Jrue Holiday dunks left-handed vs. Houston

Pelicans expect to be in running for NBA’s No. 1 team in pace, fun

by Jim Eichenhofer

Prior to the NBA draft, Yahoo Sports described New Orleans as “early contenders for League Pass favorites.” The day after the Pelicans selected Zion Williamson with the top overall draft pick, CBSSports.com noted, “This team is barreling towards No. 1 status on League Pass … like next season.”

Behind a bundle of young talent and a head coach who prefers a high-octane, fast-breaking style of play, New Orleans should be one of the most aesthetically-pleasing clubs during the 2019-20 campaign. The Pelicans will likely see a spike in scheduled appearances on TNT and ESPN due to Williamson’s presence, something basketball fans across the nation should appreciate, particularly if New Orleans achieves its goal of playing with as much tempo as possible.

“We’ll have certain lineups for certain situations, but more than anything, we’re going to be a team that creates pace,” said Alvin Gentry, whose team ranked second in the NBA in tempo in ’18-19, trailing only Atlanta. “I’ll be really disappointed if we don’t lead the league in pace next year. I think we’ve got to get out and run. We’re going to make it a fun game for the fans to watch, but also be productive in what we’re doing.”

In conjunction with ESPN New Orleans’ announcement Wednesday that it is the new flagship radio station for the Pelicans, Gentry and David Griffin sat down for extensive interviews with host Gus Kattengell, touching on numerous topics. Perhaps the most compelling subject was the duo’s vision for how New Orleans expects to play. Griffin used an analogy from another sport to describe what the Pelicans are hoping to achieve stylistically.

“Brazilian (soccer) has been called the beautiful game, or the beautiful team,” Griffin said on 100.3 FM. “We have a chance to be a beautiful team. We have a chance to be a product that is incredibly fun to watch. If you’re not a Pelicans fan and live elsewhere in the country, you’re going to become one. This is a bandwagon that people in New Orleans are going to need to get ready to share some space with. We’re going to be a hell of a lot of fun to watch.”

One area of needed improvement for the Pelicans will be at the defensive end, where they finished 22nd in efficiency in ’18-19, a noticeable decline from the season prior, when an aggressive, trapping attack gave Portland fits during a first-round playoff sweep. Gentry indicated that New Orleans will at least partly try to return to that mindset of bringing the action to the opponent. The Pelicans were only a middle-of-the-pack team last season in fast-break points, but now possess more open-floor playmakers and finishers, with Williamson entering the NBA as a uniquely dangerous player in that category.

“I think that’s the type of team we’re going to be,” Gentry said. “We’re going to be proactive, so there will be mistakes made (on defense). I think what we’re going to be able to do is cover up for those mistakes and be so solid defensively that we’ll force teams to take bad shots that are going to lead to transition situations where we can come up with easy baskets. That’s going to be our goal.”

“We’re going to score, because of the nature of the system,” Griffin said, referring to Gentry’s attack, which managed to finish 12th last season in offensive efficiency, despite countless lineup shuffles and severely short-handed March and April rotations. “What we’re going to need to do is open the floor up enough where we can do it efficiently and capitalize on getting (defensive) stops.”

Gentry: “We want to be a team that creates easy baskets. The personnel we’re putting together is going to fit that pretty doggone well.”

Ultimately, the Pelicans picture a brand of basketball that’s entertaining for fans to watch and enjoyable for players to play. Griffin noted Wednesday that both could have additional long-term benefits.

“Because of Alvin’s system and the way we’re going to be able to play, we hope over the next couple years, we start to generate the kind of momentum that makes us a destination for players as well,” Griffin said. “We’re going to be a destination team for fans, so you’re going to want to get in (early) for sure.”

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