Time was running out for Jrue Holiday.
In practice Monday, the Pelicans point guard would look at the shot clock — which the Pelicans set for 16 or 18 seconds each offensive possession, rather than the 24 seconds used in games — and see that time was dwindling quickly.
“Every time I look up, there’s, like, 14 seconds on the shot clock,” Holiday said. “For somebody bringing up the ball, you’re looking up and it’s 14 seconds, you think you got to get into your stuff or we got to move faster, which is obviously the point of that type of drill.”
So yes, the Pelicans still are committed to playing fast.
Tempo was the offseason buzzword when New Orleans hired coach Alvin Gentry to implement a style of play he applied first as an assistant to Mike D’Antoni, then as a head coach with the Phoenix Suns.
The pace-and-space system, which the Golden State Warriors rode to an NBA title last season with Gentry on the bench as an assistant coach, was supposed to make the Pelicans one of the NBA’s fastest teams.
The results have been mixed.
“I think it’s been OK,” Gentry said Monday. “At the end of the day, we still want to play with more pace than we’re playing with.”
Entering Monday’s games, the Pelicans ranked 10th in the NBA in pace, averaging 98.8 possessions per 48 minutes. League-leading Sacramento was averaging 102.28.
But since Dec. 1, when guards Tyreke Evans and Norris Cole returned from injuries that cost them the first 17 games, the Pelicans rank 16th in the NBA in pace at 96.96 possessions per 48 minutes. They ranked seventh at 100.54 in the 17 games that Evans and Cole missed to open the season.
New Orleans was 4-13 in those first 17 games. The Pelicans are 7-9 since.
That’s not so say New Orleans is better when it plays slower. In fact, Gentry still wants his team to push the pace.
That includes Evans, who despite not being a prototypical pace-and-space point guard — he tends to hold the ball and dribble more than is typical for a player in a ball-movement based offense — is committed to a faster tempo, Gentry said.
“It’s not like he doesn’t want to do it,” Gentry said. “He plays a style of basketball that we’ve got to try to convert to another style. That’s not easy to do on his part, either. I know he wants to do it. I don’t have any doubt about that.”
Pelicans coaches have made some offensive adjustments to put Evans “in a situation where he’s comfortable,” Gentry said. But that doesn’t mean they’ve abandoned getting him to push the pace and facilitate ball movement.
Evans said he’s “definitely” willing to continue adapting.
“I think everybody’s learning,” Evans said. “Before I came back, we were still trying to figure out. (I) just got to work with the coaching staff and try to get better at it as the season goes on. But the most important thing for me and my teammates is just to win games.”
Gentry is convinced the best way to do that is to pick up the pace.
The Pelicans did it Saturday in Dallas, a game Evans missed with knee tendinitis. New Orleans played at a 102-possession pace in a 105-98 win. The quicker pace limited the Pelicans’ half-court offensive possessions “where everything kind of gets bogged down,” Gentry said.
That’s what Gentry envisioned when he took the job. But it has taken time to get there.
“I think it’s still a process. I guess it was supposed to just come like that,” Holiday said with a snap of his fingers. “It’s definitely something that we work on and we work on every day.”
The Pelicans might never reach the breakneck pace Gentry favored in Phoenix. But slowly, he wants to see his team get faster.
“Sometimes as a coach you may have to make some adjustments as far as personnel and see how it works out and go from there,” Gentry said. “At the end of the day, though, I still think for us to be a really good team, our pace has got to be better, because I think that helps Anthony (Davis), I think that helps Jrue, Tyreke and all of them, really.”