Quick thoughts: Looking back and forward for the Pelicans

Believe it or not, I gave a shit when the NBA bubble restarted play for the New Orleans Pelicans.

I wanted the eighth seed. I wanted Zion Williamson to steal the show. I wanted Lonzo Ball to dish out like he was John Stockton. I wanted the Pelicans to exhaust teams with their fast pace play and ongoing roster “depth”.

As you know, none of that happened. Instead, we got that squad we saw at the very beginning of the season. They were out of rhythm, out of synch, and full of mistakes. All Pelicans fans were brought back down to earth as the team that was advertised as “must see TV” was anything but.

To quote former Arizona Cardinals head coach Dennis Green, “They are who we thought they were!”

It’s become an all too real scenario for New Orleans’s basketball team. All potential highs are met with devastating lows. Now that the season is over, another new era has begun and Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin has the task of nailing down what the identity of the franchise is moving forward.

Coaching Void

Alvin Gentry has been let go as head coach and is likely for the best. I believe that Gentry was incredibly unlucky in New Orleans with key players constantly missing time due to injury and bad roster fits. However, persistent issues have plagued his brand of basketball the last few seasons. The current squad is a young one and the freeform nature of the offensive system may not be a fit. It’s also a very point guard driven system. When Lonzo Ball was on the offense took off. But as soon as we got a less than stellar version of Ball the offense was like driving a car with a missing wheel. I also feel Gentry emphasizes pace too much and it takes Brandon Ingram, their best creator with the ball in his hands, out of the order of things from time-to-time. We didn’t nearly see as much BI-Zion pick-and-roll as we should have. I also just thought Gentry’s substitutions to be just plain weird at times and plays drawn up out of time outs were hardly effective.

I don’t want to act like I know anything about the coaches out there and I don’t know if any of the choices are in the least bit exciting. I do think it will be Ty Lue or Kenny Atkinson. I do not believe Jason Kidd is a serious candidate. Whoever the eventual pick is, they have to be someone that can relate to young talent, draw up specific and direct plays to prevent offensive ruts that young guys get into, and have some kind of emphasis on defense. Hopefully, the new coach with have the right personnel to work with also.

Lonzo Ball

I hate being out on a 22-year-old but Lonzo Ball was a former No. 2 overall pick. I’m deeply concerned about consistency with Ball and I don’t want the Pelicans to get fooled into giving him an expensive extension that will plague the franchise for years. Ball took a long time to get going this season and didn’t really get sparked up until after Christmas. He made a strong connection with Zion and those full-court passes looked like they would take the league by storm. But none of that showed up inside the bubble when it really mattered. It took longer than it should have, but the team’s intensity was often boosted in bubble play in lineups featuring guards Frank Jackson and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. That’s not a good look for your starting floor general in a point guard driven system.

Jrue Holiday

My heart wants Jrue Holiday to stay in New Orleans forever but there are going to be several contending teams calling about him in the offseason. The Pelicans defense was terrible and he was the stand out player on that end of the floor. The Pelicans desperately need more than one guy willing and able to go to war on that end of the floor.

Zion Williamson

I think at this point we’re all concerned about his weight and injury issues. We should all remain in “wait and see” mode on those fronts though. Aaron Nelson is no stranger to handling these kind of medical issues. Just as much as we need to listen to actual doctors and scientists on the subject of COVID-19 rather than talking TV heads and Twitter, we should listen to Griffin messaging through Nelson when it comes to Zion.

Josh Hart

Josh Hart was named appropriately. He has heart. He’s a weapon in the open floor and finishing on a fast break. He will attempt to rebound when others will not. He’ll do things on defense. Keep him around for a long time.

Jaxson Hayes

Jaxson Hayes will be an important member of the Pelicans one day. For now, he gets lost on defense and makes mistakes. He also gets pushed around too much. I don’t think he’s aware of how physical he can be. However, Hayes is electrifying on offense his pick-and-roll is devastating and can usually be counted on for a quick bucket immediately after checking in. He will be interesting in years to come.

Frank Jackson

I get frustrated too much sometimes and sometimes Frank Jackson leads me down that path. People often say Jackson just needs more minutes. His bubble play suggested that as he got after it as his time was extended on the floor. He scores quick and can get you out of games. But I also often feel he isn’t used in the right way and that often results in bad versions we’ve seen of Jackson. When Jackson is in direct positions to score he can deliver. Dribbling around and trying to create isn’t a strong suit of his and often kills an offense. These moments may be a result of Gentry’s offense being too freeform with players that need missions. I think we need to come to terms with what Jack is at this point as well, he is a 6’3 bench scorer. That is his roll and that is the lane he needs to stay in.

Brandon Ingram

Brandon Ingram showed me fire and produced no matter who he shared the floor with. I think he can share the floor with anyone and can be a star in the league and help the Pelicans become a winner. He needs a team that believes in him and one that will build upon the strengths of the roster. I want Ingram around for a long time and I believe he wants to be in New Orleans too. I think the problem with Gentry as head coach is an inability to alter his system to enhance certain guys and Ingram is a guy that improved but also was taken out of games often by the nature of the system. He didn’t have the ball in his hands nearly enough. Rather we saw a struggling Ball continue to push pace and commit turnovers. Sign Ingram up long term. He’s the only guy on the roster that is a walking bucket and can create offense by himself.

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