D.C. Council Opening Statements: Wizards vs Pelicans, Preseason Game 5
The biggest attraction in Lexington, Kentucky, last night? Big Blue Madness at Rupp Arena, the home of University of Kentucky basketball. The men’s and women’s teams held their first public practices of the season in front of a sell-out crowd of 23,500. Fireworks, smoke machines and lasers were part of the theater, and former Wildcats stars John Wall and Anthony Davis (among others) were there to watch the show in some of the best seats in the house.
“We don’t just play college basketball,” boomed King of Kentucky John Calipari. “We are college basketball.”
If you say so, boss…
Tonight, Rupp will open its doors to fans of the NBA game. The Wizards and Pelicans will square off in a battle of small-ballin’ hoops stars. Below, Michael Pellissier (@palochak) of the TrueHoop Network blog Bourbon Street Shots joins me for our D.C. Council Opening Statements preview. (Find a Bayou bird-focused preview here.)
Teams: Wizards vs. Pelicans
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Rupp Arena, Lexington, KY
Radio: WFED-AM 1500
Q1. When the Wizards and Pelicans met earlier this year in the Vegas Summer League, Austin Rivers looked like the best player on either team. What’s the latest report on 2012’s No. 10 pick?
@palochak: Rivers has improved since his rookie season. He is more explosive, stronger, and in better control on offense. But oddly enough, defense has actually been his strongest asset thus far as a pro, and it has carried into the preseason. Rivers’ growth as a defender has been far quicker than his growth as an offensive player, and it is not uncommon for Monty Williams to put Rivers on the other team’s best offensive guard.
That said, he has also struggled in some areas: he still gets called for carries or walks too often, struggles to make an offensive impact if he’s not the primary ball-handler, and has yet to overcome his demons at the free throw line. Rivers has been hesitant to shoot off of kick-outs and it has often wasted the penetration of other guards. Given how much Holiday, Gordon, and Evans handle the ball, he will likely need to fix that.
Q2. The Pelicans’ top pick last season was National Player of the Year Anthony Davis. What can fans expect to see this year out of the NBA All-Rookie First Teamer?
@palochak: Expectations for Davis are sky-high this season. He showed us last year (and at Kentucky) that he is excellent at finding space and working off of others. This preseason, he has shown glimpses of the face-up game that will become the foundation of how he creates his own offense. Monty Williams sheltered him as a rookie, but all indications are that he believes it’s time to give Davis free reign, and so far, the results have been great. He may be playing alongside some aggressive scorers, but do not be surprised if Davis is approaching 20 points per game this season.
Q3. Vegas put the over/under for Pelicans wins at 40. How many wins do you see the team finishing with? And what has to happen for New Orleans to exceed expectations and make the playoffs—All-Star caliber play from Jrue Holiday, big buckets from Tyreke Evans, or a turnaround on the defensive side of the ball?
@palochak: There is no doubt that the Pelicans will need to make a significant improvement on defense if they want to make the playoffs, because last year’s defense was a train-wreck. The team couldn’t stop the ball and allowed far too many open 3s. The defense took a major step forward by replacing Greivis Vasquez with Jrue Holiday: opposing point guards had their way with Vasquez, who was unable to do much of anything on defense besides rebound. However, much work still has to be done.
I expect the team to finish with somewhere between 40 and 45 wins, and health will obviously play a key role. Eric Gordon has been perpetually injured during his time here, and even when he’s been on the floor, he hasn’t been 100 percent. If Davis can make the leap that we are expecting and Gordon can stay healthy (I cringe every time I say that), I think this team has a really, really good shot at making the playoffs.
Q4: Who got next?
@JohnCTownsend: What’s the biggest question facing the Wizards this season? Whether any of the team’s young big men will step, as I wrote in yesterday’s ESPN 5-on-5 Wizards season preview. Kevin Seraphin, as Kyle mentions in that preview, is being counted on as the “next main ingredient” in a what has been an inconsistent offensive attack. As far as matchups go, Seraphin has a favorable one against rising junior Greg Stiemsma (or Arinze Onuaku, a warm body). Stiemsma can surprise you with his athleticism, and has a decent jumper (50 percent-plus shooter between 10 and 15 feet), but Seraphin is entering his fourth season … he needs to start showing the coaching staff, his teammates, and probably himself that he can be a reliable rotation option in the NBA. Seraphin has been in the right spots so far this season, at least on the offensive end, but just hasn’t made many shots. Let’s see if he can find his rhythm in the land of bourbon and banjos.
BONUS: If you’re into hoops history, read this story about the Baltimore Bullets taking on a host of upstart A.B.A. teams in the early ’70s, featuring a game lost in history against the Kentucky Colonels in Freedom Hall, 90 minutes west of Lexington.
At the time, the 3-point line (like the 30-second shot clock) was an innovation exclusive to the high-flying A.B.A., but one that didn’t necessarily impress. As Bullets guard Jack Marin took the floor during warmups, he took a long look at the 3-point arc taped to the hardwood and boasted, “I’m not just a star in this league, I’m a superstar.” He then missed four of five practice 3-pointers. Meanwhile, Fred “Mad Dog” Carter tried, unsuccessfully, to take some hot air out of the contest. “What’s this thing for,” he joked, poking fun at the A.B.A.’s red, white and blue ball. “Trained seals?”
“This is something we’ve been looking forward to for four years,” said Kentucky guard Louie Dampier, burning. Dampier was one-half of a sharpshooting tandem with Darel Carrier, which combined to score an average of more than 50 points in its first three seasons together. “They (the N.B.A.) say we’re weaker and I’d like to prove we aren’t. I won’t say I’ll play harder because I always play as hard as I can. But when they leave here tonight I want to make sure they won’t be looking down on us anymore.”