Will what happened in the preseason stay in the preseason?
The New Orleans Pelicans finished the 2018-19 preseason in the cellar, looking up at the other 29 teams in the league and wondering what it feels like to have tasted just one victory before the wins and losses start to matter.
Despite the games not counting, an 0-5 record is an unsightly mark, one that can connote a slew of problems. In case you didn’t know, it’s also a feat that’s rarely witnessed in the league. Here’s a comprehensive list of all the teams to fail garnering a single win in the preseason since the 2002-03 campaign.
Preseason Record Regular Season Record
2017-18 New York Knicks 0-5 29-53
2015-16 Dallas Mavericks 0-7 42-40
2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers 0-8 45-37
2008-09 Charlotte Bobcats 0-8 35-47
2007-08 Miami Heat 0-7 15-67
Five teams over a span of 15 years. The Pelicans have the dubious distinction of being the sixth in the last 16, but please observe the smaller preseason schedule — the odds of going undefeated or winless are higher. Moreover, as you can see from this smallest of sample sizes, it’s not a death knell. Both the Lakers and the Mavericks from this list went on to make the playoffs in the corresponding years.
To all of the exasperated viewers, it was apparent that the Pelicans didn’t put their best foot forward, yet there are valid reasons for having concerns going forward. The offense didn’t flash the smooth buttery feel from last March or April as turnovers were commonplace and easy scores were not. The team’s overall depth looked questionable at best because some individual reserves flat out disappointed. The biggest eyesore though was undoubtedly the performance by the defense. It was all too often non-existent, giving up points faster than a Pop-A-Shot machine — 124.8 points per game, to be exact.
While that was the highest mark posted by a league team in the NBA Stats database, realize an obscene 114.20 pace did distort the reality just a touch. The Minnesota Timberwolves and Sacramento Kings were more considerate teams, giving up 113.0 and 109.9 points per 100 possessions respectively to opponents in comparison to the Pelicans’ 109.3. Additionally, one must factor the manner with which the opposition consistently batted at the Pelicans piñata of a defense.
Pts off turnovers 2nd chance pts Fastbreak pts Pts in paint Opp pts off turnovers Opp 2nd chance pts Opp fastbreak pts Opp pts in paint
New Orleans Pelicans 13.6 (29th) 13.2 (17th) 12.8 (19th) 51.6 (6th) 25.4 (28th) 14.6 (24th) 15.0 (23rd) 65.2 (30th)
Minnesota Timberwolves 15.2 (28th) 10.6 (26th) 8.0 (29th) 45.2 (20th) 19.6 (17th) 14.6 (24th) 17.6 (29th) 52.4 (29th)
Sacramento Kings 23.7 (6th) 12.3 (20th) 15.8 (12th) 46.7 (16th) 15.8 (8th) 11.0 (6th) 15.7 (26th) 50.3 (26th)
2017-18 New Orleans Pelicans final 28 games 16.1 (14th) 12.4 (17th) 19.9 (1st) 57.3 (2nd) 15.8 (13th) 14.3 (27th) 14.6 (23rd) 50.0 (27th)
Hidden among these acrid averages: the Knicks scored 29 points off turnovers, the Heat racked up 30 second chance points and the Bulls and Hawks both totaled 72 points in the paint. Not exactly a who’s who of last year’s playoff competitors. These gross statistics fail to indicate winning basketball, and what’s more, New Orleans statistical output was eerily on par with the Minnesota Timberwolves — you know, the group of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and other bystanders who were subjected to endure Jimmy Butler’s scorched earth policy over the last few weeks.
The Pelicans, who seem to be all in on entering the 2018-19 season by utilizing pace to an even greater advantage, failed to score more fastbreak points than their opponents in each of their five preseason games. Ditto in the points in the paint department. New Orleans scored 68 points total off of turnovers in 240 minutes, but they gave up nearly twice that amount (127). As the painted picture reveals, the Pelicans gave up a ridiculous number of easy points without cashing in on enough opportunities of their own.
Many have said that cutting down on the turnovers should be the priority. While a reduction from an average of 20 miscues will undoubtedly help, understand that the Rockets, Sixers and Nuggets all posted higher turnover percentages during exhibition play and yet combined for an 11-3 record.
What am I driving at?
The Pelicans sleepwalked through most of the preseason — there just wasn’t enough effort and interest exhibited!
For instance, the list of careless turnovers was a long one. From Nikola Mirotic failing to connect on simple entry passes into the post to Elfrid Payton making late reads — yet he attempted passes anyways — to Cheick Diallo...get back to me on this because I still haven’t figured out why his game decidedly jumped off a cliff.
In the meantime, ponder this gem.
Bam Adebayo steal and rainbow jumper to beat the 3rd quarter buzzer. pic.twitter.com/Leu3FHwvFw
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) October 11, 2018
Julius Randle should have gotten credited for an assist, huh?
Then there were the lazy plays. Anthony Davis going for a block when he had no chance of cashing that check and promptly donating his box-out assignment an easy two points on a putback. Payton missing a lay-in and then not hustling back fast enough to contest a three-point attempt by a wide-open perimeter player on the other end of the floor. And how about this following whale of a sequence.
Bam Adebayo, the Miami Heat’s second string center, got the steal off an errant pass by Solomon Hill, was able to dribble the length of the floor, finish, and then get back defensively to make a block?
If there’s a silver lining to all of this, it’s the fact that the Pelicans never mentioned any of the losses kept them up at nights. Alvin Gentry may have not been too happy in a few post-game media sessions, but the players were much more even keeled. During the final game against Toronto, the camaras caught Jrue Holiday smiling an awful lot — especially after New Orleans trailed. That’s not the regular season bulldog we’ve come to know and love.
The Pelicans collective hearts and focus were not at 100% for any of the games. Not 90%. Probably not 80% either. In conjunction, it’s probably not worth continuing with this investigation any longer.
New Orleans and Golden State, one of the two semifinal Western Conference matchups of the 2018 playoffs, combined to go 1-9 in this preseason. Did you notice that the Boston Celtics, the preseason favorite to reach the Finals out of the Eastern Conference, went 1-3? The Pelicans are most assuredly not on the level of these two teams, but it doesn’t mean that they didn’t check out similarly.
Maybe we’ll soon learn that the whole preseason was a part of the grand master plan to lull the Houston Rockets on opening night. Yeah, why not? All it’s going to take is that first positive showing and all of the meaningless preseason play will long be forgotten.
The New Orleans Pelicans didn’t look bad over the last few weeks because they’re a dreadfully constructed team, they were unfortunately disinterested more times than not. It’s not an acceptable reason, but there are ones much worse.