It wasn’t what the offense was supposed to look like.
The plodding, stagnant and isolation-heavy attack the New Orleans Pelicans unveiled in a season-opening 103-91 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies didn’t remotely resemble the plans they drew up this offseason.
Players and coaches alike gushed about a fluid system, built around ball movement and precision passing, pulling opposing defenses in various directions to find open shots. Instead, after a 34-point first quarter, the Pelicans reverted into a mostly two-man operation, as DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis took turns trying to score on their own.
While the pair of All-Stars managed to combine for 61 points and 28 rebounds, it wasn’t nearly enough to untangle the offense. Davis and Cousins attempted 44 of the Pelicans’ 79 field-goal attempts and made 13 trips to the free-throw line.
While they’re the core and focus of the Pelicans’ offense, there were stretches when each was overly relied upon. And it was at least partially responsible for the slowdown.
“I think when you start to struggle a little bit, guys try to take it upon themselves,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “It’s not in a selfish way, but they take it upon themselves to get a basket for the team. But that was a little bit of what happened.”
The Pelicans will need a more diverse offense to notch a victory in their home opener against the reigning champion Golden State Warriors. The teams meet at 8:30 p.m. Friday in the Smoothie King Center.
Even guard Jrue Holiday admitted as much after Thursday afternoon’s practice. Holiday’s 2-for-11 performance from the field was emblematic of the struggles of the Pelicans’ supporting cast.
Holiday pinned many of the issues on positioning, claiming the Pelicans didn’t screen enough for each other on the back side or cut forcefully enough to draw defenders away from Davis and Cousins. It allowed the Grizzlies to camp out in the lane.
“It’s an attention to detail,” Holiday said. “I don’t think people realize how big it is for (Davis and Cousins) to have an outlet, and I think (Wednesday) night we weren’t there, including myself. We weren’t in the right position. They were getting doubled.”
The stat sheet reveals the story as well.
Over the final three quarters, New Orleans had just eight assists, shot 31.5 percent and committed 17 turnovers, falling prey to many of the problems that plagued them in the past. And they couldn’t shoot their way out of it, converting just 1-of-16 on 3-pointers during that span.
Gentry pinned some of the issues on Rajon Rondo’s injury.
The point guard is recovering for the next three to five weeks from surgery to repair a core muscle. Gentry noted his absence affected Holiday because it required Holiday to be on the ball more often, removing some of his strengths.
“(Holiday) was in a really good place when Rondo was healthy because we were having him play off the ball and he was running,” Gentry said. “He’s really the best cutter that we have. He was a facilitator at the end of plays rather than at the beginning. Then we had to take him out of that role.”
On Friday, Holiday must not only cover former MVP Stephen Curry on one end of the floor, he must also pull the Pelicans out of the offensive funk they experienced in the opener.
But Gentry, a 30-year NBA coaching veteran, recognizes issues get magnified after one game. He said he wants to make sure he didn’t lose sight of his team’s potential, even if it was marred by an ugly debut.
“I saw many more positives than negatives,” Gentry said. “I thought our two big guys — we did a good job showing they can co-exist and still do a good job on the boards as well as scoring. Now, what we have to do is get the other guys involved in the game, against double-teams, dribble penetrations and drive-and-kicks we just have to get more guys involved.”