When you boast an athletic young core with the likes of Anthony Davis as one of your big men, one would assume that you would at least be in the top 10 when it comes to pace of play. In the curious case of the Pelicans, they ranked 22nd last season out of 30 teams.
There may be an explanation for this; the team was decimated by injuries last season. They were so decimated in fact that their best five players (Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson) were on the floor together at the same time for ONLY 90 minutes total.
That is definitely a problem.
However, I will not accept the injury bug as a valid excuse. Coach Monty Williams should encourage his team to get out into the open court more and use their athletic ability to create easy baskets.
According to teamrankings.com, the Pelicans averaged 13.3 fast break points per game, despite ranking 22nd in pace. Those 13.3 points per game pin them at 13th in the league (for a point of reference, Phoenix was first in the league with 18.7 points per game). Imagine what they could be accomplishing on the break if their team mentality was to get out and run more.
Jrue Holiday’s game fits well with this kind of mindset. He is an athletic guard with good speed, and he is an excellent distributor as shown by his assist numbers over the past two seasons (he’s averaging eight assists per game). Holiday has also shown a good camaraderie with Davis in the pick and roll game while in the half court, but I could envision Holiday pushing towards averaging 10 assists per game due to more fast break opportunities.
Another player that would benefit from this kind of up-tempo play would be Tyreke Evans. His lack of shooting touch has been well documented, and getting him out into open space (which is his element) will help make his shooting percentage more acceptable.
He is a talented finisher and even distributor when he gets the opportunity, he just needs the necessary space to make it happen.
The person that would really make this team un-guardable in the open court would be Anthony Davis. The man runs as though he is a guard and is a nightmare for opposing big men to keep track of on the break.
There were plenty of instances last season when Davis simply out-ran his man in route to an easy flush at the rim. These kinds of plays should happen more often next season because it is a substantial advantage that the Pelicans hold over most teams.
Ultimately, Williams probably knows what he is doing more than someone like me does (duh), but I am merely just suggesting a change in style of play to shake things up. Because for whatever reason, the way the Pelicans have played in recent years has not been working.
Phoenix showcased last year what an up-tempo, quick-hitting team can accomplish if executed properly. They took a roster most analysts deemed destined to be on its way to the worst record in the league to winning 48 games in a stacked Western Conference.
I believe that the Pelicans possess an even better roster for this kind of system than Phoenix does.
Ranking 22nd in pace again next season will likely tell us that the Pelicans stumbled their way to another 33 win season with no playoff berth to claim. It is time to let the birds out of their cage.