It’s not as though Luke Babbitt was having a quiet night.
The sharpshooting Pelicans forward scored 16 points in Saturday’s preseason-opening win at Indiana. He made five of his 11 shots and was 3-of-7 on 3-pointers. He had three assists and made a strong first impression on new coach Alvin Gentry.
It’s not as if Gentry didn’t notice Babbitt’s hot start. It just slipped his mind to end it.
“I forgot about him, really,” Gentry said this week. “He was just out there playing. He came back to the bench and sat down and gave me this weird look. I mean, I’ve gotten weird looks for not playing guys. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a weird look for playing a guy too long.”
Babbitt played 28 minutes last Saturday, and though he’s unlikely to see that number frequently in the regular season — he averaged 4.1 points in 13.2 minutes per game last season — he’s hoping Gentry will have reason to leave him in games all year long.
The 6-foot-9, Babbitt re-signed with the Pelicans in the hopes that he can find a fit in Gentry’s up-tempo system, regardless of the minutes available.
“It’s a good system,” Babbitt said. “It’s a good system for shooters, for players like me. The floor needs to be spaced for guys like (Anthony Davis), Tyreke (Evans), Jrue (Holiday) — penetrators that need spacing. The more guys you have out there to shoot, the better.”
Babbitt’s shooting credentials are unquestioned. In five NBA seasons, he’s shooting 40.3 percent from 3-point range, including 45.2 percent in two seasons with New Orleans.
Last season, he shot 51 percent from 3-point range and emerged as one of the league’s top catch-and-shoot threats, scoring 181 of his 256 points (70.7 percent) in those situations.
Babbitt made 53.4 percent of his catch-and-shoot shots, and 53.3 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-pointers.
In catch-and-shoot situations, Babbitt’s effective field-goal percentage — a number that takes into account that 3-point shots are more valuable than 2s — was 78 percent. That was second-highest among NBA players who played at least 10 minutes per game in at least 25 games.
“He never shoots bad shots or makes the wrong play,” Davis said. “We definitely trust the ball in his hands, and we want to give him the ball as much as possible.”
And Babbitt would like to get it at a couple of positions.
Traditionally a small forward, Babbitt said he added weight and strength this offseason in the hope of playing some power-forward minutes when the Pelicans go small.
And though he knows minutes at the four spot will be scarce with Davis and Ryan Anderson playing there, Babbitt hopes Gentry will give him a look in small lineups that let him pull bigger defenders away from the basket to create space for Davis inside and Evans and Holiday slashing to the rim.
“The more we can go four-out, one-in, I think that gives us a lot of spacing — four shooters out there, four perimeter guys,” Babbitt said. “If I can be out there with that group, I like that a lot, but I’m definitely willing to play the three when we got a big and A.D. out there too. We can play different ways. That’s one of the positives of this team.”
Babbitt played some power forward at Indiana and showed a knack for more than just perimeter jump shots.
Babbitt’s shot fake, drive and kick to Bryce Dejean-Jones with 3:04 to play in the game put the Pelicans in front 104-93 and was “probably the biggest play of the game,” Gentry said on his postgame radio show.
“That’s one of the areas I can improve is off the dribble,” Babbitt said. “That’s one of the areas where you may have an advantage with guys flying out at me a little bit with being able to shoot the ball.”
If Babbitt can make plays like that — and if he can stretch the floor on offense and compete at the defensive end — he could continue giving Gentry reasons to leave him on the court.
“I do think he’s a real solid player,” Gentry said. “I think he’s a real student of the game. I think he’s got a real good handle on the game: makes plays, and obviously can make open shots. He’s just a quiet guy that kind of stands back in the corner there, so you have a tendency sometimes to not notice him, but out on the court, he’s been really good for us.”