New Orleans Pelicans: 3 ways the Pels’ defense will improve

Lamar Stevens #8 of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Trey Murphy III #25 of the New Orleans Pelicans, Evan Mobley #4 of the Cavaliers and Herbert Jones #5 of the Pelicans (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Lamar Stevens #8 of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Trey Murphy III #25 of the New Orleans Pelicans, Evan Mobley #4 of the Cavaliers and Herbert Jones #5 of the Pelicans (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /

The New Orleans Pelicans have a lot of length on the roster.

Brandon Ingram, Naji Marshall, Trey Murphy III, Herb Jones, Jaxson Hayes, Jonas Valančiūnas, Nickiel Alexander-Walker, Josh Hart, and Garrett Temple all posses great wingspans (6-foot-9 and above).

With the physical attributes they now have, there is a ton of room for defensive playmaking. Steals, blocks, and overall hustle plays are all possible turnouts for this currently constructed roster. However, defensive intensity will be the maker or the breaker of this team.

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If the New Orleans Pelicans are really going to improve defensively, here is how they will do it.

The New Orleans Pelicans will get a lot more steals

In the preseason opener, Naji Marshall picked up where he left off in Summer League. He made his presence felt recording two steals in the first quarter alone.

Here, Naji steps towards the ball handler to stop the drive. His arms are out and he’s already anticipating Edwards passing the ball to Russell. Edwards tries to make the pass and Marshall is already there to make the steal for the easy dunk.

This is a prime example of how the New Orleans Pelicans can use their length to disrupt passing lanes. Strong first pass denials require that the defender play up the passing lane. To accomplish this, the defender must maintain a position, up the passing lane, between the ball handler. All passes to the opponent should go through a defender.

New Orleans Pelicans: Length will lead to more blocks

“Not on Herb” was a name the Pelicans gave rookie Herb Jones during training camp. Jones already made a name for himself as a defender while at Alabama winning SEC Defensive Player of the Year and making the SEC All-Defensive Team twice. In the Pelicans fourth quarter rally vs. the Timberwolves, Jones recorded two blocks on almost perfect defense.

On the first play, Naz Reid set a screen for D’Angelo Russell, Jones went over the screen, staying on the back of Russell making him feel his presence. Russell dumps it to the roll man, and Jones rotates over to block the shot.

On the second play, Jones switches onto McDaniels. McDaniels tried to shake off Jones with a crossover and a strong drive to the basket, but Herb effectively slid his feet, kept the ball handler in front of him, getting his hands on the ball, and forcing a jump ball (Not necessarily a block, but his man got into the paint and he stopped him from getting the basket).

Blocking shots is all about timing and, like everything on defense, effort. It’s relatively simple. You get between the shooter and the net so you can use your body as an obstacle.

The New Orleans Pelicans are making more hustle plays

Again, Naji Marshall played with the most intensity vs. the Timberwolves. The New Orleans Pelicans were actually Top 10 in a few categories that defined as hustle stats. The Pelicans were Top 10 in contested threes, contested shots per game, and box outs per game. Willie Green has put emphasis on rebounding and limiting points on the perimeter, and the Pels did a decent job at those in the first game.

The Pelicans developed some good habits and also some bad ones on defense over the years, but with the new additions, added length, and a new defensive philosophy, I think Pelicans can improve in that area. The likelihood of the Pelicans being a Top 10 Offense at full strength is high. If they can be a middle of the pack defense, we can see this team’s first playoff appearance in the Zion Williamson/Brandon Ingram era.

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