Plenty of things to smile about after the Pels’ first scrimmage

First appeared on The Bird Writes, 7/22/20

The New Orleans Pelicans certainly looked like they’ve picked up from where they left off in March, when the NBA season was so unceremoniously halted by the burgeoning and still unrelenting coronavirus pandemic.

But for a few hours there was some altered sense of normalcy, as basketball returned to the landscape. The Pelicans 99-68 win over the injury-ravaged Brooklyn Nets comes four months after they walked off the court in Sacramento, so wide pronouncements about what it means once the real games start on July 30 would be unwise.

However, there was plenty to be encouraged by just in watching how the team played.

The energy was there, though you could see when fatigue did set in. The same willingness to share the basketball that had the Pels ranked second in the NBA (27.0 apg) was on display, as New Orleans scored 24 of its 37 baskets off of assists.

The three-point line was a friend to the Pelicans as well. New Orleans made 10 of 20 attempts from distance in the first half, before ending the game with a 15-point advantage over the Nets in that department.

And, in the absence of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram continued to show that he’s capable of carrying the Pelicans offensively.

B’Easy scored 12 points in 10 minutes, making 4 of his 7 shot attempts (3-of-5 3PA). He also grabbed two boards and handed out two assists. His movements were fluid, and both his pull-up three-pointer and a baseline fadeaway during a 10-4 closing run by the Pelicans to close the first half were things of beauty that John Keats would have written about.

The rest of the Pelicans’ dependables were just that. Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday, E’Twaun Moore, Josh Hart, and JJ Redick all had their moments while on the floor. They combined for 42 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists on the night.

Moore in particular was hot from the outside, knocking down a pair of threes on his way to 14 points in 13 minutes.

Head Coach Alvin Gentry was pleased with the contributions of the team’s core. Even in limited minutes, they were able to set a tone for the Pelicans on both ends of the floor.

“We wanted to pick up where we left off,” he said. “We thought we were playing good basketball. I thought we did a good job, defensively, right before the hiatus came about. I thought all the veteran guys did something at some stage tonight.”

For Moore, that was something he felt was important to do after the layoff.

“We’ve been off for a while, practicing against each other,” said Moore. “It just felt good to go practice against someone else and compete against someone else and just try to see where we stand. We just wanted to keep getting better in our first scrimmage game, one of three, so each game you’ve got to keep getting better and better.”

As comforting as it was to see the vets do their thing, the youngsters remain equal parts fascinating and frustrating.

On the one hand, you have Jaxson Hayes blocking three shots and grabbing five rebounds. His passing still continues to impress. But he didn’t finish well around the basket, and once again his rebounds seem to come in space, rather than through him using his fundamentals.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker opened last summer with high expectations. Those have been tempered, and even the rookie has admitted that the transition to the NBA hasn’t been easy.

Wednesday night he had more shot attempts (15) and misses (9) than any player on the roster. His passing was inaccurate and his shot selection left something to be desired. He tried to force the action rather than find a rhythm or flow.

Nicolo Melli remains a work in progress. He passed up open shots on multiple occasions and his interior defense remains subpar. His activity level was high and he will be an important contributor over the next eight games, yet he continues to leave you wanting more.

In the post, Jahlil Okafor was steady offensively, with 10 points. Scoring is his forte, and with the Nets lack of size up front, he had his way down low. This really wasn’t the night to assess his defense.

Frank Jackson and Kenrich Williams did stuff. They played hard, but they usually do. Frank dunked. Sometimes he does that. Kenrich didn’t score. Usually he does that.

All told, it was a good night for the Pelicans. They looked to be in pretty good shape. They looked a lot like the team that was 22-14 over its final 36 games.

“We still have a long way to go,” added Ingram. “Of course everyone is young, everyone is getting to know each other, for a lot of us it’s out first year together. Everything is coming together, we’ll get better as time goes on. Our defense looked good tonight. We definitely did everything that we’ve been working on, so we’re making progress.”

Most importantly, there were no injuries and there was basketball. Who knows how long it will last? But it was basketball, and it was wonderful.