Since the start of training camp, New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams has put the onus on his team’s guards.
Not to knock down open shots or to drive to the basket more effectively and find open teammates. Not so much to keep the turnovers down, although that’s an emphasis, too.
The main thing Williams has been harping on with his guards since Sept. 30, when camp began, is to be better defensive rebounders this season. Although the Pelicans have added center Omer Asik, they were 19th in the NBA in rebound differential last season.
“We can’t put all of the responsibility on Omer and (power forward Anthony Davis),” Williams said. “All of our guys have to share in that responsibility, especially our guards.”
Playing against the Washington Wizards on Monday night in Baltimore, the Pelicans will get one final dress rehearsal to get it right.
They have one more preseason game after that — Thursday night in Bossier City against the Dallas Mavericks. But the reserves are scheduled to get the bulk of the minutes in that game as they try to make one last impression to make the Pelicans roster or catch the eye of other teams.
Washington looks like a good final gauge. Even though starting shooting guard Bradley Beal is expected to sit out with a sprained ankle, the Wizards guards — Beal, John Wall and Glen Rice Jr. — are known for going to the boards.
“They don’t have as good as rebounders as we have, as far as (big men),” guard Eric Gordon said. “So (Washington’s guards) have more opportunities, but they get a lot of rebounds.”
The teams met Oct. 8 in Jacksonville, Fla., and the Wizards won 94-89. They outrebounded the Pelicans 48-41, with Rice getting seven rebounds (three offensive), Beal five and Wall two. Even though the Pelicans got more offensive rebounds — 12 to 10 — the Wizards were able to get some key baskets off them.
Even in the 120-86 blowout of depleted Oklahoma City on Thursday at the Smoothie King Center, Williams bemoaned the fact that the Pelicans allowed 13 offensive rebounds in the first half to the Thunder, who finished with 17. Although New Orleans outrebounded Houston in Tuesday’s 117-98 win, the Rockets had 11 offensive rebounds to the Pelicans’ six.
“When you’re playing so hard, to give up an extra possession, it hurts your team,” Williams said. “A lot of it’s the guards.”
In the past two games, Austin Rivers has taken Williams’ edict to heart and pulled down five rebounds in each game, leading the way for the team’s guards. Rivers said Williams and the preseason statistics are the reasons he has tried to focus on it more.
“We’re 25th, 26th in rebounding,” Rivers said. “We have Asik and Anthony Davis, and we have big, athletic guards. We feel like we should be among the top (teams) in rebounding.”
There are reasons the guards’ assistance is needed in defensive rebounding. With Asik and Davis expected to be aggressive trying to block shots, their teammates need to have their backs as far as grabbing rebounds.
And when guards rebound, it speeds up the fast break because the big men can get out and run quicker. The Pelicans likely will not win many rebound battles at small forward, so the guards must chip into that discrepancy.
But most important, it eliminates opponents’ offensive rebounding. Other than a highly effective post-up player, offensive rebounds are key to increasing field-goal percentage, which at the same time allows that team to set up its defense.
“It seems every time a team gets an offensive rebound,” Rivers said, “it always ends up in a (3-pointer) because you’re scrambling. You go from getting a stop to giving up a 3-pointer. That’s a five-point swing, just like that. So you really have to eliminate those plays, because they can kill a team.”
NOTE: On Sunday, the Pelicans had more of their usual practice than the full-scale scrimmage that was planned. Gordon, who missed Thursday’s game against Oklahoma City with back spasms, participated and said he had no problems.