Jeff Van Gundy has a great eye for the game of basketball (being a coach for two-plus decades will do that for you). So when he talks, people usually tend to listen.
Overall, he was greatly complimentary of the team’s personnel. Stating that “they have the best roster in the West from a talent standpoint.”
However, he did caveat his praise with the stipulation that their core remain healthy, which has been a major issue for them this season.
"“Now, whether that talent can get whole and play together, I’m not convinced that their health will hold up,” Van Gundy stated during the ESPN broadcast, “But if it does, I think they take a backseat to no one talent-wise.”"
The major soundbite from his monologue about the team came when he began speaking about the on-court fit between the team’s two best players, Zion Williamson, and Brandon Ingram.
On this subject, he was far less optimistic, going as far as to question the tandem’s ability to synergize on the hardwood.
"“The one concern I have, Mike, is do Ingram and Williamson fit together. Neither guy shoots the three a lot, and to have two leading scorers where no one shoots the three. I think that’s problematic in today’s game.”"
This last bit of commentary is especially intriguing when you factor in that his brother, Stan Van Gundy, worked with Ingram and Williamson during his one-year stint as the Pelicans’ Head Coach in 2020-21. Maybe Jeff formed this opinion through his conversations with Stan? Who knows.
The good news for Pelicans’ fans is that because of injuries, Ingram and Williamson have only shared the court together for 1500 minutes as teammates over the last three seasons (per PBP Stats).
Even more promising, in the minutes they have played together, the team has had a Net Rating of +4.71. This roughly calculates to the Net Rating of a team with a 55-win pace over an 82-game season (per Hoop Venue).
That’s not to say Van Gundy’s concerns don’t have any merit. Shooting and spacing are always going to be areas of need when your two best players prefer to do their scoring inside the three-point arc.
But that doesn’t mean that the two can’t work together efficiently. It just means that the team needs to make it a priority to put as many shooters around them as possible.
And if they do that, it’s just like Van Gundy said, they take a backseat to no one.