Pelicans believe the chemistry they already established will help in Orlando preparation
Like each of the 22 NBA teams competing in Orlando, the New Orleans Pelicans have some fine-tuning to do before they regain their collective rhythm on the court. It also will take some time to get into game shape. The team chemistry part? They believe they’ve already mostly got that down.
“I think one thing we have going for us is our guys genuinely like each other,” fifth-year head coach Alvin Gentry said after Saturday’s morning practice, his team’s second in Central Florida. “We have a pretty unselfish group of guys. They understand where the shots come, who shoots the shots, the execution of our offense, our defense. We had very defined roles at the time (the season was suspended in March).”
That’s one reason New Orleans is ranked third among all 30 NBA clubs in assists per game (27.0), a hair behind league-leading Phoenix (27.2). From Christmas through mid-March, the Pelicans topped the league in that category at 29.2, a key element to a 20-13 record over that timeframe.
“I don’t think (chemistry) will be a big problem,” said point guard Lonzo Ball, fifth in the NBA individually in assist average (8.2) after Christmas. “We’ll have these next two or three weeks of practice and get the feel going for one another back again. I think we should be able to pick up where we left off.”
In addition to Ball ranking No. 5 in the league in assists after the December holiday, fellow Pelicans backcourt starter Jrue Holiday placed 12th at 7.3, giving New Orleans the only team with two passers in the top 15. Meanwhile, All-Star forward Brandon Ingram showed more progress in his playmaking ability, putting up 4.8 dimes a night, No. 47 individually after Christmas.
“As far as the chemistry of our team, does it give us an advantage?” Gentry asked rhetorically Saturday. “I think there are a lot of teams here that have pretty good chemistry and were playing well (in mid-March). We happened to be playing well when the season was put on hiatus, but I also think our guys in particular feel like we’re going to pick up where we left off.”
Keeping with the theme of July not being viewed as a “new season,” the Pelicans are emphasizing that the goal is to simply build on the positives that were already taking place in the spring.
“We didn’t use the words ‘training camp’ at all when we came down here,” Gentry said. “We basically said we’re going to resume where we were when (the season) stopped. To pick up from where we were playing and play well.”
In terms of conditioning and game shape, Ingram believes that New Orleans’ youth could be an advantage over the next stretch of practice days and scrimmages. The Pelicans have numerous players 25 and under, including Ball, Ingram, key reserve Josh Hart and first-year pros Zion Williamson, Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker.
“We have a lot of young guys, so I don’t think it will take long, maybe a week or week and a half – I can’t really put a date on it,” Ingram said of the goal of regaining basketball shape as a team. “But I think we’re moving in the right direction.”