Should the Pelicans play Zion Williamson at center?

The Pelicans have a fascinating core of young talent, based primarily around forwards Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson.

But, should Williamson remain a power forward? Or would moving up one spot and playing undersized at center be the move to make?

Here’s the New Orleans Times-Picayune exploring it:

Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo’s versatility on both ends of the floor is a major reason why Miami is two wins away from making the Finals. Adebayo playing “up” a position when it matters most could also be a clue for how the Pelicans deploy their own athletic, talented big man in the future.

As a rookie, Zion Williamson operated almost exclusively at power forward. He played 92% of his minutes there compared to 8% of his minutes at center, according to Basketball Reference. As he continues to develop, lineups that feature him at center could be the Pelicans’ trump card in important moments.

Offensively, Williamson is already equipped to play the 5. In his first season, the 20-year-old proved he was one of the game’s most difficult players to slow down inside. Williamson averaged 16.8 points in the paint, the second-most in the league behind MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. His combination of speed, strength and touch around the rim allowed him to shoot 62.1% from the field inside of 5 feet.

Williamson averaged 22.5 points per game on 58.3% shooting — extremely efficient scoring numbers — even though he played most of his minutes next to Derrick Favors, a traditional center who posed no threat as an outside shooter. The Pelicans could immediately become a more dynamic offensive team by playing Williamson at center and surrounding him with four players who can make shots or attack off the dribble.

The Pelicans were a mess in the NBA restart at the Disney bubble, but for now it seems safe to write that off and focus on what should be a bright future. They do still have a lot of development to do if they want to be in the mix for next season’s playoffs. But the potential is there.

Brandon Ingram wins NBA Most Improved Player award

New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram has won the 2019-20 NBA Most Improved Player Award.

“I want to congratulate Brandon on winning the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award,” said Pelicans Governor Gayle Benson. “I am so proud of Brandon’s personal achievements this season and am glad to see him rewarded for all of his hard work and dedication. It has been a truly memorable year watching him excel on and off the court.”

“This award recognizes the countless extra hours Brandon spent in the gym this season as well as the diligence and commitment he puts into the game every day, both mentally and physically,” said Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin. “I could not be more excited for him and his family to receive this well-deserved honor.”

Ingram, 6-9, 190, who was acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers last July, finished the season averaging career-highs in multiple categories, including points (23.8), rebounds (6.1), assists (4.2) and steals (0.9). Entering the season, Ingram held career averages of 13.9 points, 2.9 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 0.6 steals. The Duke University product also saw a major improvement in both three-point shooting as well as at the free throw line. Entering the season a career .329 shooter from beyond the arc on 0.7 makes and 2.0 attempts, Ingram shot .391 from three-point range on the season, increasing both his makes (2.4) and attempts (6.2) per contest. At the free throw line, Ingram entered the season with a career .662 shooting percentage, including a .675 shooting percentage last season, and increased his mark to .851 from the charity stripe in 2019-20. The improvement at the free throw line is the third largest year-over-year in NBA history (min. 250 FTA).

Prior to the NBA restart, Ingram was one of just seven players in the NBA to average at least 24.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 4.0 APG and 1.0 SPG, and was the only player to average at least 24.0 PPG while shooting better than .465 FG%, .385 3FG% and .855 FT% (min. 25 games). Ingram produced 17 games with at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists after recording seven such performances in his first three seasons. He also had 11 30-point games, including two 40-point games, after registering four career 30-point games prior to the 2019-20 campaign. Furthermore, Ingram became just the second player in NBA history to increase their total points by over 400, total rebounds by over 80, total assists by over 85, and total steals by over 25 from the previous season, while playing in less than five additional games and averaging less than .5 minutes more per contest, joining Giannis Antetokounmpo.

At 22 years old, Ingram, who was selected to his first NBA All-Star Game this season, became the second player his age or younger to average at least 23.5 PPG while shooting over .450 FG%, .390 3FG% and .850 FT%, joining Kevin Durant. He became just the fifth player in NBA history age 22 or younger to average at least 23.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 4.0 APG and 0.9 SPG, joining Tracy McGrady (twice), LeBron James (twice), Luka Dončić and Michael Jordan.

A Kinston, North Carolina native, Ingram is the first player in New Orleans franchise history to be named Most Improved Player, and just the third individual in franchise history to win one of the NBA’s annual performance awards, joining Chris Paul (Rookie of the Year – 2005-06) and Byron Scott (Coach of the Year – 2007-08).

Most Improved Player voting from a panel of national and international sportswriters and broadcasters was based on games played from the start of the regular season through March 11 and did not include “seeding games,” which took place July 30 – Aug. 14 for the 22 teams participating in the season restart.

Pelicans fire coach Alvin Gentry

New Orleans Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin announced today that Alvin Gentry has been relieved of his head coaching duties.

“I’m grateful for and appreciative of Alvin’s commitment to the organization and, most importantly, the local community,” said Griffin. “The City of New Orleans is richer because of his presence here. These types of moves are often about fit and timing, and we believe now is the right time to make this change and bring in a new voice.”

“I want to thank Alvin for his contributions to the Pelicans and the New Orleans community,” said Pelicans Owner Gayle Benson. “We believe that making a head coaching change is necessary at this time. I truly appreciate Alvin’s leadership, dedication and perseverance through some challenging circumstances over the past five seasons. He will always be a part of our Pelicans family, and we wish him and his family all the best in the future. Our intention moving forward is to find the right head coach that will guide this Pelicans team to compete for championships. That is what our fans deserve.”

Per the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “this season, the Pelicans got off to a 6-22 start. They lost 13 consecutive games, a franchise record, before rebounding. They were a popular pick to make the Western Conference play-in tournament entering the eight-game seeding round inside the Walt Disney World bubble, but they lost four of their first six games and were eliminated from playoff contention with two games still remaining in the restart.”

Gentry was named head coach of the Pelicans on May 30, 2015. He compiled a 175-225 (.438) regular season record in five seasons with New Orleans, earning one playoff berth in 2018 and advancing to the Western Conference Semifinals. The Pelicans finished the 2019-20 season with a 30-42 record.

More from the Times-Picayune: “The Pelicans’ inconsistent effort, turnover-prone ways, poor defense and crunch-time struggles were all factors in their up-and-down season. They ranked 29th in turnover percentage and had a 13-28 record in games that were within five points at any point during the final five minutes. They finished with a 30-42 record, their fourth losing season in the past five years.”

Pelicans forward Zion Williamson playing limited minutes at beginning of NBA restart

Zion Williamson played limited minutes Thursday. Everyone would have loved to see him out there longer, except Pelicans brass, who are focused on keeping the big guy healthy and letting him build up momentum during the NBA restart. Here’s the New Orleans Times-Picayune reporting:

It was hard not to notice the similarities between Zion Williamson’s professional debut and his performance Thursday in the first game of the NBA’s restart in Kissimmee, Florida.

In each game, he played four short stints at the start of each quarter. Even though his minutes were limited, he put up impressive scoring totals. On Jan. 22, he had 22 points in 18 minutes. On Thursday, he scored 13 points in 15 minutes…

On Friday, Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin cleared the air on why Williamson was used so sparingly in New Orleans’ 106-104 loss to the Utah Jazz.

“I appreciate the fact that everyone wants him to play 40 minutes every night,” Griffin said. “I can promise you he’s not going to. No mistakes were made (Thursday) with how this was handled other than by me coming forward and expressing this in the clearest way possible. This isn’t complicated. He will not play significant minutes in the next game, and he may not in the following game. This is all about the ramp-up time. He didn’t get the benefit of the things that his teammates got for those 13 days. This is going to take some time.”

Clippers to face a motivated Pelicans squad Saturday

The Clippers face the Pelicans tomorrow. Here’s the OC Register with some thoughts on LA:

Now, on the heels of their bubble-opening 103-101 loss to the Lakers, Doc Rivers’ squad shouldn’t expect the New Orleans Pelicans to accommodate the Clippers in their search for rhythm and cohesion ahead of the playoffs in mid-August.

No, the hungry, high-octane Pelicans have good reason to be disruptive.

New Orleans (28-37) is one of five teams chasing the eighth and final playoff spot, held currently by Memphis, which has a four-game lead on the Pelicans. And after dropping their bubble opener 106-104 against Utah on Thursday, the Pelicans will have even less room for error in their remaining seven seeding games.

Veteran coach Alvin Gentry has his Pelicans believing they can insert themselves into the postseason picture.

“I think we’re in a good place,” New Orleans center Derrick Favors told reporters, via Zoom, a couple days before the restart.

Leading Scorers

Pelicans (PPG)
Brandon Ingram 24.2
Zion Williamson 23.1
Jrue Holiday 19.6
JJ Redick 15.0
Lonzo Ball 12.3

Clippers (PPG)
Kawhi Leonard 26.9
Paul George 21.2
Lou Williams 18.7
Montrezl Harrell 18.6
Marcus Morris Sr. 17.1

No timetable for Zion Williamson return to Pelicans yet

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, who departed the NBA campus in Orlando last week to attend to an urgent family matter, has been getting tested daily for COVID-19 while away from the team and continues to produce negative results (reminder: this a good thing. You want “negative” results when being health-tested for a bad thing.)

While there is no current timetable for his return to campus, he fully intends to rejoin the team.

Per NBA protocol, his quarantine period will be determined upon his return.

NBA scrimmages between different teams began today around the league.

Actual games that count in the standings begin next Thursday, July 30.

Zion Williamson leaves NBA Disney restart campus to attend family matter

Pelicans rookie forward Zion Williamson departed Orlando this morning to attend to an urgent family medical matter. He intends to rejoin the team in Orlando for the NBA restart at a later date.

“We fully support Zion’s decision to leave the NBA campus to be with his family,” said Pelicans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin. “Out of respect for the Williamson family, we will have no further comment at this time.”

Pelicans sign Sindarius Thornwell as Substitute Player for NBA restart

The New Orleans Pelicans have signed free agent guard Sindarius Thornwell as a substitute player for the remainder of the 2019-20 season.

Thornwell, 6-4, 215, most recently played for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA G League, appearing in 40 games (26 starts) while averaging 9.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.4 steals in 29.0 minutes per contest. Selected 48th overall out of the University of South Carolina by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2017 NBA Draft, Thornwell has appeared in 137 career regular season games with the Los Angeles Clippers, holding averages of 2.5 points and 1.3 rebounds in 10.7 minutes.

Per the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “Pelicans forward Darius Miller will not travel with the team to Orlando as he recovers from a torn Achilles suffered before the season. Teams are allowed to bring a max total of 17 players.”

Thornwell will wear #12 for the Pelicans.

Pelicans just outside playoffs in NBA West

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Here’s the New Orleans Times-Picayune on the Pelicans’ situation, which right now involves missing the playoffs unless the regular season does resume. Which it might, unless the league decides to go straight to the playoffs. Unless, of course, the remainder of 2019-20 gets cancelled. All of those options are on the table, for now.

The Pelicans — who at 28-36 are in 10th place in the Western Conference — are rooting for anything that doesn’t involve going straight to the postseason. They trail the Memphis Grizzlies, who are in eighth place, by 3½ games.

Earlier this month, Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin said he is hopeful that his team would get enough games “to do some damage in.”

“We want to play meaningful games, and if we can be put in that position, we’d be grateful,” Griffin said. “I think it will be difficult for the league to have us come back into the facility and get ready for – let’s call it a month to get physically ready, and then play only a week or two weeks of games. So I think unless they’re able to give us a full schedule, they won’t have us come back.”

The league is currently examining a plan to resume action possibly in July, possibly, in a single location: Disney Wide World of Sports, in Orlando. A decision on that should come in the next few weeks.

Pelicans practice facility reopens for voluntary individual player workouts

Here’s the New Orleans Times-Picayune reporting that the Pelicans practice facility has reopened, with severe limitations for safety reasons due to the cornavirus pandemic:

At the Ochsner Sports Performance Center, there are arrows taped to the floor to instruct players where they can and can’t go. Only two baskets inside the entire facility are available to shoot on. And anyone who goes in must have their temperature checked.

These are just a few of the precautions the Pelicans are taking at their practice facility, which reopened Monday for voluntary individual workouts. David Griffin, the Pelicans’ executive vice president of basketball operations, said seven players worked out. There were three players in the first group and four players in the second group. Both groups spent two hours in the building.

The rules the NBA has put in place about reopening practice facilities are so restrictive, Griffin said he believes some of the players who are social distancing outside of the greater New Orleans area are better positioned to keep their skills sharp than the ones here.