You know about the surgeries, the strains and sprains.
The Pelicans entered the season knowing they would be banged up. But in the first week of the season, they’re experiencing a whole new kind of aching — the growing pains that come with installing a new system with a shorthanded roster.
As the 0-2 Pelicans prepare to host the Golden State Warriors at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Smoothie King Center, their challenge is not only to perform better against the defending champions than they did in Tuesday’s season opener in Oakland, but to stay on the right path even if they don’t.
“Coach (Alvin Gentry) keeps on telling us not to get frustrated,” point guard Jrue Holiday said. “Obviously he talked about when Steve Nash and all them (were running the same system in Phoenix), it took them time as well. And the way that they played, he feels like we have a better defensive team than they (did).”
So far, the Pelicans have looked like a team with a lot to learn.
To some degree, that was expected.
New Orleans has been shorthanded to open the season, playing without three probable starters: guard Tyreke Evans, forward Quincy Pondexter and center Omer Asik. Reserves Norris Cole and Luke Babbitt also have yet to play.
With that depleted roster, the Pelicans are trying to learn a new, up-tempo offense that’s designed to constantly push the pace. Mike D’Antoni, the godfather of the system, said it’s “hard to get a mentality of doing that.”
Gentry said it’s “a natural thing to struggle” when shifting the tempo, and the Pelicans clearly have.
Through two games — the 111-95 loss to the Warriors and a 112-94 loss Wednesday at Portland — the Pelicans rank eighth in the NBA in pace but 27th in offensive rating, 25th in defensive rating and 27th in net rating, making them one of the league’s least-efficient teams.
It hasn’t helped that the roster has been in flux. On Monday, the Pelicans signed backup point guard Ish Smith. On Thursday, they waived guard Nate Robinson to make room for another backup point guard, Toney Douglas, who joined the team Friday.
Meanwhile, some Pelicans are playing out of position. Others — including star Anthony Davis — are operating from different spots in the offense than they did under coach Monty Williams, and with fewer set plays.
“It’s different because, for the last two years — and more for Eric (Gordon) and A.D. and them — it’s been kind of this set structure where every time, you have to set up and get in a play,” Holiday said. “Now you can just run.”
But just running is harder than it sounds.
One of the Pelicans’ problems so far, Gentry said, is that the players have struggled to get back into the right spots as they transition from offense to defense. That issue — combined with playing Golden State and Portland, teams that get the ball up the floor quickly — has led to open shots at the other end.
Through two games, Pelicans opponents have attempted 43 shots considered wide open by NBA standards — with 6 feet or more of space between the shooter and the nearest defender. Another 53 were considered open — with 4 to 6 feet of space.
“We’ve just got to be better in that department right there,” Gentry said. “But a lot of those have come because we haven’t had great floor balance and they’ve run out on us. That’s another thing that we’ve got to work on to get better at, but we’ve got to challenge more shots.”
Some of the Pelicans’ issues can be fixed with time. Others might come from personnel upgrades as injured players return. Babbitt and Asik are close to being on the court again. Evans, Cole and Pondexter need more time. Holiday’s minutes are limited, and he’s prohibited from playing games on back-to-back days, but ultimately he’ll be on a more normal schedule.
“We’re talking about changing personnel — this guy’s in, this guy’s out; this guy’s in, this guy’s out,” Gentry said. “So we got to get to the point where we’re consistent in what we’re doing from a player standpoint, and I think we’ll become more consistent.”