For the New Orleans Pelicans, there was a lot to like about Tuesday’s victory against the Charlotte Hornets at the Smoothie King Center.
For one, the Pelicans (2-2) don’t have to go into Saturday’s game against defending champion San Antonio with a three-game losing streak having over them, with a game Monday at Cleveland, which is expected to vie for the Eastern Conference title.
However, a big development to come out of Tuesday’s win is that the Pelicans showed improvement offensively. It came against a team that made the playoffs, even though in the weaker Eastern Conference.
Although the Pelicans had scored 100 points twice in their previous three games, the offense certainly was a work in progress, some of which can be expected this early in the season. On Tuesday, there was marked improvement in how they played.
“We had 26 assists,” coach Monty Williams said. “Ball movement was unreal. When we play that way, we make the defense work. That’s what we were talking to the guys about.”
Williams and his staff have been working with the team on spacing, which appears to have effected ball movement.
“We come down, make one pass and try to go isolation, the defense doesn’t (have to) work,” he said. “So we have to make sure we move the ball from side to side when we can.”
Six Pelicans were in double figures, led by Anthony Davis with 24. However, three — Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson scored 16.
One of the revelations from the Memphis game was the need to get Davis the ball earlier in the shot clock. That happened in the third quarter vs. Charlotte, when Davis scored 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
“We wanted him to have a chance to see what’s happening earlier in the shot clock instead of being under duress, going against double teams late,” Williams said. “I thought he wasn’t getting the ball where he wanted consistently, but he started knocking down jump shots, and that opens everything for him.”
Also, the team is finding out how to play with Evans’ dominant role as ball-handler and scorer.
Evans, the only bright spot against Memphis (21 points, seven rebounds, four assists), had another stellar showing against Charlotte with 16 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
“My teammates are trusting me, and I’m shooting with confidence,” Evans said, beaming.
Evans, excellent driving to the basket, has been working diligently on shooting with assistant coach Fred Vinson after practices. His improved outside shooting is opening driving lanes for him and opening up opportunities for teammates.
“The guys are calling my number, and (opponents) are respecting me more and more,” Evans said. “So I have to just keep shooting like I’m shooting. They are coming up on me, and I can just pick my poison.”
Also important is that point guard Jrue Holiday has been able to play off of Evans without a glitch.
Williams wants to develop center Omer Asik into a solid low-post option to complement Davis, who has been making perimeter jump shots when he isn’t dunking putbacks and catching lobs and slamming on the fast break.
However, Asik is not yet ready to contribute consistently as a back-to-the-basket scorer. He seems to be able to better when the Pelicans are whipping the ball around and catching opponents out of position. In those instances, he has scored off drives and passes by Evans and on offensive rebounds.
Against Charlotte, Asik played against Al Jefferson, who tormented the Pelicans last season in the low post. Asik had 10 points and 11 rebounds, getting a double-double along with Davis.
“(Davis and Asik) can do that on a night-in, night-out basis,” Williams said. “Omer is one of the smartest players I’ve been around.”
Against Charlotte, however, Eric Gordon went 0-of-6 for the second time in three games. He has shot 7-of-34 (20.6 percent) overall and 1-of-11 (.091) on 3-point attempts. He has been going to practice 1½ hours early to try and snap out of it.
Gordon has tried to remain positive.
“I’m working on it,” he said. “But it’s four games. If it was 15 games, that would be different.”
Teammates say they will remain supportive.
“When you’re a great player, you’re going to struggle sometimes,” Davis said. “We’re going to keep giving him the ball. We have a lot of trust, a lot of confidence in him.”
The Pelicans are 18th in the NBA in scoring (96.5 ppg), 27th in field goal percentage (40.9), 25th in 3-pointers made (5.0), 26th in 3-point percentage (25.6), 26th in free-throw percentage (69.2) and 14th in assists (21.0 per game).