The New Orleans Pelicans don’t plan on slowing down.
Even with two of the NBA’s premier big men — All-NBA forward Anthony Davis and All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins — the Pelicans will still put an emphasis on pace.
New assistant coach Chris Finch confirmed that principle during an appearance on WODT-AM, 1280, on Tuesday morning.
“We want to be one of the top five transition teams in the league, but that doesn’t mean we are going to be 'run, run, run, run' at the expense of defense,” Finch said on Chris Gordy's radio show. “It doesn’t mean we are going to be (completing a possession in) seven seconds or less or shooting wild and crazy shots, because we have guys that we want to get touches.
"But I don’t think you can be a good offense in the league unless you’re a transition team anymore, and we want to make sure we are maximizing our possessions. We want to lead the league or be in the top five in pace, and doing so means we are generating extra possessions.”
New Orleans finished last season a respectable ninth in pace but slumped to 13th after acquiring Cousins at the trade deadline.
Meanwhile, Finch, a longtime assistant for the up-tempo Houston Rockets, helped revitalize the Denver Nuggets offense last season. With Finch as an assistant under coach Mike Malone, the Nuggets jumped to the league’s best offensive rating in the second half of the season, powered in part by its No. 7 ranking in pace.
Finch on Tuesday was adamant that the quantity of a team's possessions isn’t as important as the quality of the shots derived from them.
Finch suggested a critical element of the Pelicans’ fortunes hinges on “sacrifice,” referring to the team’s willingness to distribute the ball among one another, occasionally foregoing gaudy stat lines in the process. He pointed to the team’s many prolific passers, including new addition Rajon Rondo, Jrue Holiday and Cousins, as a potential boon when it comes to creating open looks.
“There’s no basketball reason why this shouldn’t work,” Finch said. “It’ll only be human reasons. Everyone seems to like each other, so that’s a great start. If we can’t figure it out, it will be a human dynamic, and we’ll have to solve that one. But I don’t anticipate that to be the case, either.”
It’s something he’s already working on, traveling west to speak with Cousins earlier this summer and scheduling a meeting with Davis in Los Angeles this month. The success of their pairing is the most obvious X factor facing the Pelicans, and Finch repeatedly mentioned both are among the 10 most talented players in the NBA.
“The key is going to be understanding each other’s spacing and being able to read and play off of each other,” Finch said. “We don’t want to make either of them robotic. They are super skilled and highly talented, and we want to make sure they’re able to use all of their skill set. In doing so, you’re going to have to give them a lot of freedom. So, it’s going to be about, 'How do they share the space on the floor with each other?' ”
Coach Alvin Gentry and general manager Dell Demps picked Finch to be the person to figure that out.
“Offensively, I really think bringing Chris in here is going to help,” Gentry said in June. “He’s a guy that has dealt with two big guys in Denver, and I think he’s going to be really good with some suggestions and things that he can add to what we can do offensively. I think you’re going to see us be a lot more consistent offensively.”