The New Orleans Pelicans were supposed to revive their franchise post-Anthony Davis with a collection of castoffs from the Los Angeles Lakers plus the extraordinary luck of winning the Zion Williamson Sweepstakes last offseason.
Instead, Williamson has started the season injured, those Lakers have been exactly the kind of players who couldn’t make the playoffs with LeBron James on their team, and the Pellies stand a woeful 6-20, tied with the Knicks and Hawks for the second-worst record in all of basketball ahead of only the what-on-Earth-happened Golden State Warriors at 5-22.
And for all the talk of Brandon Ingram as Most Improved Player, that’s less a testament to Ingram’s emergence as a star and more a statement of just how bad he was before in order for anything resembling NBA competence to count as a quantum-leap improvement.
Lonzo Ball continues to struggle with his health (he’s played just 18 of 26 games this year, on pace to play a total of about 56), his shot (a pathetic .483 TS%), his aggressiveness (.106 FTR), and his ability to contribute in any way whatsoever to an NBA team (a you-gotta-be-kidding-me .003 WS/48 as his defense has fallen off a cliff on this atrocious Pelicans squad.)
Ball has negative Offensive Win Shares, and unlike before, his defense isn’t making up for it nearly as much as it did in Los Angeles, where he looked like a guy whose ceiling was a slicker-passing version of Tony Allen.
Ball is evolving into nothing more or less than a draft bust. He’s got the big name and the second-overall-pick pedigree, but his actual advanced stats scream, in no uncertain terms, “this guy sucks.”
Ingram’s offense has popped big time, as his TS% has risen to .606, he’s hitting over 40 percent from three, and the counting-stat fanatics are pointing at his 25.2 points per game as a sign that he’s arrived.
Of course, he still couldn’t guard my dead grandmother, but if this Pellies defense is so bad that even Trick or Treat Lonzo can’t make an impact defensively, maybe we should just acknowledge that’s a team problem and not an individual problem. Fact still remains Ingram’s ceiling is an all-offense no-defense scorer in the frontcourt, which means he’s not exactly Kevin Garnett out there. Nor is he Anthony Davis, the guy he ostensibly replaced.
Josh Hart is more of the same, a plus-VORP guy who is posting decent offensive stats but can’t play defense to save his life.
It’s The Holiday Season
Jrue Holiday is rightly celebrated for his ability to score in volume, as he’s averaging 19 points a game, second behind Ingram on the squad.
But his efficiency is, bluntly, gone. He’s matching his career-low 32.5 percent shooting from long range that he put up last year, he’s scoring 2.2 fewer points on the same number of shots (17.3 a game) that he put up in 2018-19, and his .042 WS/48 is the worst since his rookie season in Philadelphia way back when Holiday was just 19 years old.
His PER is the lowest it’s been since 2012. His TS% is the worst it’s been since 2014. It’s time to consider that Jrue might just be on the downside of his career, which is great if you want the Pelicans to draft another early lottery pick in 2020 but not so great if you think they’re going to be anything other than the Process reborn (funnily enough, Holiday was Sam Hinkie’s sacrificial lamb and his health was part of why no executive would deal with Hinkie from then onward.)
The Coaching Conundrum
Alvin Gentry is, bluntly, a horrific head coach. He’s a great assistant, but as a head man, he owns just three winning seasons in 17 tries, and one of those was the lockout year in 1999. The other two were a conference finals run with Phoenix in 2010 (any coach with Steve Nash and Amar’e Stoudamire should’ve gotten more than one playoff appearance out of them), and one of just two playoff appearances that Davis has yet seen in his career.
His overall record on the sideline is 486-573, over 1,000 games of general futility, and the 6-20 start to this season only further underscores what a dumpster fire Gentry-coached teams tend to be.
Three winning seasons in 17 tries. Why is this man continuously employed?
So Is There Hope?
Well, for one thing, Dell Demps is no longer in charge of the front office. That is unequivocally a good thing.
If the Pellies fire Gentry, get a good player-development guy on their sideline (maybe Brett Brown if the Sixers send him packing after this season when he can’t lead them to the conference finals?), and get Zion back along with a good pick in next year’s draft, they’ll have the pieces required for a breakout season in 2020-21.
But if they continue to let a bad coach hinder the development of a slew of young talent, and if they can’t figure out how to play defense (again, Ball is the mine canary here because we know full well he’s capable of being an excellent defender on bad teams since he’s done it his whole career in Los Angeles), this could become a culture-of-losing club that never manages to be even as good as what on paper they should be.
In other words, the same old Pelicans, a fine contender (to the extent the Knicks don’t have it on lockdown) as the Cleveland Browns or Washington Redskins of the NBA.
Bottom line, this franchise is a dumpster fire. But at least they have pieces they can build on if their front office doesn’t manage to screw it up.
And for love of the gods, fire Alvin Gentry and don’t ever let him be a head coach again. He’s atrocious and it seems like every time he gets fired, the team he previously coached gets better. Even the Suns had a flirtation with the playoffs when Gentry got replaced by Jeff Hornacek, and the Pistons won their title just three years after Gentry got shoved out the door.
NEXT WEEK: Cleveland Cavaliers.