The New York Knicks take on the New Orleans Pelicans tonight at 8:00 EST in their second game of a back-to-back. To get a better idea of what the Knicks are in for tonight I brought in Mason Ginsberg of Bourbon Street Shots and David Fisher of The Bird Writes.
After a rough January the Pelicans have won four of their last seven games. The Pelicans are 23-29 overall, last in the Southwest Division, but it really doesn’t seem like they’ve been that bad. What’s been the biggest reason(s) for their struggles this season?
Mason: Injuries, without question. This team’s 2013-14 ceiling was nothing more than a 7th or 8th seed, but with a full complement of players, they could have certainly pushed for a playoff spot. Anderson and Holiday have both missed considerable periods of time, and even Anthony Davis has missed 8 games. The hope was that the Pelicans would have their new core play together for most of the season and start to build some chemistry, but that unfortunately hasn’t happened so far.
David: Injuries. Ryan Anderson has missed 30 games. Jrue Holiday has missed 18. The pieces worked when they were together, but the rotation has been a series of stops and starts. Anderson in particular is important. He creates the space necessary for their trio of bal dominant guards (Holiday, Evans, Gordon) to operate. This team simply avoids taking threes without Anderson in the lineup.
With the trade deadline coming tomorrow I have to ask, what are the chances Pelicans General Manager Dell Demps makes a big trade by tomorrow?
Mason: The only way that the Pelicans make a major move is if Eric Gordon is involved. I don’t really think that they’re looking to move any of their other big contracts; not only is Gordon overpaid, but his skill set is redundant on this team. Other than him, the only players that may be dealt are lesser role players.
David: I think he is torn due to the above. The five big contracts on the roster together were very successful. On the other hand, there is a lot of redundancy. Moving Gordon is probably the number one thing he’s working, but finding a taker for his contract is going to be difficult. I would love a trade like the one below, but doubt the Knicks would think Rivers is a sufficient upgrade from Felton.
Outside of Anthony Davis, who would you else has excelled for the Pelicans this season? Who has fallen off?
Mason: Other than Anthony Davis, it has been a rough year for the rest of the team, as players have either played well but gotten hurt (Holiday, Anderson) or have had disappointing years. Withey has done more than most expected from him and Rivers has undoubtedly improved from last season, but excessive minutes for low-upside players like Roberts, Stiemsma and Ajinca have arguably been roadblocks to their development.
David: No other players have really stuck out either direction. Tyreke Evans gets a lot of flak nationally due to his low production, but digging deeper he has been efficient. His minutes have diminished significantly and he has struggled at the basket playing with lineups featuring two bigs, most times two big who are non-factors on offense. Eric Gordon has actually been healthy, which is a promising development long term. With Brian Roberts running the offense Gordon gets froze out for long stretches, but I blame that on execution rather than Gordon being passive.
The Pelicans are 26th in the league in DRtg, which seems high for their roster. Why have they struggled defensively? How should the Knicks game plan to attack them?
Mason: Outside of Davis and the injured Holiday, the Pelicans don’t really have any surefire plus defenders. Aminu, Gordon, & Evans are all athletic, but none are consistent on the defensive end, so the team has trouble on the wings. In the middle, Ajinca and Stiemsma are fouling machines, so opponents frequently get into the penalty early in quarters. Additionally, Monty Williams’ hard hedging defensive system takes Davis away from the rim too much, which further impacts the strength of the defense.
David: The defense has actually been much better in the past 13 games, 10th in the league according to NBA Stats. The Pels have struggled for schematic more than personnel reasons. They play a rather aggressive scheme (covered below) forcing inexperienced players into chaos rotations on the backside, leading to frequent breakdowns and open shots for the opposition.
The key to attacking the Pelicans is involving Anthony Davis in Pick and Roll defense, strange as that might sound. The Monty Williams scheme is heavy on hard hedging; getting the best individual defender for New Orleans 30+ feet from the basket is always a good idea. Run high pick and roll all night and pass the ball – open threes will result.
Who ultimately wins tonight and why?
Mason: Though New Orleans is the home team and holds a 3 1/2 game lead over New York in a more difficult conference, I expect game to be a very close one. If the Pelicans continue their foul-happy practices and give the Knicks more free throw attempts than they typically earn, they could easily get upset. That being said, if guys like Roberts, Morrow, and Babbitt can capitalize on the Knicks’ poor perimeter defense, then the Pelicans could win by double digits. My prediction: New Orleans 89, New York 86.
David: The Pelicans should win. They are much more rested than the Knicks and have two full days of practice under their belt. New York going (and staying) small should force Monty Williams to match; always good to limit Greg Stiemsma’s minutes and increase AD’s time at center. Pelicans come out strong and hold on for dear life to the end, winning 93-88.