the only guard/wing who can score. This may get another team to bite and offer a deal. Also, as we lose more games in a season in which we don’t make the playoffs anyway, the Pels have a better chance of landing one of those top 5 draft picks. And Anderson, Holliday and Evans can fully heal to fight another day.
With the team losing so many games in a row in the West where the average record is better than 22-18, the consciousness of the fan mercifully thinks a little more about the future, a little less about the present. Often, this is interpreted as “the draft,” despite there being other ways for a team to improve, such as with trades and free agent acquisition. Another way to improve is to work with the inexperienced players you have on the roster, which includes draft picks and players who are newer to the NBA but have played in other leagues.
Today, we take a quick look at how the inexperienced players are doing, focusing on changes in performance. Also, I’m ignoring how these players were acquired. The fact that some was drafted in slot X or not drafted at all is on the GM’s of the NBA, not the players. If they are all right at each slot, it means something; if they are wrong at some point, then I don’t see the value in factoring that number. I can’t tell which is the case, so I ignore it.
- Jeff Withey: 1st NBA Season, 1st Season in NOLA, Age 23. Withey has only logged 111 minutes across 20 games of a possible 39, even with the Pelicans thin in the front court all season. Staring at his numbers and minutes played, there is nothing really to be gleaned in terms of statistical changes. With such small counts, one rebound, one shot made, etc. makes a big difference. The signal just is not there. He’s played in 8 of 10 January games thus far, so he is poised to rack up more minutes going forward. In fact, he’s already played as many or more minutes than he did in each of his first 2 NBA months. His “advanced” numbers look good, but they are just unreliable with such small sample size, so I will not focus on them. Listed at 7’0″, 235 pounds and slow of foot, easing him into the NBA was likely the way to go. I know many fans are looking forward to see what this guy can do, but patience is clearly required, and reasonable expectations would likely be helpful.
- Darius Miller: 2nd NBA Season, 2nd Season in NOLA, Age 23. Miller played 694 minutes last season in 52 games, but has only played 211 minutes in 16 games this season, which is nearly the same average. He has played between 15 and 30 minutes in each of the last 5 games, and he never had such a streak last season. After missing much of the offseason work and November due to stress fracture, he’s still improved his play. His 3P% is practically unchanged from last season (0.391, 6 of 14 in the last 5 games), his 2P% has increased (0.533, 4 of 8 in the last 5 games), and has missed only 1 free throw in 13 attempts in his career (that miss occurred this season). His TS% is up this season and good (0.585), as are his PER and WS/48, though they are not yet near NBA-average (7.7, 0.56). His rebounding has dropped a little, and though his AST% is relatively unchanged, his TOV% is down considerably. He is fouling at about the same rate. Miller appears to be on an upward trajectory from last season, and he may take a larger step if he’s still overcoming missing camp.
- Austin Rivers: 2nd NBA Season, 2nd Season in NOLA, Age 21. Austin Rivers has seen 375 minutes across 27 games this season. This is over 9 minutes per game less than he played last season, in part due to a thin guard squad last season. Austin has yet to his NBA-legs under him (if they are there), but he is improving. Though he seems to be be improved on offense and defense from early last season, along with displaying additional confidence and strength, he’s just not finishing well. (Yet?) Despite only marginal increases in scoring efficiencies (from bad to bad, now at 0.447 TS%, 0.409 eFG%), his PER and WS/48 have increased (8.9, 0.000) due to higher attempt rates per 36 minutes. The strange situation of him being played more when he was bad last season (out of near-necessity) then playing less when he’s improved (out of semi-luxury), I think makes his case seem really odd. As always, Austin is polarizing, but it is clear that he is getting better in part as a result of him working his tail off. His FT% is up to the poor 0.614 on a higher attempt rate. His AST% is up (0.143), and his TOV% is down (0.099), with a ratio of better than 1.4. His rebounding is level and his steals are up. All of this in the face of publicly performing quite poorly and quite spectacularly last season. I have not idea what Austin Rivers will turn out to be, but I have no doubt in my mind that he’ll reach his potential, whatever that is. That work ethic, that dedication . . . that’s something.
- Brian Roberts: 2nd NBA Season, 2nd Season in NOLA, Age 28. Roberts is another polarizing guard for the Pelicans. Roberts is not a starting caliber guard and likely will not be in his career. He’s been getting starts in spite of this. The injury to Holiday requires a choice, and the choice was Roberts over Rivers. This choice has made his presence even more polarizing. In the large, Roberts is worse this season than last. His PER and WS/48 have dropped but are higher than those of Rivers (12.3, 0.065). His AST% is down while his TOV% is up, but his ratio is better than that of Rivers (0.216, 0.123, 1.756). His TS% is slightly down, eFG% slightly up, but . . . you guessed it . . . better than Rivers (0.515, 0.463). From the line, he’s deadly . . . 109 of 120 during his NBA career. He’s 28 and on an expiring contract, while Rivers is locked in for next season with an option for the following one that must be addressed in late October. So . . . pour minutes into the better rotation player who is playing worse or into the worse rotation player who has shown improvement and room to grow? It’s a tough problem, but the answer is both. Roberts may not have a future here, but he likely has a future in the NBA, and the team showcasing him in an investment in attracting future free agents (who knows if it will pay off), as not only do these players discuss their experiences with team among themselves, players can observe from afar which teams will give them a chance when they want it. I’m not saying that this is the best use of NBA minutes . . . I have no idea . . . I’m just listing the merits. The cost is clearly the potentially slower development of Rivers, absolutely. Some will say playing Roberts will result in too many wins (as a bad thing), others will say playing him is the best way to lose. I’m not getting into that, but he’s played between 24 and 35 minutes since Holiday went down, which is an increase from 17.8 minutes per game he’s averaged this season (which is an increase over his minutes per game last season). He’s only seen 588 minutes across 33 games this season. Additionally, over the course of January he’s shown improved performance relative to November and December. It may, thus, be that he needs minutes to really play his best basketball. At any rate, as far as development goes, he’s not showing much, but there is reaso to pay attention to see if he can improve upon his performance so far this season with more minutes and a clear role behind him.
- Greg Stiemsma: 3rd NBA Season, 1st Season in NOLA, Age 28. Stiemsma is playing a typical number of minutes per game based on his career to this point, but he’s been limited in the number of games he could play due to a knee injury. He’s shooting less than he has in his career, though he’s shooting within his career envelope (0.568 TS%). He is also getting to the line less often, which offsets his small increase in FG%. He’s rebounding better than he has in his career (0.137 TRB%) both offensively and defensively. Assists, steals, and blocks are all down while his turnovers are through the roof (0.270, 6th worst in the NBA among players who have logged at least 200 minutes). On the bright side, he’s played more minutes in January than in prior games for the Pelicans combined (134 v. 129), and those numbers are somewhat better than his season averages. Might he play better? Sure. There is not a ton of evidence that he’s actually improve his overall game so much as get a little better at his job, which is rebounding for the most part. He won’t get the change anything too much if he keeps fouling like a madman, however . . . 6.3 fouls per 36 minutes. Fouls and turnovers . . . the cost to the team may stifle any real chances he has to grow.
All of the stats above are based on the data and various tools at basketball reference. The above smattering of numbers all fit the eye test (my eyes), so it’s not just a numerical exercise to track this. I encourage everyone to click on the links, sift through the data, consider the games you have watched, and draw your own conclusions. Just remember, player development is a tricky business.
Beyond that, development minutes must be allocated among various targets, and those minutes, in all likelihood, decrease wins in the near term, or make the losses worse. moreover, when there is no clear-cut ascension of a young player, it is tempting to question the development program as a whole. The above could very well be some illusion, and only time will tell. I’m not sure how many of these guys the Pelicans need to contribute (or have some other team think they can), but it’s got to be more than none. We’ve dealt with that here in New Orleans, and it was partially responsible for the best players in the city at that time going to different times can contending for titles elsewhere.
Likely without a draft pick this season, the Pelicans need some of these guys to improve, just as they may need Pierre Jackson on the court or as an asset.