Pelicans

The Cream of the Crop: New Orleans’ 2020 Award Winners

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New Orleans’ season is not over yet. Eight regular-season games in the Orlando bubble will decide their playoff hopes. An exciting season and highly anticipated playoff push were somewhat delayed. Nonetheless, now is a perfect time to evaluate the first sixty-four games.

There were many bright spots this season. Zion’s rookie campaign and a new bred of youngsters brought optimism. The end of the season was set to be tight. New Orleans, the current tenth seed, had a favorable run home with plenty of time. David Griffin did an incredible job assembling a roster with talent all over. As a result, The Lead’s Pelican awards selected are similar to those of the NBA awards. Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Most Improved Player, Bench Player of the Year and Coach of the Year.

Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year – Jrue Holiday

Jrue Holiday built upon a strong past two seasons after being thrust into the spotlight as the face of the franchise. A slow start questioned his role as ‘the guy’, but a 36-point explosion against Los Angeles Clippers in November cemented his spot in the hierarchy. Jrue’s versatility on both ends of the court makes him invaluable for Gentry.

Offensively, his experience running a team and playing off-ball provide a perfect fit with Zion, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram.  As well, Holiday is a work-horse, covering 1.46 miles per game— 7th in the league. Jrue continuously works off and on the ball to ensure the flow of the offence is maintained.

Defensively is where Jrue sets himself apart from MVP runner-up Brandon Ingram. Jrue is a top-three perimeter defender in the league and has continued to grow, challenging himself to guard larger wings. The Pelicans’ defensive strategy allows Jrue to switch whenever he wants and to roam off-ball. His active hands on the perimeter resulted in him finishing first in total deflections and ninth in total steals. Furthermore, Jrue asserted himself as a great post defender. Holiday possesses a strong core and quick fast-twitch reactions, allowing him to anticipate jump hooks and other basic post-moves expertly.

Off the court, Jrue is an exceptional leader and mentor. Holiday assumed a mentorship role to guards Frank Jackson and Lonzo Ball, who are having great years. The selfless mentality he exudes has become contagious, resulting in the team chemistry being an all-time high. Overall, Jrue’s season was spectacular. A three-level scorer and pest defensively, Holiday is deserving of both honors.

MVP Runner-up – Brandon Ingram
Defensive Player of the Year Runner-up – Derrick Favors

Most Improved Player – Brandon Ingram

Brandon Ingram’s stellar all-star season has him a front-runner for the NBA’s MIP. The change of scenery and playing style helped Ingram exponentially. His comfort levels were evident with the Pelicans from day one. Gentry invigorated Ingram to focus on becoming an elite scorer in the off-season, and the results were telling.

An astronomical leap in three-point frequency and efficiency revolutionized Ingram’s game. In his lone season in New Orleans, Ingram has shot and made ten more threes than his whole Lakers tenure. Additionally, Ingram’s shot distribution improved drastically, shooting a career-low 9.3% of his shots for mid-range (sixteen feet to the three-point line).

Also, the rest of Ingram’s offensive game improved. Always an underrated passer and playmaker, Gentry’s run-and-gun system highlighted Ingram’s passing prowess. His ability to read the defense and the added attention was on display as he averaged a career-high 4.5 assists.

Ingram’s defense improved significantly too. While he still has steps to take, Ingram’s defensive consistency increased. Ingram ranked in the top 25 for contested three-point shots. His lateral quickness and reactions improved slightly, but he showed enough to indicate he could be an above-average wing defender.

Runner-up – Lonzo Ball

Bench Player of the Year – Josh Hart

New Orleans’ depth increased mightily over the past season. The introduction of J.J Redick, Josh Hart, Jaxson Hayes and Nicolo Melli aided the Pelicans mightily. Through the first portion of the season, Josh Hart, J.J Redick and Nicolo Melli set themselves apart. After plenty of deliberation, I gave Josh Hart the nod as ‘Bench Player of the Year’.

Statistically, Hart brought everything to the table. An excellent rebounder, defender and finisher, Hart provided much-needed flexibility on both ends of the court. On offense, Hart spaced the floor well enough and often crashed the offensive glass and cut to the rim. Defensively, his wingspan (6′ 8.5″) and tenacious mentality made him a disruptor, capable of guarding wings and guards. In addition, his defensive rebounding rate ranked second in the team, an outstanding feat for a guard.

Overall, Josh Hart’s contribution to the Pelicans benched was precisely what the team lacked previously. A hard-nosed, all-round stud, Hart’s game is slowly evolving. A more consistent jump-shot will make Hart an elite sixth man and 3-and-D wing all teams dream of.

Runner-up – J.J Redick

Coach of the Year – Fred Vinson

Former Seattle Supersonic Fred Vinson is in his tenth season as an assistant coach for New Orleans. Vinson serves as the Player Development Coach, primarily working with players to develop their shooting. His previous successes were with Eric Gordon and Brian Roberts; however, this season, Vinson worked specifically with Ball and Ingram, rebuilding their jump shots.

The work Vinson did with both players is outstanding. For Ball, Vinson addressed his hand positioning and motion, making it more compact and aligned. Vinson moved Balls shot from the left side of his body to the right and stressed the importance of his right-hand and the path it takes. On the other hand, Ingram foot alignment and jump shot speed were addressed. Ingram’s feet rarely faced the rim, and his slow release made him a reluctant shooter.

The slight changes Vinson made for both players directly contributed to their success behind the arc. Vinson worked tirelessly with the majority of players to improve part of their games, although, no contribution was more important than the work he is doing with Ball and Ingram.

Runner-up – Jamelle McMillan

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About Vance Abreu

An Australian trying to make it big in Toronto, Canada. Weekly articles about the Pelicans journey to a NBA championship

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