December 14, 2019, 3:48 pm
The season definitely was not supposed to turn out this way. Between Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday, and Derrick Favors, the Pelicans at least appeared to have the makings of an average defense. Thus far, it hasn’t been anywhere close to average, and it is the biggest on-court reason the Pelicans are struggling. The Pelicans are 29th in defensive rating right now. 29th! On a per-possession basis, they are 3rd worst in allowing 2nd chance points; 5th worst in allowing points on fast breaks; 5th worst in allowing points in the paint. They don’t block shots. To be clear, some of this is probably linked to offensive issues that are hidden behind a reasonable offensive rating. The Pelicans don’t have a lot of guys who can create havoc attacking the paint, and accordingly, their offense can stagnate for that reason as they somewhat meaninglessly toss the ball around the perimeter. They jack up 3s too early and too often. And in the midst of an 11 game losing streak, there have been enough moments to question whether the team consistently cares enough to change a lot of these issues. A ridiculously hard schedule is not an excuse here. The team has been flat-out awful recently.
To be clear, the vast majority of this season has been played without Derrick Favors (and many others), who has missed a lot of time due to injuries, conditioning, and the passing of his mother. His absence is felt strongly, as Jaxson Hayes is the only other Pelican big who can contest even reasonably well in the paint. The compounding effect of not having consistent rim protection is clear, as it puts players in a no-win position in a trigger-happy NBA: allow open perimeter shots or allow an uncontested foray into the paint. The data does not back it up yet (in his 204 minutes, the team is at roughly a 112 defensive rating, which is nothing to write home about), but as Favors gets more time in the system with players like Jrue, it is reasonable to expect that their defensive units could help pull the Pelicans’ woeful team rating down to at least below-average. Continuity matters, and the Pelicans simply haven’t had anything reasonably approximating it as the season has unfolded. Zion’s return, whenever that may be, might help the defense (this says more about the minutes he’s replacing rather than his current defensive ability). But this season truly has been a colossal short-term disaster for a team that had a lot of internal and external hype coming into the season. They are 6 games back from 8th at the moment, with Oklahoma City likely to drop rapidly from 7th once they shed some of their veterans for a full-scale rebuild; whether the Pelicans are interested in a similar seasonal path to OKC will depend on the next few games. At some point, it seems fair to question whether it is even fair to roster guys who could contribute on winning teams.
Of course, it is absolutely imperative that the excruciating spectacle of this season be separated from the long-term outlook for the franchise. They don’t have bad contracts, Brandon Ingram is the real deal, Jaxson Hayes has shown promise, and Zion still has Hall-of-Fame potential if he can stay healthy. But the culture definitely appears to be suffering right now, and that is way more important to correct than it is to win a ton of games. Some other notes:
-Lonzo Ball has absolutely been underwhelming this year. There is no way around that. But pointing to his poor shooting “improvement” from Los Angeles is premature, as it would be to conclude that his shooting had improved if his percentage was a couple points higher. When your 3 point percentage moves up or down almost a full point based on a miss or a make, it is far too early to be drawing conclusions. This is not conjecture: this is basic statistical reasoning. Randomness is a reality in basketball shooting or any sort of binomial trial. What is more concerning is that Lonzo simply isn’t getting into the paint much, and if he isn’t able to rectify that, there is almost no way he becomes a true point guard. This would be okay, but it would materially affect how high his ceiling could be.
-Jaxson Hayes is ahead of schedule. He is raw and is still picking up on the nuances of the NBA game, but the motor is there, as is his clear athletic foundation. His lack of offensive game outside of shots around the rim is much less important than learning when to take chances on defense and how to position himself to become a better defensive rebounder.
-This seemed highly implausible to start the season, but as alluded to earlier, the day in which the Pelicans would be wise to at least listen to Jrue Holiday offers is approaching. How much they should listen depends on whether he is comfortable and wanting to stick around. Jrue has been a consummate professional in his time in New Orleans and it would be fair of him to ask out if the Pelicans continue to lose at this rate.
-Brandon Ingram’s 3 point shooting appears to be regressing towards the mean. It’s important to remember that the true “mean” of a player’s shooting numbers changes over time as the player becomes more or less proficient and as his responsibility changes. What is encouraging is that this “mean” appears to be significantly higher than the low 30% figures Ingram produced while in Los Angeles. He looks the part of a player who can score at all 3 levels and will undoubtedly be handed a max at the end of the season.
The season is not over yet, but where the Pelicans fall on the scale of “develop young players at expense of wins” to “trying to win as much as possible” could rapidly change if the Pelicans continue to lose so many games. NBA minutes are a currency of finite supply, and the Pelicans need to figure out which young guys fit around Zion and Ingram as they move further into their rebuild.
January 17, 2020, 7:10 pmMichael Carter-WilliamsPG, Orlando Magic
As he continues to deal with an AC joint sprain in his left shoulder, Michael Carter-Williams is questionable for Saturday's matchup with the Warriors.
Carter-Williams has not been roster worthy all season with the Magic, and that is not going to change even if he returns while D.J. Augustin is still out. It's best to leave MCW on the wire unless you are in the deepest of leagues.
Source: John Denton on Twitter
January 17, 2020, 7:03 pmMike ConleyPG, Utah Jazz
Mike Conley is probable to return from his strained left hamstring and face the Kings on Saturday.
Conley's return has long been anticipated, and he can only go up after a lousy start to his career as part of the Jazz. He has not seen the court since December 17, and his return should hurt Joe Ingles' value to some degree as the two did not coexist well prior to Conely's injury. If he is available Conley is well worth a pickup to see if he can rediscover the early-round value he delivered for so many years in Memphis. He is simply too talented, and the Jazz are far too committed to this experiment to let Conley go on playing this poorly.
Source: Andy Blarsen on Twitter
January 17, 2020, 6:52 pmShabazz NapierPG, Minnesota Timberwolves
Shabazz Napier is set to start on Friday when the Wolves face the Raptors.
With Jeff Teague shipped to the Hawks Napier should be in for a nice run as the Wolves starting point guard. A trade away from the team looms, but Karl-Anthony Towns is back to serve as the focal point of the offense, which should ensure Napier gets plenty of assists without destroying your field-goal percentage. Jordan McLaughlin has also joined the Wolves and will serve as the backup point guard.
Source: Al Horton on Twitter
January 17, 2020, 6:40 pmTyler HerroPG, Miami Heat
Tyler Herro's left knee bruise has him heading for a true game-time decision to face the Thunder on Friday.
It looks like you'll have to really keep your eyes on this one to find out if Herro is playing on Friday. Everyone will lose some minutes if Herro is ready to roll, including Kendrick Nunn, Duncan Robinson and Goran Dragic. Herro is still largely a 3-point shooting streamer, and it will be diffcult for him to rise above all of the competition on the Heat's roster to reach standard league value.
Source: Anthony Chiang on Twitter
January 17, 2020, 6:35 pmSteven AdamsC, Oklahoma City Thunder
A right knee contusion will force Steven Adams to miss Friday's game vs. the Heat.
Adams' status went downhill over the course of the day, but hopefully, this is not even a medium-term issue. Nerlens Noel is set to return for the Thunder and should be in for a solid night of production with Adams out. Before this issue arose Adams was finally playing like a mid-round talent, but Noel had been pushing him into a timeshare for much of the season.
Source: Royce Young on Twitter
January 17, 2020, 6:31 pmNerlens NoelC, Oklahoma City Thunder
Nerlens Noel (sprained right ankle) will be available when the Thunder meet the Heat on Friday.
Noel will return after missing half a dozen games for the Thunder, and it is good timing as Steven Adams (knee) will sit this game out. Noel could see a minutes bump that would make him a nice streaming option if he is not currently owned in your league.
Source: Royce Young on Twitter
January 17, 2020, 6:27 pmJae CrowderPF, Memphis Grizzlies
Jae Crowder is set to return from right hip soreness to face the Cavs on Friday.
It was a brief one-game absence for Crowder who has been able to carry late-round value in standard leagues all season. He is not going to win you a championship but Crowder makes for a nice end of the roster glue guy. Unfortunately, Crowder's return will go back to capping De'Anthony Melton's upside.
Source: Anthony Sain on Twitter
January 17, 2020, 6:23 pmMaurice HarklessSF, Los Angeles Clippers
Suffering from a sore lower back, Maurice Harkless is now questionable for Saturday's contest against the Hornets.
The Clippers will be without Paul George (strained left hamstring) already, and if Harkless were to join him on the sidelines minutes would shift towards JaMychal Green and Rodney McGruder. Green could have some sneaky value with 3-pointers and rebounds heading his way.
Source: Brad Turner on Twitter
January 17, 2020, 6:19 pmAnthony DavisPF-C, Los Angeles Lakers
Anthony Davis (glute contusion) is a game-time call when the Lakers and Rockets play on Saturday.
The Lakers have no urgency in forcing AD's return to the floor, but if he is ready for the primetime affair on ABC it will mean a decline in value for Dwight Howard, JaVale McGee and Kyle Kuzma. If Davis wants some MVP voting spotlight this could make for nice timing.
Source: Dave McMenamin on Twitter
January 17, 2020, 6:15 pmJJ RedickSG, New Orleans Pelicans
J.J. Redick (left hamstring strain) is questionable to meet the Clippers on Saturday.
If Redick has to miss this one expect Josh Hart and E'Twaun Moore to be the main beneficiaries. Redick remains a late-round asset in standard leagues, but if you don't need his 3-pointers a drop is a reasonable move. Redick is never going to hit mid-round value.
Source: NBA Injury Report