New Orleans Pelicans: Do the players actually believe in Stan Van Gundy?

The New Orleans Pelicans capped off an awful road trip by losing 120-110 to a shorthanded Minnesota Timberwolves.

The signs have been building for the New Orleans Pelicans.

First, an unevenly constructed roster with a dearth of perimeter shooting and clutter of interior players. But maybe sheer talent and a breath of fresh air in a new coach will cover those blemishes.

Then, the season starts with a one-dimensional offense that limits said roster’s existing potential. But at least Brandon Ingram is putting up MVP-like performances—that is until defenses realize he’s the only New Orleans Pelicans player really worth focusing on.

Wait! It seems like Stan Van Gundy is succeeding in building another top-quality defense. But the solid start flares out and the New Orleans Pelicans once again rank among the ten worst defensive teams in the league.

Make no mistake about it. The Pelicans have only played fifteen games and it is always possible to turn things around, but only until a certain point.  Dropping ten games in the west to kick off the season and it’s difficult to get back into the competitive playoff picture.

We have extensively covered the Pelicans’ malaise on here: no outside shooting, little creativity, and too much reliance on one player. The defense has deteriorated: incessant turnovers and repeated annihilation from the three-point line. It’s difficult to predict that performances on both ends of the floor will improve.

More worryingly, it’s the intangibles that have really suffered during the Pelicans’ road trip. If there is no conviction behind what you are doing, it’s tough to obtain a positive result—as seen against the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Time and time again, a second-string Timberwolves squad without all-stars Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell crushed the Pelicans. It’s not something as simple as Minnesota making more threes, but rather, the entirety of their performance from tip-off.

At the start of the game, Zion Williamson loses Jarred Vanderbilt twice and concedes a pair of offensive rebounds. The first one leads to another possession for the Timberwolves and the second one, above, results in a tip dunk for Vanderbilt. The former Kentucky big man is a talented prospect in his own right, but he should not be toying with Williamson on the offensive glass. He ended the night with five offensive rebounds in just 21 minutes, more than anyone on the Pelicans’ roster.

Stan Van Gundy’s squad struggled to do “the little things” during the entire 48 minutes. The Pelicans were late to loose balls, prone to sloppy turnovers, and never got into a flow against the worst team in the west. Plain and simple, the Timberwolves out-hustled the Pelicans, scoring fastbreak points and getting more second-chance opportunities.

Brandon Ingram had a particularly tough outing, turning the ball over seven times and looking visibly frustrated on the floor. It’s no wonder that Ingram has cooled off after a scorching start to the year. Fifteen games in, opponents understand that he is the Pelicans’ only offensive threat when it comes to breaking down defenses off the dribble. Concentrate on guarding Ingram’s pick-and-roll possessions and you take away most of New Orleans’ attack.

However, it wasn’t just the players who had a poor showing. Stan Van Gundy must also shoulder some of the responsibility for the Pelicans’ awful loss against the Timberwolves. The end of the second quarter stood out to me, as the Pelicans got picked apart by Ricky Rubio going to the same play every time he got down the floor.

It was a simple pick-and-roll with a big screening for Rubio at the top of the key. Rubio would use the pick, drive, attract weakside help, and usually make or threaten a skip pass to the opposite corner for a scoring opportunity. There were seven of these possessions.

The first led to Josh Okogie missing a good spot-up look. The second generated a dunk for Vanderbilt. The third, above, gave Malik Beasley a wide-open three. The fourth resulted in another Vanderbilt bucket, as did the fifth. The sixth concluded with a three from Nazreon Reid. The seventh finally let Rubio get in on the scoring with an easy layup.

The Timberwolves literally did the same thing over and over. It was borderline arrogant for the Pelicans to not adjust at all. They got torched by Rubio and almost accepted that they just weren’t going to get any stops. Again, this points to the general lack of effort on display by the Pelicans.

One could argue that this was the end of an exhausting road trip playing against some of the best teams in the NBA and that it’s just how the league works. To that, I raise that the Pelicans have been letting bad habits brew and that they will be hard to erase on a whim. The worrying signs for New Orleans keep piling on top of each other and, at some point, the team will inevitably collapse unless things are straightened out.

The New Orleans Pelicans showed some improvement at the start of the season, but it’s been downhill since then. The basketball is bad, but so is the effort.

What that tells me is that the players are not buying into the Pelicans’ current culture. They don’t believe in the team’s ethos and, even though the NBA is increasingly a player-friendly league, the coaching staff and front office cannot be exempt from blame.

At this point, there is no energy and no self-belief. The New Orleans Pelicans have two relatively easier games before playing the Milwaukee Bucks next Friday and a response is needed.