The Process and the Losses

The New Orleans Pelicans are not off to a good start as measured by wins. They are 0-6. Just so the point of what I’m saying below is not lost, I just want to come right out and say: While there is a ton to pick on, there is one simple fix that would have likely resulted in a couple wins in the past couple games. It likely would have boosted the offense, kept turnovers down, and more.

However, I’m glad they didn’t go this route. Many reading this, after reflection, should be glad, too.

What is this thing that Gentry and company have missed without missing?

Reduce Buddy Hield’s minutes.

The Record and the Margin

I want to go on the record on the record: This is at most 3 games off the pace that should be expected, and probably just 1-2. 2 of those games are expected losses, so the best record one can expect is 4-2 over those games. Down the players they are down, chalk up at least another loss.

Two of the losses were in overtime. Aside from the Spurs blowout, regulation ended with the Pelicans down 5, 8, 4, 0, 0. This is not horrifying in itself, but it’s infuriating, no doubt, even the 8 point loss to Golden State. The nettlesome things seem to be either some specific fears in the game play, which are there, but I see cited not terribly often, or just projecting the record into the future without regard for said specifics, which seems to be the case in a number of instances.

I don’t like the losing, but I accept it as measured from a reasonable expectation, and one that is recoverable if certain reasonable changes occur. Guarantee? No. Reasonable? Yes.

Beyond all this, the team’s public position is that they are more focused on “the process” than wins and immediate results. It is well-known that the franchise is not always clear about its agenda. This is perfectly understandable, but it’s also perfectly understandable, consequently, to doubt anything and everything they say.

I do. I consider it, because they are often very straight-forward. However, that does not erase the omnipresent doubt.

Processing Buddy

Still, I believe what I see, and one thing I have seen is this team play Buddy Hield for long stretches when Buddy Hield was not playing well. This happened in some close games, too. Developing young players, especially using well-placed in-game minutes, is an important part of a team’s long-term success. I’ve said before that game minutes are like currency, and using them this way is an investment in part. This seems to support the teams’ claim that there is a process they are following. Buddy has the lowest ORTG on the team of those who have played at least 100 minutes, so, lower than Asik. He’s got decent and improving shooting, even with 2/10 from deep last night. His issues are more about decision-making and hesitation, and these are both absolutely expected and, in theory, curable with minutes. He’s turning the ball over and not assisting at a compensatory rate, so that needs to firm up, but that is similar to his shooting in its cause and cure, at least in part.

When you lose games as closely as the Pelicans are losing them and playing a rookie 20 minutes per game who plays like this, you have to wonder if this is an accepted cost, where accepted is accepted from the top to the bottom. Frustrated or not by losing the close games, there can still be a resigned acceptance that this is the right path, the patient, long-view path. To be clear, there is enough slack with Galloway, at least, to shift some minutes, so there is a live option there to get better expected (maybe not actual, of course) performance at any given moment. The alternative, which has to be that they don’t notice Buddy not playing so hot or that they feel there are not viable places for those minutes to go, is not credible.

There are signs that “they are just following their process” is not the case. Tinkering with the starters and with the minutes of purportedly important players, like Hill, are counter points, but continuing to feed players like Galloway and Jones, who are more of the young vet type, are supporting points. It’s not easy to see what’s going if this is what we look at.

Confusion surrounds what this team is trying to do. This may be driven by the availability of Jrue Holiday. Ideally, I want him playing with Davis and starting, and I want Frazier playing more with Buddy. I think this is best for all parties, and I don’t think I’m alone there. Maybe it’s too early to judge. If it is, I don’t care. I’m judging, and so is everyone else.

The most charitable interpretation I can come up with to date is that there are a couple key aspects to this process . . . feature Davis, play Buddy, improve defense, improve passing . . . all of which are in fact occurring, and the rest is fodder. In this way things that I, and perhaps others, would think anchor the process are in fact not central to it. Ergo, I am trying to rethink what’s going on, because I was and am genuinely confused.

Now, even if this is true, and the Pelicans are knowingly hamstringing themselves now for the greater good later, this in no way excuses the defensive lapses, the offensives struggles, the boneheaded mistakes, and more. It does, however, add something to consider when evaluating the decision-making, the results, and the possibilities for what comes next.

This team is getting roasted on and off the court. Until they start to point to what it is they are trying to do, at least on the fronts that will not give others some competitive advantage over them . . . and it’s hard to believe that these sorts of things will be the central strategic point in the game plan given the team’s available talent and chemistry . . . the sound and fury along with legitimate concern will all grow. Teams know you are playing Hield 20 minutes per game. So, declare it, as it might help you battle in ticket sales and selling all that (very good) mac and cheese at the games.

I suppose no press is bad press in the entertainment business. Some say that.

If this holds water, one has to accept at least a portion of what’s going on as part of having and developing youth if not going this is also a target for criticism. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Regardless, Buddy is getting minutes, and they are helping him. This will help him develop as a Pelicans player . . . or a trade asset.

Yeah, I said it. Buddy and a first and salary? Nick and I were bantering, and this came up . . . and over-cap variation of the Holiday trade. Have fun noodling on that.

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