LAS VEGAS — Alvin Gentry doesn’t even need the Pelicans roster to know what his system is capable of in New Orleans.
In two NBA summer-league games, the Pelicans’ new coach has watched a group of fringe NBA performers get up and down the floor with an innate sense of urgency, en route to a pair of victories on the opening weekend of the Las Vegas tournament.
Now, the Pelicans prepare to take on the Brooklyn Nets at 3:30 p.m. Monday in the Thomas & Mack Center to complete pool play.
In jumping to a 2-0 start, the Pelicans have scored more points than any team to play two games, averaging 95.5 points in 40-minute games during victories over the Milwaukee Bucks and Dallas Mavericks.
And even though the pieces will look entirely different come training camp in October, there are several areas where Gentry is encouraged.
“The thing that I’ve been most encouraged by this summer-league team is that they’re playing at a pace we want to play at,” Gentry said. “They didn’t shoot the ball very well (Saturday) and scored 90 points. We shot it OK but didn’t shoot it great, and had 101 points (Friday).
“That, to me, is the biggest thing to do over here. If we can continue to do that then, as I said to them in the locker room, if we can translate that into the varsity team, then I think we are going to be OK.”
It’s a message that has translated to the summer league roster, which echoed Gentry’s sentiments about the importance of playing with urgency and continuously applying pressure on opponents from the game’s onset.
It has resulted in quick starts, averaging an 11-point advantage after the first quarter.
“We want to always be getting up and down the floor,” said Seth Curry, who averaged 27.5 points to lead all Pelicans scorers. “We know the way coach wants us to play, and we are using that message, and it’s working so far. We just have to keep playing that way and make that work for us.”
Assistant coach Darren Erman, who is leading the Pelicans’ summer team, said he was pleased with his squad’s effort but recognized some fatigue beginning to set in.
Not only are the Pelicans playing faster than most other summer-league teams, they were scheduled to play a back-to-back in the first two days, completing two games in less than 24 hours at the Cox Pavilion.
And it came on the heels of a prolonged minicamp that stretched from Monday through Thursday in New Orleans.
“We had a back-to-back and hadn’t had a day off in like six days,” Erman said after Saturday’s win. “Our legs might be gone a little bit.”
The workload was exacerbated when starting forward Will Sheehy was sidelined midway through the first quarter of Saturday’s win because of an injured hamstring.
“Back-to-back is part of the NBA, but usually you don’t have six practices leading up to it,” Erman said. “It was a little bit different. But they did a great job, and I was really proud of them. They did a great job. We have made adjustments on the fly, and they’ve picked them up.”
The Pelicans haven’t been afraid to mix-and-match lineups either, showing some signs of small ball that may be used when the regular season comes around.
Despite surrendering a 48-to-36 rebounding advantage to Dallas, Erman said the Pelicans took advantage of a more versatile and quick lineup to hold off the Mavericks in the fourth quarter. It’s the kind of lineup the Pelicans are expected to employ late in games during the regular season, when Anthony Davis will shift into the center spot as New Orleans trades size for speed.
“One thing we did was go small to spread it out and open up some driving gaps,” Erman said. “Then we switched everything one through four on the pick-and-roll. We got hurt a little bit on the glass, but it helped open us up offensively and took away what they were trying to do offensively.”