Jaxson Hayes takes a layup at Indiana

Pelicans shootaround update presented by Entergy: NOLA seeking best seven-game start since 2010

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

Over the past decade, there have been plenty of instances where New Orleans basketball fans entered a season with great optimism about their favorite team, but that enthusiasm was dampened just a week or two into the 82-game schedule. Since rebranding as the Pelicans in 2013-14, the club has endured costly starts of 0-6, 0-8 and 0-4, for example, and only once sported a winning record through six games. The 2018-19 club began that campaign 4-0, but then immediately lost six consecutive games and was 15-19 by Christmas.

That’s one reason why the Pelicans’ 4-2 start to 2020-21 has been relatively unique, featuring victories over Toronto (twice), San Antonio and Oklahoma City. With a win Monday vs. Indiana, New Orleans would be 5-2 or better through seven games for the first time since 2010-11, when the then-Hornets started 8-0 under first-year head coach Monty Williams.

Here is NOLA’s record through seven games in the nine seasons since then:

2011-12: 2-5

2012-13: 3-4

2013-14: 3-4

2014-15: 4-3 (3-3 through six games)

2015-16: 1-6

2016-17: 0-7

2017-18: 3-4

2018-19: 4-3 (4-2 through six games)

2019-20: 1-6

Notes after Monday’s morning shootaround:

Just after 12 noon, free agent signee Wenyen Gabriel was upgraded to probable in a Monday injury update. However, Stan Van Gundy indicated after Sunday's practice that it may take some time for Gabriel to be ready to play, because the forward has missed virtually everything the Pelicans have done in terms of practices and training camp. ...

New Orleans has already won twice while shooting under 43 percent from the field, including a season-low 38 percent Dec. 27 vs. the Spurs. The Pelicans have prevailed by excelling in several other categories, including winning the rebounding battle all but once (not surprisingly, the exception was at Phoenix), getting to the foul line frequently and cutting back on turnovers.

“We want to rely on our defense,” JJ Redick said of beating San Antonio and Toronto despite below average offensive games for New Orleans. “You don’t want to shoot around 40 percent every game – you want to get to the point where you’re consistently having that ball moving and the offense humming, and feeling like you can generate good offense every time down the floor. You don’t want to be in these slug-it-out games every night, but the fact that we’ve shown that we can win with our defense is huge. For us to be a playoff team and a good team, we’ve got to be one of the better defensive teams in the league.” …

Individually, Redick is off to a rough shooting start (31 percent from field, 26 percent on threes), but the 15-year NBA guard pointed out that he hasn’t had many high-volume games. In fact, since firing 14 shots at Toronto in the season opener, his attempts are way down, averaging just 4.3 FGAs over the last three games.

“I don’t think I’m struggling shooting the ball; I just am not getting shots,” said Redick, who has gone 1-for-4 from the field in consecutive games. “For me to have a 1-for-4 shooting night, is that a real shooting night? I would love to have a 3-for-12 game (where he gets more opportunities). Give me a 3-for-12 game over a 1-for-4 game all day.”

Although Van Gundy said this weekend that the Pelicans need to find ways to help Redick get better shots, the 36-year-old said he needs to figure that out himself, at one point saying “It’s not on (Van Gundy). I’m a man. I’ve played in this league 15 years. I know I can play better. But I don’t feel like I’m playing bad or struggling. I need to figure out how to get those opportunities in the way we’re playing. That’s on me. I’m fine.

“One year I started 3-for-25 from three playing for Stan, and I shot 40 percent for the year. So I’m always confident that the law of averages will kind of even out, and I’ll be around 40 percent at some point. All good.”

Indiana (4-2) scouting report

Offensive efficiency rank: 6 (112.6)

Defensive efficiency rank: 7 (105.4)

Streak: Lost 1

Go-to guy: It’s constantly changing hands. During a memorable run to the 2018 playoffs, Victor Oladipo was the No. 1 option, but in the Orlando bubble last summer it was T.J. Warren, who was one of the biggest stars of the NBA restart. Early in 2020-21, Indiana’s best player has been Domantas Sabonis, who is averaging 20.8 points and 11.3 rebounds, but Malcolm Brogdon took over as the team’s leading scorer with a 33-point game Saturday vs. the Knicks, now averaging 22.2. Meanwhile, Oladipo is at 20.0 ppg in his five appearances. A major strength for Indiana is the fact that an array of Pacers can erupt offensively on any given night.

On the rise: Two seasons ago with Milwaukee, Brogdon famously compiled a rare 50-40-90 shooting season, which led Indiana to go all-in on acquiring him as a restricted free agent. The point guard’s efficiency dipped in 2019-20 during his injury-impacted debut campaign with the Pacers (44-33-89 on field goals, three-pointers and free throws), but those numbers have spiked through six games this season, at 53-45-88. His assist-to-turnover ratio is excellent at 6.3 to 2.0.

Previous game starting lineups

INDIANA (4-2)

Saturday loss vs. New York

Malcolm Brogdon, Aaron Holiday, Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner

Notes: Holiday is a fill-in starter for Warren, who is sidelined indefinitely after undergoing foot surgery. Holiday has been officially listed as a forward by Indiana in the box score, but the younger brother of Jrue Holiday is a 6-foot guard, shifting Oladipo to small forward defensively in many lineups. The other Holiday brother, Justin, re-signed with the Pacers and comes off the bench.

NEW ORLEANS (4-2)

Saturday win vs. Toronto

Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Ingram, Zion Williamson, Steven Adams

Notes: In minutes per game, all five Pelicans starters are averaging between 33.2 (Ingram) and 29.5 (Bledsoe). Reserve wing Josh Hart is not far behind that group at 28.3 mpg.

Pelicans keys to victory

GOING OLD SCHOOL IN THE PAINT

In the modern NBA, analysts often insist that you can’t be successful without a “stretch big” who helps improve spacing in a halfcourt offense, but the Pelicans and Pacers are going against the grain, using frontcourt starters who thrive mostly near the rim. Williamson and Adams are a combined 0/2 from three-point range early in 2020-21. Sabonis and Turner are much more willing perimeter shooters (combined 15/45 from arc), but Sabonis is also one of the NBA’s most skilled low-post scorers and Turner leads the league in shot-blocking (3.7 bpg) by more than one swat per game (Houston’s Christian Wood ranks second at 2.3).

KEEP EARNING THOSE FREEBIES

New Orleans set a franchise record Saturday vs. Toronto by making 47 trips to the foul line. Spending so much time at the charity stripe always helps New Orleans set up its defense and makes the opponent play more halfcourt offense. Ingram (14) and Williamson (10) accounted for roughly half of the team’s attempts.

BUCKLE DOWN IN THE BACKCOURT

They won’t always be matched up against each other, partly because Indiana is now starting games with essentially a three-guard lineup, but it should be fun to watch Ball and Bledsoe perform against the Indiana duo of Brogdon and Oladipo. Oladipo has missed each of the last four meetings vs. New Orleans (over two regular seasons) due to injury.

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