Jonas Valanciunas takes a shot over Dallas center Dwight Powell

Pelicans shootaround update: Three-point barrage at Clippers part of Jonas Valanciunas’ offensive transformation

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

Early in his NBA career, Jonas Valanciunas was often so passive offensively that opponents did not view him as a much of a scoring threat.

“When Jonas first came into the league, he was a straight post-up threat,” now-New Orleans teammate Garrett Temple said. “(His) pump fake, (as an opponent) we used to joke, ‘Don’t go for the pump fake, because he never shoots shots.’ ”

As a Toronto rookie, Valanciunas averaged just 5.9 shot attempts per game, despite starting 57 times in 2012-13. Now a decade into his NBA career, Valanciunas fired seven three-point attempts alone in the first half Monday at Staples Center, draining all of them, en route to a career-best 39-point night. As Temple explained following Wednesday’s morning shootaround, it’s been quite a metamorphosis for New Orleans’ starting center.

“He’s kind of changed his game, honestly,” Temple said. “The way he’s shooting the ball, we really need him to be aggressive on the perimeter… for him to be able to knock down threes, is really big for us and adds a new dimension to our team.”

Other notes:

Speaking of a new dimension, the decision to move Herbert Jones into the starting five has yielded major benefits. Jones and Josh Hart (questionable to play Wednesday due to left knee soreness) have given New Orleans excellent chemistry, surrounding top-three scorers Brandon Ingram, Valanciunas and Devonte’ Graham with hard-nosed hustle, aggressive defense and timely baskets.

“I think it’s done well,” Temple said of the reconfigured starting lineup and rotation. “When guys know when they’re going in the game and what their role is, it definitely helps. Obviously things are going to change when Zion (Williamson) gets back, but what we have right now, the rotation, it definitely helps stability.”

“I think it’s helping us a lot,” backup center Willy Hernangomez said. “The bench, I think we’re trying to do our job, which is play with a lot of energy, give rest that the first unit needs. It’s been going good, the last four or five games.”

DALLAS SCOUTING REPORT

Offensive efficiency rank: 19 (106.6)

Defensive efficiency rank: 21 (109.2)

Net rating: 23 (-2.5)

Pace: 26 (97.18)

Streak: Lost 2

Go-to guy: All-Star guard Luka Doncic is the primary reason the Mavericks have been able to stay over .500, despite several negative team statistical trends early in 2021-22. Dallas is 10-6 this season when the native of Slovenia plays, but lost all three games when Doncic was sidelined by injury (the Mavericks also lost all three games in which he’s played but tallied 20 points or less). He’s averaging 25.5 points and put up 25 vs. New Orleans on Nov. 8.

On the rise: Backup point guard Jalen Brunson was a problem for the Pelicans on Nov. 8, scoring 17 points, to go with four rebounds, six assists and a steal, in a 108-92 Mavericks victory. Dallas was plus-26 with Brunson on the floor during his 31 minutes of action. The Villanova University product is averaging career highs in scoring (14.5 ppg) and assists (5.0 apg).

PREVIOUS GAME STARTING LINEUPS

DALLAS (10-9)

Monday loss vs. Cleveland

Luka Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr., Dorian Finney-Smith, Kristaps Porzingis, Moses Brown

Notes: This group is 0-1, with Brown making his first start as a Maverick in the home loss to the Cavaliers. Brown became the 10th different Dallas player to be part of the starting five this season. … Porzingis (ankle) is listed as questionable to play Wednesday. Willie Cauley-Stein (illness) and Frank Ntilikina (calf) were both listed as out. … Dallas has used seven different starting lineups. Its most common is 6-2 and features Doncic, Hardaway, Finney-Smith, Porzingis and Dwight Powell at center.

NEW ORLEANS (6-17)

Monday win at LA Clippers

Devonte’ Graham, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, Herbert Jones, Jonas Valanciunas

Notes: This group is 3-1. Willie Green’s decision to go to this alignment four games ago has led to the club’s best stretch of games this season, with wins over Washington, Utah and the Clippers. … Due to injury, Ingram and Jones did not play in the Nov. 8 loss at Dallas, nor did Hernangomez. Graham and Hart started Nov. 8, while the other starting slot was filled by Nickeil Alexander-Walker.

FANDUEL KEYS TO THE GAME

PERIMETER SHOOTING

New Orleans looks like a completely different squad lately compared to early in 2021-22 in several ways, including its three-point shooting accuracy. The Pelicans went 9/34 on threes at Dallas in the Nov. 8 matchup, which wasn’t that uncharacteristic at the time, but have shot 40 percent-plus from deep in three of their last four games.

PAINT PERFORMANCE

Valanciunas’ three-point prowess Monday understandably generated the headlines, but New Orleans dominated the Clippers in the paint as well, holding a 66-32 edge in paint points and winning rebounding 47-35.

MATCHUP TO WATCH

Particularly if Hart can’t play Wednesday, it will be up to Jones to handle many of the “glue guy” responsibilities for the Pelicans. Jones also will be tasked defensively with trying to slow down the prolific Doncic. For Dallas, Finney-Smith has a similar role, contributing in other ways beyond scoring.

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