Typically, Luke Babbitt doesn’t need any encouragement to shoot.
Ask anyone who spends time around the New Orleans Pelicans’ practice facility and they’ll tell you the sixth-year forward is a fixture there, working on his jumper before and after team workouts, and frequently on scheduled off days.
And yet, with the Pelicans depleted by injuries and in need of scoring, coach Alvin Gentry said he and his staff “had to talk to (Babbitt) about taking shots” in his increased playing time.
Apparently he’s getting the message.
Babbitt scored 23 points in Tuesday’s loss to the Miami Heat, one shy of his career high. On a night when New Orleans struggled to shoot straight, he hit 10 of 19 shots — career highs in attempts and makes — and both of his 3-point tries.
“With so many offensive players for our team missing, all of us that are out there have to be aggressive,” Babbitt said. “The ball was moving a little bit. I was putting it on the floor just trying to be aggressive.”
Three of the Pelicans’ top five scorers — forward Anthony Davis and guards Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans — are out for the remainder of the season. Forward Ryan Anderson, whose 17 points per game are second on the team to Davis’ 24.3, is sidelined indefinitely with a groin injury.
That’s put an extra offensive burden on Jrue Holiday — who took 23 shots Tuesday and said he was uncomfortable with that volume of attempts — and on role players like Babbitt, who’s seen a dramatic increase in his minutes in recent weeks.
Babbitt, who’s played in 36 of New Orleans’ 70 games this season, has appeared in seven straight. He’s played at least 29 minutes in four of those and has averaged 10.4 points in 23.8 minutes per game over that span.
In that seven-game stretch, Babbitt is shooting 47.5 percent from the floor and 53.8 percent from 3-point range, well above his season percentages of 41.6 and 38.4 percent, respectively.
Babbitt has made 7 of 12 of catch-and-shoot 3-pointers over that seven-game stretch. That’s a 58.3 percent clip, up from his season percentage of 39.7 and more in keeping with the 53.3 percent he shot in catch-and-shoot situations last season.
But he’s also shown an ability to put the ball on the floor and drive to the basket.
“You have to be aggressive,” Babbitt said. “When the ball’s swung to me up top, there’s not many options but to put the ball on the floor, try to create a little bit. We’re missing Ryan, A.D., Tyreke, Eric — those guys are slashers. Without those guys creating shots, the load’s going to fall on someone else.”
That Babbitt is prepared to take on some of that load is a testament to what he did during the months when he played sparingly. He logged extra time shooting and worked to stay in shape. His goal, he said, was to “approach it like I am playing.”
“Luke’s been in a position where he’s had to stay ready,” Holiday said. “I feel like he’s kind of had to do that his whole career.”
His ability to do that, Gentry said, means Babbitt is “going to be around a long time,” and his play when pressed into duty is an indication that he’s capable of playing a larger role than he has this season.
“Any time you can get minutes and an opportunity and shots, you want to take advantage of it,” Babbitt said. “That’s what it is for all of us. That’s how the NBA works. I’ve been around long enough to see guys take advantage of their opportunities, and that’s what certain guys are going to try to do here.”