Part 2 in the New Western Conference Landscape series, which observes how free agency changes will effect the teams the Grizzlies see in conference play next season.
Next to the Clippers, the Pelicans were one of the busiest and most ambitious teams this summer, and their new name and colors won’t be the only new thing greeting opponents next season.
The team jettisoned Robin Lopez, Grevis Vasquez, and the #6 overall pick Nerlens Noel to bring in Sixers point guard Jrue Holiday and Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans. The Pellies also replaced their departed center with Greg Stiemsma and added three-point specialist Anthony Morrow, who the Grizzlies had their eye on, to an already talented guard core.
It’s hard not to like the Pelicans’ ideas with these trades, but the coaching staff will have a lot of work to do to get these young athletes to play cohesively. Tyreke and Holiday actually have similar offensive games, making it difficult to see how they will work together: both are nifty ballhandlers capable of creating their own shot and making defenses look silly on sharp drives to the basket. Holiday is more rhythmic on offense, and Tyreke more physical. Jrue brings great passing, but at 17.7 PPG, will take over the offense from time to time.
With these two and Anthony Davis, New Orleans now has a roster of explosive off the ball cutters. The new Pelicans’ offense will poke and prod at defensive weak spots, but won’t always be able to impose its will when necessary. For Memphis, playing off of Tyreke on screens and clogging up pick and rolls with Davis will be a must.
Where will the Pelicans’ scoring come from? Hard to say, but it will have to improve from last year, when they finished 25th in points per game. Eric Gordon is reliable, and Ryan Anderson is a scary 3-point shooter when hot (he hit 7 threes in a “one of those games” win over Memphis in January). Evans and Holiday both average 15+ PPG, and I’m guessing they will take a handful of touches away from Anthony Davis, who was a main scoring option against the Grizzlies last year. Without knowing how Monty Williams plans to orchestrate his shiny new roster, it’s hard to predict how Memphis should prepare.
The Grizzlies should have their way with New Orleans on offense. Despite his length, Davis is still a shaky defender, too skinny to guard the likes of Z-Bo and not technically proficient enough to make up for it. New Orleans was especially prone to leaving open shooters in the corner three position last year, often failing to execute Monty Williams’ complex defensive switches (Quincy, Jerryd – you’re up). Holiday and Evans will bring some help on D, but Memphis doesn’t rely on Conley’s or Bayless’ shooting to carry the team. Run a high screen, give the ball to Gasol on the elbow; send Conley through the lane past Holiday and Evans and find Pondexter open in the corner; let Z-Bo bully Davis down low and deliver him the ball beneath the basket – all of Memphis’ go-to plays should be effective against the new NOLA. Let’s hope for more than another 2-2 season series.