It’s only preseason, but the New Orleans Pelicans had reason to be smiling Wednesday.
They had just come off Tuesday night’s 117-98 victory against the Houston Rockets at Smoothie King Center in which a lot of things went well.
The Pelicans shot 53.8 percent, including 52.0 percent (13-of-25) on 3-point attempts and clearly are happy with the newfound offensive freedom given by coach Monty Williams.
Anthony Davis — with 26 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots in 30 minutes — looked in midseason form. Jrue Holiday (14 points, four assists, two steals) appears close to 100 percent healed from his season-ending injury in January. Jimmer Fredette (15 points) and Ryan Anderson (14) led a bench that scored 54 points.
Tempering that is the Pelicans met a Rockets team that was without All-Star center Dwight Howard and guard James Harden.
Still, making shots had the Pelicans (1-3) smiling after Williams said the team had missed too many open ones in the previous preseason games.
“I thought our guys got open shots again, and that helped out,” Williams said. “But to start the game, we got a lot of stops. So, we were playing in our transition offense.”
The Pelicans host the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night at Smoothie King, hoping to carry over the offense with one improvement. They had 23 turnovers Tuesday night, and addressing that was a main focus of Wednesday’s practice.
However, even Williams said becoming a well-oiled bunch will take the starters playing together more as preseason goes on, because of the new wrinkles he’s added to the team’s plays.
The players love it. Tyreke Evans was gushing about it earlier in the week. The offense is predicated on defense first, which is not much of a change from the old system.
“It was real fun to play like that,” said Davis, who scored 13 points in the first quarter and had good synergy with point guard Holiday. “A lot of our points came off stops.
“I think, first off, (Williams) is trusting us a lot more with the ball. He told us he’s going to have a lot more trust in us to just go out there and play free.”
Williams said having new additions center Omer Asik and outside shooter Fredette to go along with Davis, Anderson, Holiday and Evans made for a lot of options that necessitated change. So, he borrowed some ideas and put it with his own. Last season, of course, Anderson and Holiday were out injured more than half the season.
“We couldn’t put this stuff in before because we didn’t have the guys that would complement the sets,” Williams said. “(Assistant coach Brian) Gates ran an offense in the Summer League, which I thought was pretty good. A couple of the sets, if we get the sets down and understand the options off of it, it can be pretty good.”
Some of it came from his experience this past summer with USA Basketball.
“Being overseas, (I saw) different offenses and how we can add that into what we already do, or take something,” Williams said.
To Anderson, the offense remains similar to what the team ran the previous two seasons. The two biggest differences, he said, are the play-calling and what they do off the fast-break.
“A big difference has been our quick offense, just getting into something off of (an opponent’s) miss,” Anderson said. “A lot of that is having guys like Tyreke, who can handle the ball really well, so you want to get it to him on the break. We want to get stops to do that because it’s our best offense.”
In the set offense, Davis said Asik, known for his defense and rebounding, makes a difference with the new wrinkles.
“Omer is a big piece in that,” Davis said. “For him to be able to defend and rebound and draw attention with his size, that gives me a lot of open looks and everybody else a lot of open looks.”
Guard Eric Gordon, who had 14 points against Houston, said Asik’s ability to set screens is something to which he is looking forward to this season.
“He’s a big guy, and he likes setting screens, and he can really move to be so big,” Gordon said. “He’s going to help get us open shots, and he’s quick (rolling) to the basket.”
And, there’s an added bonus, Williams said.
“Sometimes, when a big dives to the basket, he may not get the pass to score, but he’ll be in position for the offensive rebound,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons he’s a good rebounder.”
The Pelicans announced promotions and additions to their training and player development staff. Duane Brooks was hired as head trainer after 13 years with the Saints as assistant trainer. Jamelle McMillan was promoted to player development coach after two seasons as a coaching intern. Terrance “Doc” Martin added the position of player development coach to his duties as director of player programs. And, Michael Whinrey was promoted to head video coordinator after being an assistant last season. The team hired Jason Sumerlin, formerly with the San Antonio Spurs, as assistant strength coach, Jared Lewis as physical therapist and Michael Ruffin as a player development coach.