October 25, 2019, 2:31 am
One game is simply not enough to freak out or get overexcited; although the Pelicans have only played one game, there seems to be an overanxious nature about what happened against the Raptors. To this, there are several things to note:
- The Raptors, despite losing Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, are still a very good team
- The Pelicans were playing on the road
- The Pelicans have far less continuity than most teams, and certainly much less than the Raptors
- The Pelicans are playing without what looks to be their second-best player in Zion Williamson
- The Pelicans still managed to squeeze out overtime despite all of these things
A balanced perspective is of paramount importance early on. There are Easter eggs in these games, but there is no need to dive after one and lose sight of all the others. In this game, the Pelicans showed that they have great depth, can run a crazy pace, can be dangerous from behind the arc, can turn the ball over a lot in small sequences, etc. But there are two things that seem to be the most important given what happened in the game: getting to and finishing at the rim.
This is an area that was heavily affected the second Zion’s injury was announced. He is an otherworldly finisher at the rim and also has an elite ability to get there. He shoots through gaps with excellent quickness and has the bounce, dexterity, and strength to finish once he gets there. Now that his roster spot has been vacated for the time being, it leaves a glaring hole, and it is one that manifested in the results against the Raptors. On opening night, the Pelicans got to the basket only 29 times to the Raptors’ 58. Both numbers should be expounded upon.
29 shots at the rim is not a good number.
The context here is that the Raptors are likely to have an excellent defense despite the loss of two stud wing defenders in Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. However, it is a bit alarming that the Pelicans didn’t get more shots here, and could be the result of several things.
Jrue Holiday wasn’t nearly as aggressive as the “Jrue MVP” candidacy would lead one to believe, and this is something that absolutely needs to change in Zion’s absence. Holiday is unequivocally the best player on the team and, despite his unselfishness being a good thing in a vacuum, it is really up to him to get his own shot.
Lonzo Ball, unfortunately, is not the best at being a threat to take it to the rim and that undoubtedly had a hand to play in the team’s deficiency.
Even though this is likely to be an outside-in offense for the time being, the Pelicans will have to find a way into the paint to create both better offense and to get to the foul line. A 19.6% free throw rate simply isn’t good enough and is inextricably linked to their tendency to settle for jumpers against Toronto. Of course, the Raptors defense factored in, and of course, it was just one game.
58 shots at the rim is a whole lot.
After witnessing Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam destroy the Pelicans defense all night, there are a lot of questions to answer.
This is going to be a team that plays a lot of small ball for the time being, and in doing that, it’s pretty much guaranteeing poor rebounding and poor rim protection. This is okay, as the counter to that is that the offense can play faster and sport much better spacing than it would have otherwise, but if the team truly is going to play small as much as it did against the Raptors, it is absolutely imperative that they do a better job keeping teams away from the rim.
A good drive collapses the defense and creates good shots; when these drives result in shots at the rim, this basically means (against the Pelicans, given the aforementioned issues) that the shots will be good ones and that offensive rebound opportunities will be plentiful. After all, which Pelican besides Derrick Favors is going to jump over a 6’8″ or 6’9″ guy to snag a rebound consistently?
The key is to limit the amount of times that the other team gets there — and the Pelicans are equipped to do it. Holiday and Ball is one of the league’s best one-two perimeter defense tandems and both are fully capable of staying in front of their man. Brandon Ingram isn’t the best defender ever, but he can move well enough to stay in front and certainly has no shortage of length to get his arms in passing lanes.
Conclusion: Not to Overreact
This was one game, and a game against a very good team in the national spotlight.
The Pelicans will have plenty of time to iron out these issues as the season goes along, and although the playoffs are very much a goal, this is not a team that is going to compete deep into the playoffs. That sort of perspective should be applied to every game, as it is probably more important that individual young pieces (Zion, Lonzo, Ingram, NAW) develop than it is that the team wing a lot of games.
The window for being more competitive, given Zion’s health, is probably three or so years away, and every game is an opportunity to see how these pieces develop; in this particular way, the development of these young players and their abilities to both get to the rim and keep opponents from getting there will yield both short-term and long-term benefits.