Alonzo Gee racked his brain, trying to remember the range of radically different defensive matchups he’s been faced with this season.
The Pelicans swingman recalled covering lightning-quick Stephen Curry one game, physically demanding Carmelo Anthony in another. Then, Gee concluded there isn’t a position he hasn’t already defended, claiming he’s already covered “one through five.”
“That’s one of the reasons that we went out and got him,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “We just thought that over the course of his career, he’s guarded ones, twos, threes, fours, and been able to keep guys in front of him.”
It’s the kind of defensive versatility that thrust Gee into the starting lineup for the past six games. It’s where he’ll likely find himself at 8 p.m. Wednesday when New Orleans (3-11) travels to face the Phoenix Suns (7-7) in Talking Stick Resort Arena, riding a two-game winning streak.
Without the services of injured small forward Quincy Pondexter, whose return date from offseason knee surgery is still unknown, Gee has risen to the occasion and earned his place as the Pelicans’ most reliable wing through the first month of the season.
He’s often tasked with defending the opponents’ most prolific scorer. And he proved valuable the last time the limit these teams met, when Gee held Brandon Knight to 5-of-18 shooting from the floor in Sunday’s 122-116 win over Phoenix.
“He’s been really good defensively,” Gentry said. “Anyone that can hold Brandon Knight to 0-for-8 has had a great defensive half.”
Gee, a 6-foot-7 veteran, was added in free agency mostly for defensive purposes, but has also displayed the necessary intangibles to help boost the Pelicans’ chemistry. Anthony Davis made headlines during the Pelicans’ win over Phoenix by piling up 32 points, 19 rebounds and four blocks, but it was a moment of subtle unselfishness by Gee that stood out to teammates in the postgame locker room.
Early in the third quarter, with New Orleans trailing by four and after a pair of Davis misfires dragged his shooting to 3-for-10 in the game, Gee collected the ball at the perimeter before delivering a successful pump fake to clear lane to the basket. But instead of attempting a routine layup of his own, he chose to dish a pass to Davis, who collected Gee’s assist and finished it with a thunderous dunk.
“I think before that I was kind of struggling,” Davis said. “I wasn’t making shots. Just to see the ball go through the rim, get a big play, a dunk like that (helped). Alonzo could have easily dunked the ball. But he wanted to get me going.
“It was like, ‘All right, here goes a bone.’ It kind of got me going. I definitely appreciate that from him.”
From there, Davis connected on seven of his next 11 shots, scoring 21 points en route to a win. But he wasn’t the only one who fed off of the pass.
“That kind of stuff, man, that really pumps me up just to see a guy sacrifice that much,” Anderson said as he brought up the play without being prompted about it. “It’s just awesome. That stuff isn’t really seen and doesn’t show up on the stat book.”
It was a crystallization of Gee’s contribution to the Pelicans. The moment was routine to him, unnoticed by the majority of those watching, but meaningful to those who benefited.
“I know my role on the team,” Gee said. “We needed AD to get going. So I just made the extra pass. It got him going, and he had a big second half, so it was needed.”