Over the offseason, the New Orleans Pelicans signed a litany of free agents to cheap (relative to the amount of cash getting thrown around, of course) deals with the hopes that those players would help the team not only improve on the defensive end, but make it so that there wasn’t such a large gap in talent between the bench and the starters. E’twaun Moore, Langston Galloway, Solomon Hill, and Terrence Jones isn’t the most inspiring list of names, but it was plausible to think that with them, the team could achieve those two objectives.
It’s hard to make any conclusions with only a 10 game sample size, but so far, you’d be hard-pressed to say those signings have paid off. The Pelicans are currently ranked 21st in defensive rating, giving up 105.9 points per 100 possessions. That’s a slight improvement over the beginning of last season when the team was giving up 108.9 points per 100 through the first 10 games, but it’s not going to cut it for a team that’s offseason focus was improving on the defensive end.
One signee that can’t be blamed for the lackluster defensive showing, however, is Solomon Hill. Hill, formerly of the Indiana Pacers, was the recipient of one of the most surprising offseason contracts when the Pelicans signed him to a four-year, 48 million dollar contract. While his regular season production was nothing to write home about, he did average nearly eight points per game in the Pacers’ first-round series with the Toronto Raptors, while shooting nearly 58% from distance.
The Pelicans were undoubtedly hoping some of that shooting, along with his hard-nosed defense would translate over the course of a whole season and begin to help change the team’s identity.
So far, they have been at least half right. Hill has been among the team’s hardest working players on the court and has committed himself to doing all the little things that a team should expect from a role player. He also taken on the role of defensive stopper for the Pelicans, and typically guards the opposing team’s best wing player. He isn’t a true lock-down defender, but he’s strong and quick with good hands. He even managed to give Kawhi Leonard fits occasionally:
His strong frame allows him to easily shed picks and battle in the post, and he gives the Pelicans a level of physicality on the perimeter that they haven’t had in quite some time. In addition to that physically, Hill has also proven to a smart and intuitive defender. He knows where to rotate and when to give help:
That is the sort of attention to detail the Pelicans are going to need if they ever hope to become a formidable defensive team. The early returns haven’t been great, but they are on the right track, albeit a slow one.
On the other hand, however, any hopes the Pelicans may have had of Hill’s hot shooting carrying over have so far proven fruitless. Hill is averaging a measly 5.7 points per game and shooting only 30% from beyond the arc. It may be fair to give him a little bit of pass to this point; The Pelicans are lacking big time on playmakers with Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans absent, but there have been times where Hill has been downright irresponsible on offense, lofting up off the dribble bricks that have no chance of connecting:
The Pelicans have to simply try and survive on offense for the time being, and Davis cannot soak up every single possession. While coach Alvin Gentry would probably prefer those shots go to someone else, they are a necessary evil a team has to do deal with when giving starter level minutes to backups.
And despite the offensive woes Hill is working through, he has brought a level of toughness and energy to the Pelicans that the team is going to need moving forward if they have any hopes of a playoff run once everyone is healthy. If the team starts molding a respectable defense along the way, you’ll know where to look first.