Chris Romaguera’s Season Opener

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Published: October 30, 2014

((As part of our constant change here at Bourbon Street Shots, we’ve added new writers we spent the summer recruiting, though that’s fancier sounding that it actually was. You’ve already gotten an article from Graham this summer, and he’ll have more up soon. Today, I’m pleased to reintroduce you to Chris Romaguera. I’ve included a short autobio from Chris here, he’s a rare and very cool guy. He has studied, worked, and loved all the aspects that are valued by us, and I’m sure by you. Here’s is opener with us. Enjoy, then tell him you enjoyed. — 42

Christopher Louis Romaguera is a Cuban-American writer who was born in Hialeah, Fl, right outside of Miami. Chris grew up a Miami Heat fan, and wrote for the alternative basketball site Not Your Father’s Water Cooler. He attended Florida International University, double majoring, receiving a Bachelor’s degree in English and in Philosophy in 2010. After graduating, Chris moved to New Orleans, where he writes for Where Y’at Magazine. He provided the season preview for Where Y’at for the 2013-2014 Pelicans’ season. Last season, he also covered the Pelicans’ beat for the NOLA Defender.))

I attended the New Orleans Pelicans season opener not sure where to place this team. For one, they have made huge strides, trading no tangible player for the big-man defensive anchor they needed, and most of their players are not wearing suits during games. Plus, Anthony Davis.

While Davis is getting his due (3rd in NBA rank!), the Pelicans are mostly predicted to miss the playoffs, which is completely possible, due to the basketball buzzsaw that is the Western Conference. So coming into this season, it is hard to predict the Pelicans place in the West. And while I am a fan analytics, (and will write a good deal about them in the near future), everything we know about the Pelicans’ lineups last year can be considered near null-and-void based off of the phrase “small sample size.” Also, there is something to just watching the game, and talking about what you see.  So I wrote down my thoughts on my moleskin, as I watched the game with some friends and basketball compatriots.

  • The start of the season always brings hope. Part of that hope, is having an irrational amount of confidence in your first round pick. GM Dell Demps hasn’t had a pick like that in a couple of years. This excitement seems to be geared towards Jimmer Fredette this year, who has a bit of a cult following with his “Jimmer-mania.” He was followed in the talked-about-improvement-of-players-who-may-not-be-in-the-rotation along with Alexis Ajinca (he gained 20 pounds!) and Patrick Young (that is one angry man.)
  • Just watching the team warm up, you can see the difference Omer Asik makes. Asik is a monster, dwarfing even Jeff Withey. Having a man that size anchoring your defense makes a huge difference. Asik is huge, and this team looks much bigger and more intimidating, with the giant Turkish big man in the middle (based on the first two minutes of game action, I’m expecting a lot of Drago jokes throughout the year, due to point guards’ level of fear while in the paint and the lack of Turkish cultural knowledge stateside.)
  • After one season, the most exciting lineup is no longer Jrue Holiday-Eric Gordon-Tyreke Evans-Ryan Anderson-Anthony Davis. That lineup scored at a murderous rate, but they hemorrhaged points on the other end. The most talked about lineup pre-game included using Davis/Anderson/Asik together. The idea of Anderson stretching the floor as a wing, and Davis covering the three sounds pretty interesting/bananas, and has a space station ceiling and a six feet under floor.
  • What felt like the entire lower bowl stood up waiting for the first basket as if it was a college game, which was a cool thing to see.
  • The first two minutes let us know something else about Asik. Every time Asik has the ball is going to be an adventure. With three ball-handlers who all penetrate differently and pass the ball differently, it is going to be “interesting” watching Asik adjust. I don’t know if it was playing with Derek Rose and James Harden all these years, but Asik rarely seemed ready for passes early, and it often felt like a game of volleyball down there. Another nickname possibility is “mano de pierda” which is more of a compliment if you’re a boxer, and equally incongruent racially. Jokes aside, Asik put up a very strong 14 points in the game, and is a much better pick and roll player than any of last year’s centers.
  • Of course, Asik’s imprint was extremely positive on the other end of the court. Both Gordon and Holiday were ultra-aggressive, playing the passing lanes well and pressuring up high. It is the kind of look that the Pelicans can do all season with Asik, as Austin Rivers’ length is also congruent with that kind of high pressure defense on the perimeter. The Pelicans may give some point guards nightmares this year.
  • The starters got a lot of time together, but with 4:51 left in the first quarter, Ryan Anderson came into the game. He was shortly followed by John Salmons, who came in for Evans. Leaving Gordon and Anderson together at the time felt like Coach Monty Williams wanted to see how the duo would play together, in case Gordon does find himself on the bench to help lead the second unit. In the second half, Gordon came out when Anderson did, leaving Evans with Anderson. That duo played a lot together last year, and set defenses on fire too. Evans wasn’t on the court during Anderson’s spree, but I do believe that time with Evans in the third quarter did loosen Anderson up a bit.
  • Despite what Coach Williams said during the preseason, Fredette and Rivers did play together, with Fredette mostly playing off the ball. Fredette didn’t provide much in game one. His biggest contribution personally might have been my friends’ comments after a foul was called on Jimmer, which looked like an all-ball block on the carcass of Ben Gordon. “They only called that foul cause he’s not supposed to be able to do that.” And after some booing from the crowd “The fans don’t like it when you call fouls on Jimmer.”
  • One interesting fact about The Smoothie King Arena is that the screens at the top strictly show a live feed of the game. While I see the idea behind this, it doesn’t seem the most pragmatic to me. Most arenas I’ve been to show each player on the court’s last name, personal fouls, and points. It’s a much easier way to keep up with the game. This did lead to me brainstorming a good device for these segments though. After one quarter, I pulled my cell phone out, to see what the sloppy first quarter looked like. Interesting tidbits: Asik led the team in scoring with 8 points. The Pelicans also made only 3/13 free throw attempts, which analytically speaking, sucks.
  • Davis is already at a superstar level, ut I did see a couple of things to look out for in his third year. First, Davis’ first two shots were mid-range jumpers that were bricks. Growing up in Miami, I can’t tell you how many Brian Grant shots looked like that. Teams will give Davis space if they think it will bait him into a midrange jumper. It is up to him to use that space to attack the defense in those instances. Secondly, he went through a couple of large periods in the first half without touching the ball. Davis ended up with phenomenal numbers, without doing anything necessarily phenomenal on the offensive end. Davis is always going to get his points due to rebounds, fast breaks, and general roll man action, but I’d like to see him be the focal point of more sets which allow him to create for himself and others. Feeding him the ball in the high post and work out of horns sets. Obviously, this is game one and can be hashed out quickly, but these are things I’ll be watching out for.
  • With how the first half was run, Evans will lead the team in assists this year. He spearheaded the offense. Holiday took a back seat to Evans for most of the game besides a brief moment in the third quarter. Evans missed out on a couple of assists due to fumbled passes and missed shots (he also made a couple of poor passes), but he led the team in assists last night with six.
  • During a timeout, there is an advertisement to hang out with Pierre the Pelican this Halloween. My buddy makes a quip that “I’m going to dress up as Pierre on Halloween and terrorize Frenchmen.” Pierre, plastic surgery and all, is still a little scary. After the introductions to start the game, the smoke lingered a little longer than I think they wanted, and Pierre was dancing in a smoky darkness, and I won’t sleep tonight either.
  • Every time something goes wrong in the game, and he is in the general vicinity, someone in my group blames Gordon. He is officially the Jamal Mashburn of this team.
  • Right as I put that in my moleskin, Gordon has a nasty block on the carcass of Ben Gordon.
  • Cellphone-Stat-Check 2: At the half, the Pelicans are shooting 3/14 from the charity stripe, 1/9 from beyond the arc. Both teams are shooting under 40% as the Pelicans lead by seven. Welcome to game one my beautiful readers.
  • The Pelicans did have some nice first half stats, such as having five steals, eight blocks, and forcing 10 turnovers.
  • As the second half starts, and Asik continues to dominate, it looks more and more like he is playing against a bunch of college kids. These guys look so small against him. Mind you, this predominantly against a guy named Nikola Vucevic.
  • Holiday started the third quarter more aggressively, taking more shots and penetrating more. Finding a balance between Holiday, Evans, and Gordon is key this year. None of these guys should be merely a spot-up shooter.
  • With 5:40 left in the third quarter, Davis has a monster dunk that results in an and-1 and a stoppage of the clock. A friend asks, “What do you think Davis has?” with a big smile on his face, cell phone’s blue glow illuminating him as if he was telling a ghost story. He had 18 and 12, with five blocks.
  • Friend quotes: “I feel like we’re up by ten, what the [hell.]” (Up by two at that instance.) “Feels like last year, played close games to bad teams, then we’d lose.”
  • Williams put his first cringe worthy lineup in with a little under three minutes left in the third. It was Rivers-Jimmer Fredette-Salmons-Anderson-Davis. While the Anderson/Davis duo should be good enough at scoring, with three good ball handlers, I feel like one should always be in the game. This felt like doom. Editor’s note: I was gravely wrong.
  • Anderson would back his way down for a three point play. His next shot was from beyond the arc, and you could feel everyone slowly rise in anticipation. When the ball went in, being the second three point make for the team, the entire crowd erupted. Anderson hit a second, and then right before the quarter ended, a third, and blew the lid off the arena. That run by itself was the difference in an otherwise close game.
  • Friend Quote: “I get really mad when Davis gets taken out of the game.” Me too buddy, me too.
  • We finally see the three big man lineup for a bit. On top of that, they play a 2-3 zone. It works well for a couple of possessions, but the group lasts about a minute. Definitely curious if we will see this again against a team that shoots better than the Magic (Next game: Dallas Mavericks.)
  • “[Eric] Gordon is playing great!” said after a three point play which closed Gordon’s scoring night at eight (winning cures all.) Chris’ note: Gordon didn’t play bad today, making one three and not taking the ball out of other people’s hands. This is what I expect out of him, not losing us games, not winning us games. Though the potential, as always, is there.
  • Alexis Ajinca only played in garbage time, but it was totally worth it. After making an 8 foot jumper, we once again heard the French national anthem, which reminded me of when the Mexican flag was waved from the upper bowl rafters for Gustavo Ayon.
  • Jimmer Fredette closed the scoring with his first two points of the game off a couple of free throws. It broke 100 points for the Pelicans, as well as gave us this line to close on “Jimmer’s first points in the NBA, way to go kid.”
  • Elfrid Payton played his first game in the NBA this year. Being from Gretna, and going to school at the University of Louisiana Lafayette, there were a lot of jerseys, as well as friends and family at the event. It was definitely more jerseys than I’ve ever seen outside of Orlando. He struggled mightily last night. He got blocked often in the paint, and left many of us saying “What are you doing?”  The best line being “Don’t worry he’s the point guard, he’s only going to have the ball in his hands the entire game.”

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