A Not-So-Merry Christmas for the Pelicans


I’m not sure anything communicates the holiday spirit worse than being told you are going to be playing basketball for the 2015-2016 Philadelphia 76ers. On Christmas Eve, that is exactly what former Pelicans point guard Ish Smith heard from Dell Demps and company.

The 27 year old journeyman point guard was acquired by the 76ers for two second round draft picks: one courtesy of the Denver Nuggets in the 2016 draft and the other straight from the 76ers in 2017.

Considering the Pelicans signed Smith to a bargain-bin deal right before the start of the season, getting two (likely) high second rounders is quite the haul.

It would not have been possible if Smith did not play as well as he did to start the season. After struggling to find a niche in the league over the course of his first five seasons and eight stops all around the country, he found his rhythm in New Orleans, just like jazz musicians have for decades.

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  • In twenty-seven games for the Pelicans, Smith averaged 8.9 points, 5.7 assists, and only 1.7 turnovers in just under 23 minutes per game. His best stretch of games fueled the Pelicans’ three game win streak near the end of November, where he averaged 21 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds and 2 steals per game.

    While his production was much better than anticipated, a healthy Pelicans backcourt continued to take minutes away from Smith, who only played 6 minutes per game in his last 5 with the team.

    Jrue Holiday is nearing the end of his minutes restriction and Norris Cole (though struggling) is back on the court. Smith has outplayed Cole so far this season, but an offer like this from Philly was too much value to pass up.

    Nov 6, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) and guard Ish Smith (4) react during a game against the Atlanta Hawks at the Smoothie King Center. The Hawks defeated the Pelicans 121-115. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

    All I knew about Ish Smith when he signed with the Pelicans was that he was as fast as anyone in the league, and that he never spent too much time on one team. He was basically the Kenny Lofton of the NBA.

    Two months later, both of those things still ring true. However, I did learn one important thing: Smith’s inability to settle into a team is NOT due to his lack of love for the game.

    When the Pelicans were scoring, Ish was smiling. He was always supporting his teammates from the floor or the bench, and it just always looked like he was having fun. In a league that has so much talent surrounded by so much pressure, it sometimes feels like these guys forget to just have fun.

    Not Ish Smith.

    Hopefully he can get that same kind of positive energy flowing in in the locker room of the struggling 76ers. He may not have been in New Orleans long, but he certainly made a fan out of me.

    Dec 25, 2015; Miami, FL, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) battles for a loose ball with Miami Heat forward Luol Deng (9) in the first half of a NBA basketball game on Christmas at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    In their first game of the season without Ish Smith on the roster, the Pelicans (9-20) fell to the Miami Heat (17-11) 94-88 in overtime of the first game of the NBA’s Annual Christmas Special.

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    The score and the overtime factor make this game look a bit closer than it actually was. Miami and its defense were in complete control for most of the game, before a brutal stretch in the fourth quarter allowed the Pelicans to sneak in and almost steal a much needed victory.

    The Heat have sported one of the league’s stingiest defenses so far this season, ranking 5th overall in defensive efficiency. New Orleans only managed 29 points in the first and third quarters combined, a total they almost surpassed in the fourth quarter alone, where they scored 26.

    Miami’s players had little trouble reading exactly what the Pelicans were trying to do. Whether it was a grizzled veteran Luol Deng or a rookie Justice Winslow, everyone was disrupting passing lanes and forcing tough shots.

    Dec 25, 2015; Miami, FL, USA;New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) shoots over Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh (1) in the second half of a NBA basketball game on Christmas at American Airlines Arena. The Heat won 94-88 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    Given the sample size, it is safe to say the Heat accomplish this consistently, but the volume of success today showed how simplistic and ineffectual this Pelicans offense can be at creating decent opportunities.

    Anthony Davis missed the final shot of regulation, which could have won the Pels the game, but instead led to overtime. After a fantastic first half, in which he became the first player this season to put up at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, the young star went a bit cold in the second.

    Granted, a 29 point, 15 rebound, 4 assist, 4 steal and 3 block line is nothing to scoff at, so it’s fair to cut the man some slack.

    On the opposite side of the spectrum, Tyreke Evans had an abysmal afternoon. He finished with just 6 points on 9 shots, accompanied by 6 assists and 6 turnovers.

    As the game was winding down, the Pelicans called multiple timeouts to set up the most optimal plays to try and win them the game. Whether it was a failure on the sideline by Gentry and the staff, or a flat-out failure to execute by Evans on the floor, these opportunities did not bear any fruit for the Pelicans.

    Evans and Gentry had some disagreements earlier in the season, and though I do not think this is the case, Evans completely tuning out his coach is definitely an option.

    I hate to believe that this sort of thing would happen. The Pelicans have not had crisp execution all year, so that is surely a possibility. But having to call back-to-back timeouts to get a play right and still have it go wrong can only be explained in so many ways.

    Dec 25, 2015; Miami, FL, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Tyreke Evans (1) is defended by Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh (1) and guard Goran Dragic (7) in the first half of a NBA basketball game on Christmas at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    To put some icing on the cake, Gentry and the Pelicans did not foul with 20 seconds left in a two-possession game.

    Sure, odds at turning it around are long, but it’s not like the Heat are running out five 2013-2014 Brian Roberts to shoot their crunch time free throws. The game was still in reach, and giving up games like that on a national stage, especially at 9-19 (now 9-20), is just inexcusable.

    The Pelicans will be right back in the spotlight tomorrow night on NBA TV against the Houston Rockets (6 pm CST), who defeated the red-hot San Antonio Spurs in their Christmas Day matchup.

    I still have faith the Pels can make a run (as hopelessly optimistic as that is), but the Ish Smith trade could signal the closing of the window for this iteration of the New Orleans Pelicans.

    2016 is a new year, and we may very well see a new core to this team…………..