Last month, the New Orleans Pelicans sent a shockwave through the NBA when they traded for All-Star center Demarcus Cousins. The Pelicans, a team that already boasted the game’s best power forward in Anthony Davis, now find themselves with the most talented frontcourt in recent memory, and perhaps ever.
Yet with all this talent in one place, the Pelicans have been inconsistent at best. Some nights they play well. Some nights they look completely lost. They are turning the ball over and shooting poorly on offense, while on defense, they have been entirely uninspiring. This comes as a surprise to many who thought the new look frontcourt would propel the Pellies to the top of the conference.
Head coach Alvin Gentry likes his team to play quickly, and his up-tempo offense is a unique situation into which Cousins must assimilate. The Pelicans are second in the NBA in defensive rebounds-per-game and 27th in offensive rebounds-per-game.
This lack of effort on the offensive glass is statistical evidence of Gentry’s fast paced system in which he instructs his players to fall back quickly on defense. As in any effective system, taking care of the basketball is a vital aspect in this system’s success, and the Pelicans are top 10 in that area.
But at first glance, Cousins’ tendencies do not exactly fit this model. He loafs in transition, and he averages nearly four turnovers per outing. Since his arrival in the Crescent City, Cousins is averaging more turnovers-per-game, and he is shooting the ball about three percentage points worse than he was in Sacramento.
Davis, on the other hand, seems to be finding his way in the new offense. Since the trade, Davis is shooting at a slightly worse rate, but is scoring more and turning the ball over less. Cousins’ presence near the rim has lifted some of the rebounding burden off of Davis, and this has likely allowed Davis to play more aggressively on offense.
The biggest inconsistency thus far has been point guard Jrue Holiday, who has been unable to find a rhythm with the new unit. Like Cousins, he is turning the ball over more, and he has been lackadaisical at best on defense. Holiday has also seen his field goal percentage take a massive drop with Cousins on the floor.
Before the trade, Holiday was having success running the offense, and the Pelicans were better on defense with Holiday on the court than they were without him. What appears to be happening here is that the burden is falling heavily on Holiday to make this new offense function, and he is not responding well.
It is not uncommon for point guards to bear the burden of a new superstar. In order to run the point effectively, you need to be completely in tune with each of your teammates’ tendencies. Holiday clearly is not yet. After all, Cousins is a very high usage player; it likely is not easy to learn his style in such a short time. Holiday is simply struggling to keep up.
But as time goes on, Holiday will have to respond to more than just a new teammate. In order to smoothly transition Cousins into the offense, Holiday and the rest of team will have to work themselves into a system that looks slightly different from the one to which they are accustomed.
Gentry’s job depends on his ability to make these adjustments. Once he does, the players will have to make some of their own. If the proper median can be found, and Gentry slows down the offense to a just-right tempo, Cousins will flourish, and Holiday will adjust to the newest elephant in the room. Time is the best medicine for this struggling offense.
This was a great trade for the Pellies, but there is a lot of pressure going forward with the level of talent with which they now find themselves. They have the potential to be among the only teams in the West capable of sustaining opposition to Golden State. As much as they have been losing lately, this new team is a treat to watch at times. As the system develops and the “big three” find their groove, there’s no telling how much more fun they can be.