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.

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