New Orleans Pelicans Live Reddit: New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson is expected to re-join the team for practice Wednesday after previously leaving for a family emergency, executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin announced Monday.The Pelicans won their first two scrimmages easily. Their opponents in those games, the Nets and the Nuggets, were barely basketball teams because of how many players they were missing.
It started out partly as something that kept his two younger brothers happy, providing them with a steady diet of fast-break layups and other transition buckets. Now it’s a driving force helping to propel one of the NBA’s fastest and most effective offenses.
Growing up in Southern California as part of a basketball-loving family, Lonzo Ball often found himself on the same team as siblings, LiAngelo and LaMelo, who quickly recognized that Lonzo’s knack for assists could benefit them greatly. Whenever Lonzo pulled down a defensive rebound, it was off to the races.
“My little brothers would always be leaking out (on fast breaks), so I could get them the ball,” said Lonzo, who rewarded them with a dime. “That’s just how I’ve been playing my whole life, so I guess it’s a credit to my pops (father LaVar).”
Years later, the eldest of the Ball brothers has brought the unique skill to a New Orleans offensive attack that seems perfectly suited for it. With open-court finishers Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram often getting all the way to the rim – along with arguably the deepest three-point shooting team in the NBA – Ball has no shortage of options. As a result, the 22-year-old ranks 11th in the NBA in assists per game (7.0 apg), while pushing the Pelicans to the league’s second-fastest pace.
“On this team, we’ve got a lot of different guys who can penetrate, get in the lane, and start the offense,” Ball said of his surrounding talent. “To get it to them, kick (the ball) up ahead before the defense is set, usually puts us at an advantage.”
Like LiAngelo, now 21, and LaMelo, 18, Pelicans teammates understand that when Ball has possession he constantly scans the floor, keeping his head up while looking for scoring opportunities. That sometimes means tossing a 50-foot pass to Williamson, creating an instant highlight. Ball also nonchalantly threw a lob to Williamson for a dunk vs. Boston off a sideline inbound pass.
Alvin Gentry noted recently that Ball’s approach to distributing the rock isn’t something that can be taught or coached.
“Number one, he naturally does it,” Gentry said of the UCLA product. “He’s pretty much done it that way his whole basketball career. It creates a situation where your big guys are going to run a lot more, if they think have an opportunity to get the ball. (Pelicans coaches) like the pitch-ahead and emphasize pitching ahead and trying to create numbers, but in his case, it’s something that comes naturally to his game.”
What doesn’t always come naturally for New Orleans opponents: Immediately realizing the need to sprint back in transition, even if they’ve just converted a score vs. the Pelicans. Defenses are sometimes surprised when Ball nearly instantaneously lofts a deep alley oop to Williamson after a made basket. It’s not only two points on the scoreboard for New Orleans, but it also can be mentally draining for the opposition.
“It’s such an advantage for us to have that,” Pelicans reserve wing Josh Hart said. “I mean, if a team scores and two seconds later we get a lob to Zion for a dunk, for the other team that’s deflating, and for us it helps with momentum.
“(Ball) makes us play at an unbelievable pace, being able to make pinpoint pass from three-quarters court, whether that’s for a three for JJ (Redick) or (E’Twaun Moore) or somebody in the corner, or a lob to Zion.”
From Day 1 of his NBA career, the 6-foot-6, 190-pound Ball has been appreciated for his passing, but in his first New Orleans season he’s also developed into a much better three-point shooter (38 percent). He was red-hot when the NBA came to a halt in mid-March (21 of his last 36), forcing opponents to rethink the way they defend him in halfcourt situations. As three-year NBA teammate Ingram noted, that’s only going to benefit Ball’s already established ability to create open shots for others.
“Well, it’s a different scouting report: guys running him off the (three-point) line, guys getting closer to him on the line,” Ingram said of defenses, who previously dared Ball to fire away from the arc. “I think he’s good enough to make a step to the rim, good enough to make the right pass. So everything is coming in order.”
Seeding games to watch
When you’re a starting point guard in the Western Conference, there are very few easy nights or matchups on the schedule. That will also be in the case in Orlando for Ball, who has an immediate duel with Utah’s Mike Conley. The New Orleans schedule is also filled with fellow talented early-20s point guards, including Ja Morant of Memphis, Dejounte Murray of San Antonio and De’Aaron Fox of Sacramento. There are two Pelicans-Kings meetings, scheduled for Aug. 6 and Aug. 11, broadcast nationally by NBA TV and TNT, respectively. Ball and Fox were the No. 2 and No. 5 picks in the ’17 draft.On a New Orleans roster that features two players who aren’t yet of legal drinking age – as well as seven other Pelicans aged 25 and under – JJ Redick is a distinct outlier. When the shooting guard made his official NBA debut for Orlando on Nov. 25, 2006, Zion Williamson and Jaxson Hayes were both 6 years old. When Redick appeared in the ’09 NBA Finals with the Magic, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball were still tweens. Although a few Pelicans teammates enjoyed significant success at the NCAA level, including national champions Jahlil Okafor (Duke) and Josh Hart (Villanova), none possesses anything close to the thickness of Redick’s hoops postseason resume. Not only does the 36-year-old maintain a streak of 13 consecutive NBA playoff appearances, but he also reached four straight NCAA Tournaments at Duke, highlighted by a Final Four trip in ’04.
A player who began competing in pressure-packed basketball games in a previous century (Redick’s Virginia high school career started in the late 1990s) now has 110 NBA playoff games under his belt. That’s more than the combined tally of the rest of the New Orleans squad, which totals 95, via Derrick Favors (31), Jrue Holiday (30), E’Twaun Moore (21), Darius Miller (9) and Sindarius Thornwell (4). Although Redick appreciates the uniqueness of his career-long team consistency, he pointed out July 18 that he’s itching to make a deeper advancement in the NBA’s bracket.
“I don’t know that it means anything to me, because it’s just normal,” Redick responded to a question about the significance of being a perennial playoff participant. “I don’t mean that in any sort of pretentious way – it’s just what I’m accustomed to, playing deep into the season.
“The two years I had in Orlando where we made the Finals and the conference finals, that was pretty early in my career. We had everyone under contract and I thought it was just going to be an annual thing (to advance that far). But I haven’t been back to the conference finals since 2010. It’s nice to make the playoffs, but the deeper meaning for me is the pursuit of a championship. I’m toward the end of the road (of his career) here, so I’m hoping that becomes a reality at some point.”
As New Orleans (28-36) attempts to build a team that consistently competes for NBA titles, Redick’s extensive track record and leadership have been invaluable, particularly after the Pelicans endured a 13-game losing streak and 7-23 start. Along with Favors, he’s provided a steadying presence for many of the club’s untested young pros.
“JJ is a Grade A professional,” Ball said. “He comes early and gets his work in. He goes hard every day in practice. You don’t ever see him complaining, taking days off. You can come to him for any advice, whether it’s basketball or non-basketball related, he’s going to help you out. JJ has been around awhile. He’s been through a lot in life, seen a lot of things, so he can help all types of different guys.”
When combining his NBA regular season and playoff experience, Redick has logged over 25,000 minutes in the league, but runs and moves like a player with much less mileage, partly by maintaining high-level conditioning. During the league’s hiatus, Redick actually managed to lose weight, helping him to prepare physically for the restart. He’s not sure how much longer he’ll play in the NBA, but has shown no signs of slowing down in his first season with the Pelicans, shooting 45.2 percent from three-point range. That ranks third among all players, behind only George Hill and Seth Curry.
“I just turned 36, but I feel like I look at least (as young as) 34 and a half,” the NBA’s eighth-oldest active player joked of his age. “I feel good still. I feel like I have years left in my body.”
Seeding games to watch
New Orleans opens its eight-game slate with two opponents that feature three of the NBA’s premier bench scorers, making it important for Redick and Pelicans reserves to match production. Utah’s Jordan Clarkson (15.1 ppg) ranks seventh in bench scoring among all players – and fifth among those in Orlando, because Detroit’s Derrick Rose (18.1) and Washington’s Davis Bertans (15.4) are not participating. On Saturday, the Clippers’ Lou Williams (18.7) and Montrezl Harrell (18.6) form one of the league’s premier bench duos, though Williams will miss the game as part of a league-mandated 10-day quarantine.
Incidentally, among Redick’s four former NBA teams (Orlando, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Clippers), the Pelicans are scheduled to face two of them, including the Magic in their Aug. 13 seeding-game finale. New Orleans has two meetings vs. Sacramento, which Redick beat at Golden 1 Center in January by banking in a left-handed floater over Richaun Holmes.