Elfrid Payton game-time decision for Saturday against Suns
Anthony Davis seemed to return to form Wednesday vs. Chicago, putting up All-NBA type numbers (32 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, four blocks) in a relatively comfortable win over the Bulls. As New Orleans (5-6) tries to recapture the way it looked during a 4-0 start to the season, however, the Pelicans may also need a return to the floor by starting point guard Elfrid Payton, who was outstanding prior to being sidelined by an ankle injury during an Oct. 27 loss to Utah.
Payton has been upgraded on the team’s injury report a couple times this week and was deemed a game-time decision to play Saturday against Phoenix, which would be his first game action in exactly two weeks.
“We’ll have to see,” fourth-year head coach Alvin Gentry said after Friday practice of Payton’s status. “He’s going to do some other stuff (physically to test whether Payton can play). He’s a game-time decision. He’s made progress.”
New Orleans generated offensive ratings of 127.2 and 133.9, respectively, in its first two games – wins over Houston and Sacramento – but has not approached those numbers since, with its top recent performance being a 115.5 rating at Golden State on Oct. 31. In addition, the Pelicans have been much worse from the three-point line since Payton’s injury, shooting under 35 percent from the arc four times on a winless five-game road trip, compared to starting the season 41/103 in the first four games (39.8 percent). Perhaps most tellingly and damaging during Payton’s six consecutive DNPs, New Orleans turnovers have spiked, with 100 during that span (16.7 per game), compared to 63 in the five games the Gretna native played (12.6).
New Orleans has also slowed a bit pace-wise without Payton, though the Pelicans still are ranked fourth in that statistic overall (105.77 possessions per 48 minutes, via NBA.com, trailing only Atlanta, Sacramento and Lakers). Via Basketball-Reference.com, the team’s pace during the Oct. 19 win over Sacramento was a season-high 111.3 and at 108.6 eight days later against Utah, but the highest figure sans Payton was just 105.4 at Oklahoma City on Monday.
“He does a lot of that for us,” Gentry said of Payton spearheading the Pelicans’ emphasis on pushing the ball and running the floor for fast-break points. “But we still have to play with pace. We’re (fourth) in the league in pace, but to me, we should be first by far. We should be playing at that speed with or without him. Obviously we miss him, because he pushed the basketball and created some easy baskets for us.”
In the four full games Payton played, the fifth-year NBA veteran handed out at least six assists each night and averaged 7.0 dimes per game.