24 Seconds presented by Ibotta: Ryan Pannone
A conventional G League season was a logistical impossibility this winter, given the travel and testing complications brought about by a pandemic, so the circuit followed in the footsteps of the NBA, conducting a bubble on the same Orlando campus. The trip to Florida has been a smashing success so far for New Orleans’ G League affiliate, the Erie BayHawks, who’ve raced to first place among 18 teams, winning 10 of their first 12 games.
For this week’s “24 Seconds” Q&A, we caught up with Erie head coach Ryan Pannone, who’s been pleased with several aspects of his team’s performance so far. The G League’s single-elimination playoffs begin March 8:
Pelicans.com: How long has the team been in the bubble? What’s the experience been like?
Pannone: We got here Jan. 26. We had to quarantine as a team for a week before that, with everyone moving away from their families Jan. 20. The experience has been great, considering everything that’s happening in the world. We get an opportunity to play and coach a game in a very safe environment. You can always find something to complain about, but if you change your mindset from “I have to” to “I get to,” it puts everything in perspective. In the real world, people are out of a job, people are dying, people are on the front lines (in health care).
The G League has done a very good job with organizing the bubble, so it’s been great.
Pelicans.com: What’s your assessment of how the team has performed so far in Orlando? Through Sunday, Erie is in first place at 10-2.
Pannone: I think overall we’ve played very well. In the 12 games, I think we’ve played very good to great in eight of them, and then we had a three- or four-game stretch where we weren’t playing as well. I thought (Sunday) was one of our best games. Overall, our guys are playing hard, defending at a high level. Right now we have the highest defensive rating in the league and are top three or four in offense. I think the level we’ve played at without (much time for) practice and preparation has been a credit to our guys – to be able to watch film, make adjustments and execute what we do as a team. We’re playing 15 games in 25 days, so any day that’s off, it’s important to rest guys. Every minute they’re on their feet doing basketball stuff, you’re concerned about how you keep your guys healthy.
Pelicans.com: Let’s talk about the pair of Pelicans two-way guys. Naji Marshall is Erie’s second-leading scorer and shooting 53 percent from the field, despite only starting two of his nine games. Has he been kind of an instant offense impact off the bench?
Pannone: For us, he’s been instant defense. His offense is a correlation to his defense. The way he plays defensively is very energetic, very actively, very physically. That transfers to his offense. He’s getting a lot of deflections and steals, getting out in transition and running. He also plays very physically offensively, the way he attacks and puts pressure on the rim. Where he’s really grown from last season in college (at Xavier in Ohio) is his shooting. He’s shooting very well from three (43 percent). But his defense has really been the changer.
Pelicans.com: A native of Australia, Will Magnay has also primarily come off the bench, averaging nine points and five rebounds. Like Marshall, he’s been very efficient, at 58 percent from field. How has he performed so far?
Pannone: Considering he’s coming off an injury and is playing at about 70 percent athletically, what he’s been able to accomplish has been amazing. His toughness, his competitiveness is at an extremely high level. (On Sunday) he gets (accidentally) busted in the teeth and is bleeding everywhere, and I’m like “Are you OK?” He says “No, I’m good,” wipes it off and keeps playing. He’s got a lot of what Steven Adams has in him (in terms of toughness). His numbers don’t reflect how good he is. If you watched him in Brisbane, he is a shot-blocking, rim-protecting, lob-catching athlete. Here he is basically playing without his athleticism and is still finding a way to impact the game. If you watch us defensively, I think Coach Van Gundy would be really proud, because we play really hard, tough and physical. A lot of that stems from the way he plays. He’s been a massive defensive anchor and rim protector. He brings a level of toughness that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. He’s also a guy who plays the right way. A lot of two-ways that come to the G League, they want to shoot it every time and get touches. He doesn’t care. All he cares about is winning. He’ll do whatever it takes to win. That is of huge value to any team.
Pelicans.com: So what’s the next step after this for players? The G League playoffs end March 11. Then what?
Pannone: Hopefully some of them will get call-ups and 10-day contracts to the NBA. Other guys we’ll see go overseas. Everyone else will do their best to stay in shape and wait for the next opportunity, whether that is overseas or a summer league invite.
Pelicans.com: Partly based on the situation with COVID worldwide, for most guys, is it about looking ahead to next season or finishing out this one somewhere?
Pannone: No, I get contacted by teams every day for players to finish out this season, in Europe and Asia.