New Path the Pelicans Are On Makes Coaching Change Seem Pointless

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Published: December 22, 2015

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

This is a popular saying attributed to one of President Carter’s advisors in 1977. The idea was that the government was hemorrhaging billions of dollars trying to tinker with things that didn’t need tinkering with, while ignoring the true problems that did need to be fixed. Ah, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

But while most agree with this quote, it has to be examined closer because we can’t possible argue that ONLY broken items need to be tinkered with. The mop wasn’t broken, but Joy Mangano tinkered with it and revolutionized the product for the next generation. There is not simply broke and not broke. There is flawed, less flawed, and ideal as well. And only changing things up when something is broke removes the opportunity to make something good great, and make something that is great, ideal.

Such was the logic this summer when the Pelicans front office and ownership group saw a team that was good, but not great, and made significant changes to the coaching staff in order to take it to the next level. The team was by no means broke, having reached the playoffs for this first time since the rebuild, but they believed that with some tinkering, they could take practically the same unit to the next level. At the core of their frustration was the pace that the Monty Williams-led Pelicans played at for the past two to three years. GM Dell Demps had filled the roster with young guards and a once-in-a-generation big man in Anthony Davis, and yet the Pelicans were 27th in pace.

So when Monty Williams was let go, the primary objective was to find a head coach who could ratchet up the pace, and that more than anything helped Alvin Gentry stand out in the interview process. Gentry had just been the lead assistant for a team that finished 1st in pace the season before, and was also a key figure in Clippers teams and Suns teams that had success with pushing the pace. Ideally, he would do the same thing in New Orleans that he did with those three franchises, and it would take this team to the next level.

Early in the season, Gentry did have success at getting New Orleans to play with pace, as they were top-8 through the first five weeks. But playing with pace did not produce the success that those in the organization. In fact, it resulted in a plethora of losses and one of the worst net ratings in franchise history. Enter Tyreke Evans, whose return has produced quite a shift in how the Pelicans play. Since his return, New Orleans is 20th in pace, and their number of passes per game have dropped nearly 10%.

Gentry has tried to get Tyreke to play the kind of ball that he and Steve Kerr implemented in Golden State, but on the nights he plays that way (vs. Boston, at Utah), his individual numbers are atrocious. Tyreke is not the only one struggling, as the green light for anyone to shoot when they have the green light has also led to a drastic drop in field goal percentage, especially behind the three-point arc. Desperate for wins, Gentry is faced with two options:

  1. Implement his style and watch a bunch of misfit parts struggle to assimilate
  2. Go back to the system that they can play in (aka- Montyball)

Option #2 will undoubtedly yield the best short term results, as the team has shown that minimizing possessions and simplifying things on both ends will produce more wins than losses. Monty Williams was not dumb; He knew this teams dirty little secret after years of working with these guys. Unlike Golden State, this team is not full of high IQ players that could be asked to make the right decision more times than not during the course of a game. There is a plethora of individual talent on this roster, but the more possessions where these players have to make multiple decisions, the worse the outcome would be for this Pelicans team. Not only was Gentry demanding they play at a higher pace, but he was asking them to make more reads on and off the ball, and pass more than ever before. With this group, that is a recipe for disaster.

And while much was made of Darren Erman “simplifying the defense”, that was only half the story. Yes, he reduced the number of options for them on pick and rolls, but he also asked for more multiple efforts, as well as asking more from help defenders. The defense was predicated on the idea that all five players would move on a string and keep opposing offenses from entering the paint at will. To date, the communication, effort, and ability for all five guys to play as one has been poor, to say the least.

But there is a short term fix to all of this, one that it seems like the Pelicans are implementing to get some much needed wins – and that fix is to go back to what worked reasonably well last year. Slow down the pace, pass less, and hope to win off your raw talent. But if that is what they are going to do, I have to ask – What was the point of the coaching change then? Couldn’t we have just done this same thing with Monty, and probably even better?

The whole point of implementing a new style was to get this team from good to great, and the second they realize the personnel can’t thrive in the system, the solution is to…. change the system?? Now you have both a set of players in a system you have determined can’t get you to the peak AND a head coach abandoning his system for one he can’t possibly believe in. For what? To get a few wins so that you might inch towards a playoff birth and a likely first round exit?

If you believe now in what you believed in on that day when you fired Monty Williams, then you stick with the plan and go forward with the system that you believe can take your franchise superstars game to the next level. You stick with the system that gives you the chance to compete with what looks like a possible dynasty in Golden State. If the players don’t fit that system, then you don’t conform to them, you replace them.

Unless you don’t believe in it anymore. In which case I ask again: What was the point of the coaching change in the first place?

 

9 Comments

  1. 6thMan

    December 22, 2015 at 6:43 pm

    It’s been clear that Ish is the one ideal Gentry-style player; plays fast, moves the ball in a Steve Nash-like manner driving in and out of the lane, albeit without Nash’s shooting ability (but, hey, he’s a better rebounder). I’m perplexed: One simple move – replacing Gee (mostly a non-factor on O) with Ish, giving him a potentially high-powered O backcourt of Ish, Gordon & Reke. It’s like Gentry is afraid to pull the trigger on his own plan.

  2. soulbreaker

    December 22, 2015 at 9:04 pm

    i don´t know the answer to your question,but i doubt there isn´t a grey area between believe in the system at all costs and and quit on it. In my opinion it´s similar to Cavs last year, because of injuries,a new coach, egoes or whatever they tried to use a system for 2 months, didn´t work, so they began to use a much simpler one.Fastforward to now even with a million injuries, their O is what it was supposed to be(the same happened with the D btw).
    Gentry is a fairly pragmatic guy and will use whatever is best at any given moment,and try again next year, either way by then the team will look very different

  3. Jason Quigley

    December 23, 2015 at 2:27 am

    Similar to 6thMan, I’m just overall perplexed. I’m still stuck believing that this team can jump to the next level if they learn to play the smart basketball that Gentry wants, but I’m starting to seriously doubt that these players can actually do that. Like, you may be right that in the past they often made games ugly in order to win, and that the guys just don’t have high basketball IQs. 
    I still want to believe that they can turn it around, though, since last year I was also one of seemingly few who believed late in the season that the team could make the playoffs. It’s… looking very bad though

  4. Michael McNamara

    December 23, 2015 at 10:28 am

    soulbreaker I just wonder what other businesses would do this. I have rarely seen upper management develop a system they believe in and then cater to employees when they couldn’t figure out the system. You go out and get new employees or demand that your current ones step up. Now, I know it won’t be easy to get new players right away, because highly skilled guys with high basketball IQ’s are just out there for the taking. But I wouldn’t compromise my vision just to win a few games in the short term. 
    Then, how much harder is it for the guys to buy in fully next time. You have already shown them that if they cant do it, you will just cater to them. Instead, I would show them that if you can’t handle it, then you are out and let them know there is no compromise.

  5. JTMCSQB

    December 23, 2015 at 11:39 am

    Simple, they have a target set of entering the playoff for our Gentry, and he is not stupid

  6. thouse

    December 23, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    It is an epic miss by the front office. To have these players for 2-3 years, believe they will play better in a different system enough to can a liked coach, and then have it appear to be an unworkable fit after 25 games is a mind boggling miscalculation.

    Even if they do decide to move pieces, I have little faith in the organization’s ability to know what the hell it is actually doing.

  7. LateNite504FC

    December 24, 2015 at 12:28 am

    Passes down 10% since then return of Reke. What about vs. last year? The insertion of Evans can change the passing and pace stats all by itself without changing the coach’s system or philosophy. It’s a clash of wills. Right now, evans is prevailing because the team is winning a few games. Even if they were madly busy trying to trade Evans for the sake of philosophy, they wouldn’t want to bench him because a win is a win and you boost his trade value by letting him lead you to wins. Personally, I think Evans is a tremendous talent and its hard to see them replacing his impact in any trade.
    I still like the offense now better than last year. Seems like less dribbling and waiting at the beginning of the possession. 
    And I wanted JVG because I thought his style fit better.

  8. Pingback: What is Going On with the Pelicans? | Sports By Stats

  9. dschmid4

    December 28, 2015 at 12:54 am

    Ok. This has been an extremely disappointing start to the season. However, I don’t see this as a surrenders tobthe old system as much as a tactical retreat. I do believe we will see the Pelicans move closer to the offense we imagined and to something resembling some kind of defense as the season moves on. I feel like they are regrouping around what they know the players can do and then pushing them to play the Gentry way over the remainder of the season. One of the major complaints about Monty was he was unwilling to adapt around the skills of his players. Now we bitch because Gentry does adapt.

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