Brandon Ingram (14) and Zion Williamson high-five vs. Cleveland

Stan Van Gundy eager to work with Pelicans young talent, unselfish roster

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

A change at head coach often signals a roster teardown or rebuild, but that won’t be the case for several of the nine NBA franchises that have a new sideline leader in place next season. It’s certainly not the plan in the Crescent City. Stan Van Gundy’s initial review of New Orleans personnel and talent have him excited to try to build on some of what the Pelicans showed in 2019-20.

“It’s a team that has proven they can play with great pace, there’s incredible depth, we have a lot of people that can shoot the ball,” said Van Gundy of the Pelicans, who ranked No. 4 in tempo and No. 7 in three-point percentage. Five different New Orleans players sank at least 120 threes.

The Pelicans’ building blocks also include starting forwards who are just 23 and 20 years old, only scratching the surface of their potential, though one has already been named an All-Star.

“You’ve got two of the most unique young guys in the entire league, (including) Brandon Ingram, who’s the most improved player in the league,” Van Gundy said. “He’s one of those really tall, long guys who plays like a point guard, who can get to anywhere on the floor and score the ball. I don’t even know the comparison for Zion Williamson. He’s unique in the way he plays, but this is a guy coming off an injury for most of the year that was able to be extremely productive and efficient. There’s just not people like that. There’s a lot to build around there.”

Another early-20s starter, 23-year-old point guard Lonzo Ball, has made an impression from afar on Van Gundy based on his floor vision and knack for pushing the pace via long passes.

“On the offensive end of the floor, I don’t think there’s anyone better in the NBA of advancing the ball up the floor for your team quickly before the other team’s defense is set,” Van Gundy said of Ball. “So many times in watching the Pelicans, both to do broadcasting, and now starting to study our team, there’s so many times he’ll catch an outlet or an inbound pass and advance the ball up the floor with a pass without ever taking a dribble. That is very unique in the NBA.”

Ball and Jrue Holiday combined to average 13.7 assists per game in ’19-20, one of the best duos in the league in that category. Partly as a result, New Orleans (30-42, after 7-23 start) placed seventh in assist percentage, with 63.0 percent of its baskets coming off assists. That also stood out to Van Gundy as he watched tape of his new team.

“I love the pace that they played with, and in my mind watching them, I thought they were an unselfish team,’ he said. “I didn’t think there was anybody on their team that was a ball-stopper trying to force the issue. I thought the ball moved pretty freely, and I think that gives you a chance to play really good offense on a consistent basis.”

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