LAS VEGAS — It’s safe to say there’s a new philosophy in place.
The New Orleans Pelicans are going to push the tempo. And through one appearance, it paid off as they raced past the Milwaukee Bucks 101-89 on Friday in the Las Vegas summer league.
In the franchise’s debut under the system of new coach Alvin Gentry, the Pelicans didn’t waste any opportunity to pick up the pace.
“I think from the jump ball you could see what a faster pace we were playing at and we were beating them down the court,” said Seth Curry, who scored a game-high 30 points on just 17 shots. “That set the tone for us the whole game. Guys were running up and down the floor and sharing the ball, and that’s why we won the game.”
And it didn’t matter whether the Pelicans got on the run via steal, block, defensive rebound or after a made basket.
The Pelicans were attacking.
While Gentry watched from the stands alongside General Manager Dell Demps and the rest of the team’s front office, assistant coach Darren Erman emphatically carried out Gentry’s message from the bench. New Orleans attacked the rim with urgency and collapsed the Bucks defense, before kicking out to open shooters or drawing free throws.
“There’s no time we don’t want to push it,” Erman said. “You shoot a much higher percentage before the defense is set compared to when you have to play against a half-court defense. So there’s never a time we can’t push it. Even in the final three minutes (with New Orleans clinging to a four-point lead), we were still trying to push it so we could get easier baskets.”
While summer league results are to be taken lightly, considering there’s a distinct possibility that no one on this year’s squad even returns to Airline Drive in October, the seeds of Gentry’s system were on display.
As the Pelicans built a 29-13 first-quarter lead, the positives were evident. The kinds of stats Gentry wants to see were all over the box score.
In 12 minutes, the Pelicans attempted nine 3-pointers (mostly open from the corners) and 10 free throws. They scored 10 points from the paint and got three easy fast-break buckets.
“(Gentry) put in his offense, and we did a good job of really implementing it and applying it to the games,” Erman said. “They bought in and they saw how we can score easy baskets. It was a really great job.”
It was precisely what the Pelicans want to do when the pace is furious and they’re on the attack, putting the opposition on its heels.
“If you play fast then, the defense isn’t set and you can get some early 3s,” Erman said. “They did a great job, and hopefully this carries over.
“It’s not so much that we want to go out and shoot a ton of 3s, but we want to play that fast and take the best shot we can get.”
But, as summer league play tends to do, the performance changed quickly. The second quarter showed what can happen when the system backfires.
Milwaukee finally found some offensive rhythm and, as easy baskets rained down, the Pelicans struggled to match the aggression they gained in the opening quarter. Instead of easy looks at the rim coming off transition, New Orleans was dribbling into set defenses and getting challenged at the basket — and it nearly squandering its entire 16-point advantage.
“There were a couple of lulls where we pulled our foot off the gas a little bit and we didn’t run as much,” Erman said. “We will have to watch some film tomorrow and work on those things to try to stay with it more.”
That’s the give and take of playing at this pace, several players said. Fortunately for Erman and the Pelicans, it began to click again in the second half and ended up being the type of game Pelicans fans, with limited evidence, can point to as a blueprint for how this team hopes to play when November rolls around.
“Coach Gentry gave us that freedom to go out there and make plays,” Curry said. “It really fits our style of play, and it was fun.”