The New Orleans Pelicans look to snap their three-game losing streak when they visit the Los Angeles Clippers – watch live on Sky Sports Arena from 3am in the early hours of Thursday morning
By Cameron Hogwood
The New Orleans Pelicans are yet to iron out the defensive issues that played a part in the organisation’s decision to appoint Stan Van Gundy as head coach earlier this year.
New Orleans averaged a second-most 16.4 turnovers per game as well as allowing a fourth-most 117.1 points per game in what would prove Alvin Gentry’s final season in charge last year.
Van Gundy’s introduction came with the expectation of a significant leap on that side of the ball, with his teams having ranked in the top 10 on defense in eight of his 12 years as an NBA head coach. Furthermore, on five occasions, including four with the Orlando Magic, his teams have ranked No 1 in percentage of shots allowed at the rim.
Signs of improvement early on in the season have seen the Pelicans average a seventh-most 37.1 defensive rebounds per game, while allowing opponents a fifth-fewest 106.6 points per game. However, they enter Wednesday night’s matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers amid a three-game losing streak across which they have averaged a fifth-most 17.3 turnovers and allowed an 11th-most 115.7 points per game.
That includes 19 turnovers in their 118-110 defeat to the Charlotte Hornets last time out. It’s a leading source of frustration for Van Gundy.
“The common problem for us is the 19 turnovers, it’s got to stop,” said the Pelicans head coach. “You can’t be a good team in this league when you just turn the ball over. And unforced turnovers and just giving the ball away, they had 27 points off our turnovers. It makes it tough to win, your margin for error is small.
“And then defensively, I think from a coaching standpoint we really have to go back and look at some things because right now we’re giving up everything.
“We gave up a lot of threes but we gave up 44 points in the paint also, we really didn’t do anything well defensively and I said it before the last game our defensive drop off from the time coming out of training camp has been very noticeable.
“I thought we came out of camp with a real defensive mentality. We still made mistakes but we came out with a defensive mentality and over the last four games we’ve had really very little defensive mentality, defensive disposition.”
Van Gundy cited the 120-116 win over the Toronto Raptors at the beginning of January and the 98-95 win over the San Antonio Spurs late in December in underlining the team’s ability to come up with late stops down the stretch.
Leading by three with 1.4 seconds to play against the Spurs, Eric Bledsoe produced a block on DeMar DeRozan’s 27-foot three-point jumper to tie the game, before Lonzo Ball followed up with a defensive rebound to see out the game.
Up 116-114 with 30 seconds remaining against the Raptors, Steven Adams came up with an important defensive rebound to set New Orleans on their way to seeing out the win.
The ability is there, but the production and consistency has been lacking.
“When they (Charlotte) missed we couldn’t get a rebound so they’d still end up with a bucket, it was very very frustrating,” Van Gundy continued.
“We’ve got to get a lot better at the defensive end of the floor. I think we should be a good defensive team, I think we should be a top 10 defensive team. Over the last four games we’re a bottom 10 defensive team, that can’t be us.”
Having previously worked with the likes of Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard on defense, Van Gundy is now equipped with New Zealander Adams as his conventional big.
He leads the team with 8.9 rebounds per game so far this campaign, followed by Josh Hart with 8.4 and Zion Williamson with 8.1 per game, while Van Gundy has set out to make an astute defender out of Brandon Ingram.
Ball, Williamson and Ingram are 2.9, 2.8 and 2.7 turnovers per game, respectively, in a primary area the Pelicans are eager to address.
“The frustrating thing for me is I think we need to do some things differently offensively to help our players and I’d like to spend some time on that stuff,” Van Gundy added.
“But I’ve got to be able to count on our defense and five or six days ago I would have thought that I could, now it’s like back to the drawing board in terms of defense,” Van Gundy added. “We don’t have a defensive foundation whatsoever.
“We’ve got plenty of individual ability to be a very very good defensive team. I’m not putting it all on the players, we have to take a look at the schemes we’re using and think about whether we’re doing the best thing for our team and if there are things we can adjust.
“I’m not pointing fingers, what I’m saying is we should be a good defensive team.”