Pace is Good and Pace is Bad

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Published: February 24, 2017

It’s been one game since the Fire-Ice combo took the court for the first time. It resulted in a 30 point loss to the Moreyball Rockets, so now it’s time to make sweeping conclusions. Just kidding. Sort of.

The Pelicans posted a poor offensive rating in their first game Anno Boogie, but I came away from the game encouraged with the amount of open looks the Pelicans were getting. Inserting attention-drawing Boogie into the lineup manifested in a lot of post doubles –> Boogie kicks to shooters –> open shots, mayhem. The fact that the Pelicans suddenly forgot how to dribble and pass to teammates whose backs weren’t turned is of no consequence to me. The squad that took the floor last night was confused because there was a radical shift in the way they created offense and no one knew how to handle it — and they still generated a lot of open shots. But there was also an ugly truth present in almost every game sequence — this Pels team needs to tone down the pace.

I know what you’re thinking — if the Pels got so many open looks by pushing the ball early and taking good shots, why would they slow down? Because offense and defense are not played in isolation. Because Boogie is 280 (or whatever) pounds and you don’t ask offensive linemen to sprint up and down the court for 36 minutes. The pace, on offense, is fine: the problem is that it’s affecting our defense.

The Rockets feasted on the Pelicans lack of speed all night — not just on defense, where they gambled on everything — on offense, where they set flare screens for shooters and spread pick-and-rolled the Pels to death. Boogie was lost on several defensive plays, though he also had some sensational blocks/steals/deflections (as Graham pointed out in his defensive preview). But he was also exhausted from running up and down the floor. Now that the Pels have gone big, when they play small opponents, they have to cater to their personnel. They have a surplus of rebounding and size and are at a deficit of perimeter length/speed/numbers, so their perimeter players are going to have to gamble and chase over screens and let the Pels’ bigs deal with this overplay.

This season, the Pels pushed the ball because their halfcourt offense, how do you say.. sucked. But here’s the thing — the need for pace is gone. Now that the Pels have a capable halfcourt offense centered around Boogie, they don’t have to run. Now that they have the personnel to generate FTs and own the boards, the need to generate numerous clean looks in transition is gone. It’s not surprising that adding a game-changing big has made it clear that the way the Pels play the game must change.

One of the conclusions some of you will make from this — that I’m calling for Gentry’s head — is absolutely not what I’m saying. He’s gotten so much flak this season because “He thinks this is the Warriors offense! They’re shooting so many 3s!” is an easy out that avoided the harsh truth that the Pelicans personnel didn’t allow any other option. Their guards couldn’t get to the rim. What was the other choice? Midrange looks? No thanks.

Now Gentry has the personnel to score in the halfcourt, albeit with the delicate balancing act of overhauling his pace-heavy system to optimize its players while achieving short-term results for a team that is behind the 8 ball on its playoff push. It isn’t easy. It doesn’t happen overnight. But I think it’s something that will continue to be obvious as the Pels trot out a big lineup, and an adjustment that I think would greatly benefit them as they go for the playoffs.

4 comments
LateNite504FC
LateNite504FC

With Cousins & Davis, the Pels should dominate the boards, be strong on interior defense, and be much much better than average scoring inside with their half court offense.  It seems to me that would mean that they should look to maximize their advantages by slowing the pace, limiting the # of possessions, and pounding the ball inside with a methodical half court offense.  Am I wrong here?  Is there another way to play it?  If I am right, I think its impossible to keep Gentry. 

Nolalou
Nolalou

Is anyone hopeful that the team is capable of actually running an offense at a slower pace? From what I've seen Gentry is worthless calling set plays. No one on our team seems to be able to throw an entry pass to a big on the block. Jrue seems mostly unwilling to dominate and set up the O. Last night it was beyond painful to watch uncreative guards dribble around the perimeter and then hand the ball off to Boogie or AD 20 feet out with 5 seconds left on the clock. That is bad offense when it is KD or Curry you are handing it to...when it is a big then it is just turrible . I'll take any hope I can get but I'm afraid the plan for a slower pace on O for the next 25 games is going to be dribble around for 10 seconds and then hope AD and Cousins can make a play. 

ben_alterman
ben_alterman

I still can't believe that a week ago I was commenting on your article about how bad I thought a Brook Lopez trade would be for the Pels.

New City
New City

Good observations and I think there is no question you have to tailor your system to your personnel otherwise it's square peg-round hole and ceaseless frustration. I also think it's undeniable that Dell gave Monty a squad Gentry would have loved and Gentry a squad Monty would have loved.

I just can't shake my doubts about this trade, and it has nothing to do with last night's blow out loss. On one hand, you can't deny the value Dell negotiated. I don't think there is another GM in the league--outside of Sacto, obviously--that doesn't make that trade. Dropping the 2019 first rounder made it a trade you can live with even if it doesn't work out.  But somehow if you told me I could take the exact same package with gave the Kings for Boogie and instead send it the Magic for Vucevic and Fournier (+/- some  small pieces), I'd still rather we'd done that. 

On the surface that doesn't make much sense. Cousins is a legitimate top-10 player in the NBA. You almost never get a shot at those guys, especially at 26 years old. He is versatile and checks all the boxes you want checked. I even think he adds some needed nasty to the line up with his attitude. And yet...

Trying to figure out what was bugging me about the trade, for some reason I wanted to go back and look at the old team's last game, their win in Memphis, one of my favorite games of the year. And it was all there: the points in transition, the ball movement, the good defense. It finally looked like a team that understood itself, how it needed to play. Fools gold maybe, but the rest of that road trip was pretty good as well.

Now, it's start over time again. Everyone looked so tentative out there last night because instead of adding a couple of complimentary pieces you dropped a super-dense star into the line-up whose gravitational field will warp everything around it, in good and bad ways, for the foreseeable future. My least favorite brand of basketball the old team played is when, by tortured degrees, the doggedly forced the ball into to Davis while everyone sort of stood around. Now we have that x2 (maybe x4). And I think that's what really bothered me about the deal for Cousins. It's the death of an idea of how I hoped this team would play, maybe how I think the game should be played in general, in favor of grind it out trench warfare. It might be how we need to do things, it might even be a winning formula, but it's pretty joyless to watch...