Stan Van Gundy (left) chats with Lonzo Ball in-game

Pelicans shootaround update presented by Entergy: Three New Orleans 'NBA older brothers'

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

As it turns out, the Friday on-court matchup between New Orleans point guard Lonzo Ball and his younger brother, Charlotte point guard LaMelo Ball, isn’t the only sibling connection that will be part of ESPN’s national broadcast. Although he won’t be physically present at the Smoothie King Center, TV analyst Jeff Van Gundy will be calling the game, raising the possibility for an in-game, between-quarters interview with the head coach of the Pelicans, his older brother Stan Van Gundy.

There is actually a third “older NBA brother” beyond Lonzo Ball and Stan Van Gundy in the Pelicans’ locker room: fifth-year forward/center Willy Hernangomez, 26, is the sibling of Minnesota forward Juan Hernangomez, 25.

Willy still has vivid memories from the first time he played against Juan in the NBA, a home game at Madison Square Garden against Juan’s Denver squad in February 2017. Juan prevailed on the scoreboard 131-123, but Willy fondly recalls the significance of the meeting between natives of Spain.

“My family flew over (to New York City) and it was the first time they were in the United States,” Willy said after Friday’s Pelicans shootaround. “There were a lot of emotions going on before, during and after the game. To see my parents’ faces, I was crying to see us making our dream come true, with both guys playing in the NBA and making our family proud. It was special. You’re never going to get used to that feeling, because it’s very unique.”

Willy said he hopes Lonzo relishes the experience of playing in the same game as a brother for the first time.

“I would tell Lonzo to enjoy it, because it’s a really special day,” he said. “And get the W tonight.”


Other notes from Friday’s shootaround:

The status of Nicolo Melli (personal reasons) for Friday’s game has been changed from questionable to him being available to play. JJ Redick (right knee contusion) is probable, while Wenyen Gabriel (right lower back contusion) is now on the injury list and deemed questionable for Friday’s game. …

Willy Hernangomez spent the past two-plus seasons playing for Charlotte (3-5), making him more familiar with the Hornets roster than anyone in a City edition home uniform tonight.

Hernangomez on Charlotte: “They’ve done a good job with their young guys. They have talented players, Devonte’ (Graham), B.J. (Washington), Miles (Bridges), Malik (Monk). Those guys have been together for a couple years, so they really know each other well and are getting better and better every single game, day and year. Being a young team, they’re going to make mistakes, but I’m really looking forward to playing against them tonight, and trying to get the win. We really need it, after the last two losses. I’m more focused just on my team, our work and our game, more than who we’re playing.” …

Brandon Ingram on how the Ball brothers have dealt with attention and being in the spotlight: “They’ve handled it like professionals, like they’ve been doing it their whole life. Lonzo, ever since I met him has been pretty lowkey in everything he does, ready to work. He’s always in the gym, trying to get better. LaMelo is a character. I really like LaMelo. He’s got a lot of stuff to his game. He’s just a funny guy.”


Charlotte (3-5) scouting report

Offensive efficiency rank: 27 (103.9)

Defensive efficiency rank: 12 (106.9)

Streak: Won 1

Go-to guy: Forward Gordon Hayward and guard Terry Rozier are both off to hot starts for the Hornets and recently produced a career-best scoring performance. Hayward racked up 44 points Wednesday at Atlanta, while Rozier erupted for 42 points in Charlotte’s Dec. 23 season opener in Cleveland. Both are averaging over 20 points per game, while doing so efficiently. Hayward (21.9) shoots 49 percent from the field and 36 percent from three-point range, while Rozier (20.6) is at 47 and 44 percent in those categories. A shaky three-point shooter for parts of his four-year tenure in Boston, since becoming a full-time starter with Charlotte, Rozier has shot an elite 43 percent on nearly seven attempts per game.

On the rise: There are several candidates in this department on a Hornets roster filled with recent high draft picks, but rookie LaMelo Ball, 19, is on a roll right now. After an up-and-down opening week of 2020-21, the younger brother of Lonzo Ball has registered double-digit points – as well as five-plus assists – in five consecutive games. During a one-sided win at Dallas on Dec. 30, LaMelo scored a season-high 22 points on 7/10 shooting (including going 4/5 on three-pointers).

Previous game starting lineups

CHARLOTTE (3-5)

Wednesday win at Atlanta

Devonte’ Graham, Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, P.J. Washington, Bismack Biyombo

Notes: The plan to open 2020-21 was to start Cody Zeller at center, but a hand injury sidelined him after just one game. The Hornets have gone 3-4 with this lineup over the last seven games. … Among non-starters, forward Miles Bridges (24.9 minutes per game) and Ball (24.0) play the most for Charlotte.

NEW ORLEANS (4-4)

Wednesday loss vs. Oklahoma City

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

Notes: New Orleans has maintained the same first unit in every game, a group that has logged 105 minutes on the court together. The second-most used lineup consists of Ball, JJ Redick, Josh Hart, Ingram and Adams (33 minutes). … With Redick sidelined in the second half Wednesday by injury, reserve guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker logged a season-high 27 minutes vs. Oklahoma City and first cousin Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Pelicans keys to victory

SPRINT BACK ON DEFENSE

Following Thursday’s Pelicans practice, it was difficult to keep up with how many times Stan Van Gundy said his primary coaching emphasis right now is transition defense. New Orleans allowed a whopping 27 fast-break points in Wednesday’s one-point loss to OKC.

NEXT MAN UP

Will we see a new face or two off the New Orleans bench against Charlotte? Melli and Redick’s status was uncertain Thursday but both were upgraded Friday afternoon, with Melli now available to play and Redick listed as probable. Regardless of who plays, New Orleans needs more production and consistency from its bench.

CONTAIN AIR JORDAN'S GORDON

One of the more surprising events of the brief NBA offseason occurred when Gordon Hayward opted out of his contract in Boston and subsequently signed a lucrative deal with Charlotte, the NBA franchise owned by all-time great player Michael Jordan. Games like the one Hayward produced Wednesday in a win at Atlanta (career-best 44 points, 15/25 shooting, seven rebounds) will help justify the Hornets’ substantial investment in the 30-year-old wing.

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