10 Things the Pelicans Have Done Well for 10 Straight Wins

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Published: March 8, 2018

The Pelicans have won 10 straight games and are coming off their best stretch of basketball in over 5 years.  No win through this streak has been the same and the Pelicans have adapted to each challenge presented to them. There have been a lot of factors that have contributed to this success and I want to discuss some of the ones that have stood out to me during this process. Each one of these has contributed to a win in some fashion.

1) Anthony Davis’s No Fly Zone

It would be remiss to start a list of things that have gone well thus far without mentioning this guy. What hasn’t AD done for the team? From nightly scoring binges to takeovers on the defensive end, AD has elevated his game and the team in every way. Yet most of his accomplishments have been discussed at length on various platforms. What hasn’t gotten much coverage is the fact that Davis is seemingly on a mission to prevent any opponent lob attempt from reaching completion. Whether it’s someone going for a dunk or just a pass over the top, do not attempt to put the ball anywhere within Davis’s soaring range.

 

2) Jrue Holiday Driving Like a Madman

If Davis has been a solar system destroying war machine during this stretch, Jrue has been right behind taking out a few gas giants himself. We have never seen a Jrue Holiday like this before. I’m not just talking his defense, which has been absolutely phenomenal by the way, but he is getting to the rim like never before. Through this stretch, Holiday is shooting a blistering 68.2% in the restricted area. He is second only to LeBron James among perimeter players in FGA in the restricted area over the past 10. Think about that for a second – this surpasses even guys like James Harden. Jrue has been a one man wrecking crew in the paint and he’s doing it with the finesse of Renaissance era sculptor. Opponents are struggling to find a solution to Jrue. Smaller defenders just fly off him like toys while bigger wings are struggling to keep up with his quickness. Jrue is going at opponents arms extended. He’s baiting defenders to swipe at the ball while he uses an extra burst of speed to explode to the rim and finish. See for yourself how defenders stew over how to stop this man.

 

3) Emeka Okafor Backtaps

What a story Emeka has been. From wearing SpongeBob uniforms to being a nightly contributor on a team fighting for home-court. His is a story that has touched everyone. I got a chance to ask him how he has adjusted to an evolved game since his absence. His answer? Stick to the basics. And boy does he. From setting jarring screens to soul crushing blocks, Okafor has been a welcome presence who has eased Davis’s workload. Perhaps my favorite aspect of his contributions have been his backtap offensive rebounds. Nothing brings me more joy. Seriously, nothing.

 

4) Nikola Mirotic Doing What is Asked on Defense

Mirotic has had his ups and downs offensively with the team. The shot has not consistently been there and the selection is highly questionable at times. Part of this can be attributed finding his fit on a new team and adjusting to a new offense. Nevertheless, Mirotic has not let this deter him from putting forth full effort on defense. Watch how he pesters Blake Griffin on back to back post possessions.

He isn’t the most athletic guy, but this type of effort will get you far. Unfortunately some teams have discovered they can pick at his lateral quickness by putting him in a pick and roll with a dynamic guard. If one of the Pelicans perimeter defenders gets screened off and Mirotic is put on an island, the results aren’t pretty. But the coaching staff has recognized that and started tasking him with hedging and recovering instead of the traditional drop coverage -and it seems to be working with better results. Granted the Pelicans need to have their rotations crisp, but they largely have been. Here is an example.

 

5) Cheick Diallo Faster than Everyone Else

Diallo has been a pleasant surprise since Cousins’s went down. Averaging a respectable 5.9 points and 5.2 rebounds in about 13 minutes per game since the injury, Diallo looks like he actually understands basketball now. Diallo used sprint in circles around the court unsure of whether to screen to cut when we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of him in months past. Now Diallo runs the court with a purpose and is finding that he is faster than virtually everyone on it. The Pelicans increased pace of play and free moving offense are definitely accelerating the growth of this young man. Just watch him fly down to court literally beating everyone down.

 

6) Ian Clark’s In-Between Game

For a guy shooting 29% from three, Clark sure gets a ton of opponent attention beyond the arc. Opponents frequently chase him off the line like he is still a member of the Golden State Warriors. Clark has made up for his 3 point shooting woes by contributing from the midrange area. During this streak Clark is averaging 50% from midrange and he has converted in an array ways. From sprinting full speed off screens to one dribble pull-ups, Clark’s midrange have at times lifted bench units during slow stretches. The ability to convert midrange shots is critical in a world where opponents endeavor to restrict your efficiency. Clark has delivered in that aspect.

 

7) Darius Miller Playmaking off the Dribble

Opponents are catching on to Darius “Reggie” Miller and his hot shooting. This has led to a similar treatment to Ian Clark, where opponents chase him off the arc and force him to put the ball on the floor. Fortunately for the Pelicans, Miller is a crafty playmaker off the dribble. He sucks in the defense and makes the read whether to pull up for a midrange or to continue towards the rim. And man has he gotten good at making that read. Miller will frequently take hypnotically long strides towards the rim only to drop off a wily pass to a cutter. Defenders are just left watching.

 

8) Rajon Rondo Knocking Down the Open Three

Rondo’s shooting is nothing to write home about. However, during this stretch Rondo has been good for just over one triple per game. None more important than this one.

 

9) Dell Demps Making Moves on the Fly

Dell’s acquisitions saved the season, make no mistake about it. Mirotic and Okafor have been pivotal in the Pelicans turnaround and they only make you wonder what could have been if DeMarcus was still healthy. A source close to the situation informed me that Mirotic was in the working long before the injury. The team had planned to be aggressive to not only make a push in the wide open West, but to set themselves up for next year. The acquisition itself was deceptively smart. Reporters and fans alike panicked when the trade had supposedly fallen apart and I was among that crowd. Accusations of the front office being too cheap to pay the tax next year flew with little resistance. Little did we know that Dell was leveraging the threat of the tax to get a better deal. While the Bulls never ended up taking Ajinca’s contract, the Pelicans walked away with their own second round pick. The Pelicans are in great position going forward and have low-key accumulated about $19 Million in expirings as tradeable salary base for next year. Time and time again Dell has proven himself to be a master at making in-season moves and he has crushed back to back trade deadlines. Give him his due.

10) Alvin Gentry and Staff Coaching Their Butts Off

Anytime you lose a piece like DeMarcus Cousins it is incredibly difficult to reposition yourself. Your rotations are thrown off, your chemistry is mangled, and your playbook goes out the window. But the coaching staff adjusted. They changed the offense from the big centric actions to a whirlwind of cutting and screening. The Pelicans have morphed into a pick and roll heavy attack and are finding more and more wrinkles to throw at opponents. I wrote in depth about how they have incorporated the popular Spain Pick and roll set into their daily attack. However, this goes beyond the plays. The way the staff has gotten the players to buy into this high octane pace fueled offense while working their tail off on the defensive end has been nothing short of incredible.  This has been a collaborative effort. Attend any Pelicans pregame shoot around you’ll see a bevy of assistants and staff working with the players to hone their game. From assistant Jamelle McMillan pushing Rondo relentlessly before the game to shooting coach Mike Penberthy working with Mirotic to get his shot down, the Pelicans staff is working tirelessly to lift the team.

Since Boogie’s injury the Pelicans rank 1st in pace and top 10 on defense. The coaching staff has successfully game planned and countered all manners of adversaries.  Gentry has milked bench rotations featuring Walter Lemon, Jr. and Cheick Diallo to steal precious rest for AD and Jrue. With as much freedom as the staff has given the players on the floor, they have been holding them equally accountable off of it. This is perhaps best highlighted by Gentry’s profanity laced tirade during halftime of the Spurs game, blasting the lackluster effort of the team. The Pelicans  proceeded to come out in the 3rd and erase a 17 point deficit on their way to victory.  The staff has created a hard-nosed identity and culture in the wake of what was called a season ending event. They deserve a ton of credit. Hats off to them.

Final Note

This team has come a long way in the last two months and is deserving of your attention. They are about to start a stretch of games where they play 8 out of 9 games at home. So go out there and show them your support. Reward them for their hard work and revel in the success of the best basketball this franchise has seen in years. New Orleans has MVP talent and a team to match his success. Enjoy it while you can.

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