New Orleans Pelicans: Did OKC chart the course?


The New Orleans Pelicans, along with the rest of the NBA, have been trying to figure out what will be the metaphoric rock to Golden State’s scissors. Even though they failed to vanquish the Warriors, Oklahoma City may have given the Pelicans a few ideas going forward.

The New Orleans Pelicans have already reacted to the NBA’s shifting ideological landscape. Pace and (not much) space made its way to the Crescent City for the first time this season, but it’s hard to not feel as if the Pelicans are behind the times.

Teams like Golden State, Atlanta, Cleveland, Boston, San Antonio (they actually kick started the shift back in the 2013-2014 season and have since slowed down) and Portland have all implemented the latest and greatest style of play. With each of those teams achieving relative success over the past two seasons, it seems the Pelicans may have missed the train.

When a new offensive scheme bursts onto the scene in the NBA, just like other professional sports, it seems unstoppable. Every single team in the NBA will be looking to acquire the talent required to run the new system.

Within a matter of a few seasons, though, an opposing defensive tactician start to devise and implement strategies to neutralize the seemingly dominant processes of the offense. At this point, other teams will begin to jump onboard with these new tactics, and the once undeniably dominant offense will be relatively neutralized.

Obviously, with the entire NBA adopting these new defensive strategies, offensive gurus begin the same process on the other side of the ball, and the whole procedure begins again. Wash, rinse, repeat ad infinitum.

Winning franchises see the trends as, or before, they occur and quickly adopt the new strategies. On the offensive side of the ball, the Pelicans are behind the curve, but there is still time for them to jump on the defensive changes that are coming.

Oklahoma City took the Golden State Warriors, the same team that won a ludicrous 73 games this season, to game seven, and, arguably, could have won the series if some questionable calls had not gone against them. For the first time in the last two seasons, the Warriors’ offense looked mortal.

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The key to Oklahoma City’s effectiveness was their ability to switch on every pick. The Warriors love to force the opposition into tough decisions on screens, but the Thunder eliminated those predicaments fairly effectively by switching. Typically, switching a big man on to Steph Curry off of a screen from Draymond Green is a recipe for disaster, but the Thunder made it work.

The key reasons this measure was so successful were the length and athleticism of the Thunder defenders. Almost every player was able to switch positions one through five, and that kept consistent and constant pressure on the ball.

Admittedly, the New Orleans Pelicans don’t have Andre Roberson, Steven Adams, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka or Kevin Durant on their roster, but a few pieces are in place for the Pelicans to build around this offseason. With a few pivotal moves, the Pelicans could put a formidable defense on the floor next season.

Jrue Holiday has built a reputation as an elite defensive point guard, but he hasn’t exactly lived up to that billing as of late (read about that here). When he is engaged, though, Holiday is an athletic, long defensive menace on the perimeter. Due to his quickness, relative strength and length, he has the potential to play the point guard position in a hypothetical defense built around constant switching.

Of course, as with all Pelicans-related strategy analysis, the crux of the argument centers around Anthony Davis. Can Davis handle defending the rim, keeping up with guards and shoulder the load on the offensive end? The better question is: is there any reason to believe he can’t?

To say that Anthony Davis grants the Pelicans a unique opportunity is an understatement. Much like Kevin Garnett two decades ago, Davis is able to keep pace and effectively defend nearly any guard in the NBA due to his elite quickness, wingspan and vertical leaping ability. Couple that with his effectiveness at defending the rim (read about that here), and Anthony Davis could be an absolute menace.

But, what about his apparent lack of focus? Davis is known to get more locked in on the defensive end after making an impact block. If Davis is consistently getting switched on to perimeter players and contesting jumpers and layups at the rim, the probability of him getting a few of those monster blocks shoots way up. With all of that in mind, Davis would be the perfect anchor for this style of defense.

The problems arise with the rest of the projected starting lineup. Assuming the Pelicans don’t make any major personnel moves in the offseason, Tyreke Evans, Quincy Pondexter and Omer Asik will likely share the floor with Holiday and Davis.

While Tyreke Evans has the physical tools necessary to thrive in this system, he has never shown the focus required to run such a complex scheme. Quincy Pondexter, regardless of his indefatigable motor, is simply not quick enough to defend guards and not strong enough to handle bigs. That leaves Omer Asik who is, well, Omer Asik. The thought of him switched on any passable point guard should send chills down the spine of every Pelicans fan.

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As previously mentioned, the Pelicans will need to make some moves for this strategy to be effective. Priority number one for the team must be finding a long, athletic defender at the small forward position. Without a defensive stopper on the wing capable of switching on to every player on the floor, this strategy is doomed from the start.

As shown by how effective Steven Adams was for the Thunder, the Pelicans do not need an elite athlete at the center position like Deandre Jordan, they simply need a good defender with passable quickness (read as: not Omer Asik). This is the real sticking point for the Pelicans, and it is the issue that will require the most work by Dell Demps.

With Omer Asik on the team, the Pelicans simply cannot afford to invest in the type of player they need, and trading Asik seems to be next to impossible. For this to work, though, Dealing Dell will need to make some magic happen and get the Pelicans out from under the albatross of a contract he handed the Turkish big man last offseason.

It will obviously take some time, but the waves of change are coming, once again, to the NBA. The Oklahoma City Thunder exposed the weaknesses of the dominant offensive system, and the Pelicans have the chance to jump onboard before anyone else can.

Next: Anthony Davis is dragonborn

With the unique talents of Anthony Davis at their disposal, the Pelicans are uniquely positioned to run such a demanding scheme. Davis has the potential to be the most dominant two-way player in the NBA, and this may be the perfect situation to unlock all of his abilities and harness them.