Dell Demps: Free-agent additions will fit Pelicans’ up-tempo style

by Jim Eichenhofer

You could already picture the scene in the Smoothie King Center this fall: Julius Randle grabbing a defensive rebound, dishing off to Elfrid Payton, then immediately sprinting the floor along with Anthony Davis, as Payton rapidly dribbles into the frontcourt, scanning the court for an open shooter.

New Orleans was already one of the NBA’s fastest-playing teams midway through last season, but the Pelicans doubled down after the All-Star break, reaping immense rewards in the form of a 20-8 close to the 82-game schedule. Based on Friday’s press conference introducing Payton and Randle, Alvin Gentry’s up-tempo attack may have just doubled down again, with New Orleans believing the pair of free agents fit perfectly in a transition-heavy style.

“I think the way they play fits into how we want to play,” Pelicans GM Dell Demps said of Randle and Payton. “We want to play fast, we want to defend, get out in transition. The other thing is they are very unselfish players, which has been great with our group. I think last year we were second in the league in assists. They fit right in with that. Their ability to make plays for their teammates and themselves is really going to enhance our team.”

Payton, a native of nearby Gretna, noted that New Orleans’ emphasis on running was one factor behind his decision to play in his home NBA city.

“Pushing the ball in transition, getting into the paint, things I’ve done over my career, and finding shooters,” Payton said of what his Pelicans job description will be. “This team has a lot of shooters. Getting the ball to big men like Julius and AD, once I’m in the lane. Definitely pushing the pace. I think it definitely fits my strengths, and that’s one of the reasons I was excited to sign here.”

Along with their fit within the team’s system, Demps emphasized that Randle, 23, and Payton, 24, were attractive pickups at this specific stage of their NBA careers. Both are four-year veterans who were lottery picks in ’14.

“These are guys we call young veterans,” Demps said. “They have experience and have been in the league, had success. We just feel like they’re ready to go, ready to play and ready to impact winning. Our group is excited. You can feel the energy in the building after we got the commitment from both of these guys.”

Speaking of excitement, Randle and Payton are enthusiastic to join a Pelicans team that won 48 games, reached the playoffs in the rugged Western Conference and swept Portland in the first round, prior to being eliminated by eventual NBA champion Golden State. The duo has never appeared in the postseason, with Randle’s 35-win Lakers squad last season matching Payton’s 35-win club of ’15-16.

“I’m excited to have the opportunity to play on a playoff team, and play with guys who’ve been there,” Payton said. “I’ve never experienced that. If it’s everything I’ve heard, I want to be there.”

“It’s important to me, because I’ve never experienced it,” Randle said of reaching the playoffs. “Seeing what this team did last year, the style of play and how I fit in, it was super important, just to be able to build on that and be able to carry that even farther. It’s not about getting to the second round. We were on the phone (with the Pelicans front office) and we were talking about building championships. That’s my mindset.”