The Blame Game

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Published: November 8, 2019

So far in this very young season, the Pelicans have played 7 games & have a 1-6 record.  When you see that record, you may be disappointed, especially if your expectations were to win now.

You may be thinking, “THIS PELICANS ROSTER IS BETTER THAN THIS! IT MUST BE THE COACH’S FAULT!” as you air punch while wearing a shirt that reads “You got NAW-thing on me!” Or maybe you’re thinking “THESE PLAYERS SUCK! THEY SHOULD’VE MASTERED THESE SCHEMES BY NOW!” as you toss your “Swin Cash Money Records” platinum chain to the ground.

In reality, it’s your fault. You’re the one who placed “win now or nothing” expectations on this team, more so when the team is without Zion, who will need his own chance to grow when he does return. No matter how the season was marketed in the summer, or how many asses David Griffin says the team wants to beat, this season is all about development. It’s that simple. It’s difficult to accept that your team’s talent and chemistry still need to develop as that requires patience, and this fan base has been patient for so long.  Even so, there should be some defined reasons for these losses right? Today I am here to help you evaluate future Pelicans games so that you don’t just blindly blame the first person that comes to your mind for a loss and help you evaluate what you are watching.

I would like to start things off by saying: of course coaches mess up, cost games, and have questionable decisions that are seemingly out of nowhere. Often, it’s easy to blame the head coach because they’re seen as the easiest piece to replace, but what many fail to realize is that coaching is an entire staff effort that many of us rarely take into account when we are watching a game.  Instead, we’d like to envision Gentry alone in a dark room, with a pencil behind his ear, scribbling his thoughts in an old composition notebook and voila! That’s the game plan for the next game. Preparation for a game takes mounds of people. Gentry works with Chris Finch on the offense and he works with Jeff Bzdelik on the defense. He also works with video coordinators, assistant coaches who have their own unique set of players to manage, offensive coaches, defensive coaches, etc. and that’s not even including the physical training aspect.  What we see on the floor is the game plan of an entire staff and not just one man.

When we are watching a game and we see a bad play, it is always so important to understand whether we are seeing a player mistake, a coaching mistake, or both. On offense, the Pelicans mainly run a motion offense & frequently switch between sets. This type of offense follows a basic outline of movements, but is entirely free flowing and fairly modifiable for the players running it.  They try to keep defenses on their toes by switching between sets like Delay, Horns, Thru, etc. Because motion offenses are so free flowing, it also requires high energy and awareness by everyone on the court to work, otherwise teams tend to revert into isolation basketball (which we see often). I highly recommend watching this video from Ryan Nguyen detailing the Pels 17-18 playbook (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lPtPeIZdbJo&feature=youtu.be). Don’t be put off by the date, because the Pels appear to still run many of theses sets, although with different actions. A motion offense is a good style for the Pelicans to run because the players are fluid and free. Set plays, if run continuously, are stagnant, predictable, and slow. Set plays should be used situationally & not as your entire offense.

I encourage you, during the next Pels game you watch, to try to identify when a motion is completed, when a player is breaking off of the motion, and when they are pulling up to take a shot before the motion is complete. This can help you evaluate a player’s awareness and ability to read defenses. Keep in mind that breaking off isn’t instantly a bad thing, since it’s needed often because basketball is a game that thrives off of creativity. Players just need to know when and for what shot to break off. On defense, there are schemes and match-ups of course, but I think it’s pretty self explanatory that it’s primarily based on player communication and rotation.

Now that we’ve found a good set from our coaches and our players are reading the defense well and are playing in rhythm, the Pelicans are rolling. Lonzo Ball finds a wide open JJ Redick for 3 and he…… clanks it off the back iron. He missed it, so it must be a bad shot? Of course not. I know you all know better than that, but it’s important for us to remember that fact when we are in the heat of a game in order to evaluate. There are a lot of cases where the Pels get good looks but are just bricking. It’s important to know what shots you are comfortable living with and that you don’t just base the value of a possession on the result. I know it sounds obvious and redundant, but it is very easy as viewers to get caught up in just the result without paying attention to the shot selection (especially in scoring droughts). Getting in the habit of evaluating based on shot quality, along with identifying when the team is running a motion/play, could help you greatly when evaluating if a position was good or bad. It’s too misleading to say we missed these shots so these are bad possessions.

There’s been a lot of discussion over the last few seasons in the Pels’ community about whether it’s a coaches job to motivate his players to play basketball. I believe that, at the NBA level, it is not the job of any coach to motivate a player. If a player isn’t motivated by the money to be gained, a chance to change their family’s lives, the love of basketball, or their own ego, then I’m not sure what you want a coach to say that will motivate them.

I do, however, believe it is a coach’s job to focus his team. The difference between motivating and focusing your players is vast. A player that lacks motivation needs to be pushed to have a desire to play and if you lack that, then the NBA isn’t the place for you. On the other end, a player that lacks focus – but has motivation and the will to play his hardest – just may not be able to effectively concentrate that energy into something productive for the team. The best example I have for a player that needed to focus is Jrue Holiday. Oh wow, how convenient! A player we all know (and love!). Jrue does not lack motivation nor focus on defense; I think we can all agree on that. But offensively, at times – especially in previous seasons – he was too passive and would pass up open shots the team trusted him to make. The team constantly reassures him that his is his team and he has the right to be aggressive when looking for his shot. That is what it means to focus a player.

I think that emotions are often the biggest factor when it comes to evaluation. Disappointment or anger could cause us to not take into account all of what we see on the floor as we place blame, just as joy and excitement can blind us as we give praise.  Hopefully the Pels pull out a few wins soon, but until then I’m sure we’ll keep playing the blame game.

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