Zion Williamson (left) and Lonzo Ball talk during a recent home game

Pelicans Playback: Three takeaways from David Griffin’s March 21 appearance

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

Prior to Saturday’s rebroadcast of New Orleans’ memorable road win at Denver from Christmas night, Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin joined Fox Sports New Orleans TV sideline reporter Jennifer Hale on the “Pelicans Playback” pregame show. Visit Pelicans.com on Sunday for the second episode of the show, featuring a guest appearance by Pelicans GM Trajan Langdon at 5:30 p.m. Central.

Griffin spoke at length during Saturday’s 30-minute show about the team’s in-season improvement and several other topics, also addressing a series of fan questions that were tweeted to @PelicansNBA. Here are three takeaways from Griffin’s appearance:

Lonzo Ball and Nicolo Melli are excellent while paired with Zion Williamson.

The on-court combination of those three players following Williamson’s Jan. 22 debut allowed the Pelicans to reach a different level as a team. Ball consistently fed the No. 1 draft pick for lobs, while Melli’s three-point shooting provided even more room for Williamson to get all the way to the rim.

“A big part of it is the chemistry you see with Lonzo and Zion,” Griffin said. “They have a special connection. I think Nicolo Melli getting more minutes, and him starting to become a key part of the rotation has been essential as well. Those three guys work incredibly well as a unit. Zion gives us another player who can create vertical thrust in the offense, and Lonzo can pick defenses apart with his passing.”

Although obviously not all of Melli’s minutes were played with Williamson following the rookie’s NBA debut, Melli shot 33.3 percent from three-point range before Jan. 22, then shot 39.1 percent from that date forward.

“Melli, when there is that dive thrust (by Williamson) toward the rim, (Melli) is going to be pulling bigs away from the basket,” Griffin said. “He is absolutely essential when Zion’s on the floor, from a spacing standpoint. When you see the relationship between those three growing, it just exponentially improves our team.”

 Australia has been beneficial for Didi Louzada.

A second-round draft pick last June, Louzada’s play was one of many positive developments during NBA Summer League for the Pelicans, who also saw first-round picks Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker emerge as some of the top players in the circuit. Louzada’s development continued this winter, as he suited up for the Sydney Kings in Australia’s pro league. 

The 20-year-old averaged 10.3 points in 20 NBL games, while impressive at the defensive end of the floor from his wing position.

Griffin explained that having rugged defenders on New Orleans’ roster helped allow the Pelicans to bring Louzada along at the proper pace.

Josh Hart is absolutely our junkyard dog right now,” Griffin said of the hard-nosed third-year pro. “He’s the guy setting the tone to an enormous degree by giving himself up on the defensive end. We were so blessed by his presence and the presence of Kenrich Williams, having veteran defensive players. We could afford to let Didi develop in Australia.”

Griffin noted that Langdon’s close relationship with Sydney coach Will Weaver gave the Pelicans even more confidence that Australia would benefit Louzada. Langdon and Weaver were both in the Brooklyn organization and won a G League title with Long Island.

“We were able to get Didi really far ahead of the curve in his development,” Griffin said. “Because we knew unequivocally that Will and his staff were going to do a phenomenal job. It was a really positive thing for us that Sydney was the team Didi ended up with. His development on a very veteran team that had the best record in their league the vast majority of the season, as a starter and defensive stopper, is exactly what we wanted. The future is very bright there as a potential three-and-D stopper who can guard multiple positions.”

The NBA is in wait-and-see mode right now, while dealing with unprecedented circumstances.

Asked if he has a feeling on when basketball may be able to return, Griffin responded, “With everything changing so quickly, everything is in a state of flux that I think it would be premature for the NBA to say what it ultimately looks like. I do know unequivocally that the league is very mindful of the idea of getting back to playing. The idea of canceling a season is not all on their minds, and we’re modeling every possible thing we can for how we can deliver a product to the fans. Quite frankly, we’re all going to need a diversion in the future. (But) until we can get to a point where we think we’ve got containment of (the coronavirus), we’re going to continue to stay locked down. Hopefully we’ll get to a point where we can come back sooner rather than later.”

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