MEMPHIS – A look at three key numbers related to Monday’s game at FedEx Forum between New Orleans and Memphis (4 p.m. Central, TNT, ESPN Radio New Orleans 100.3 FM):
3.5, 5.5: Games behind eighth place in the Western Conference if the Pelicans win Monday against the currently No. 8 Grizzlies, then how far back they will be if they lose. While many basketball fans and media across the nation will be focused on Wednesday’s San Antonio-New Orleans matchup in the Smoothie King Center, arguably an even more important contest will take place on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Tennessee. Memphis (20-22) has been one of the NBA’s hottest teams recently, winners of seven consecutive games, which created a two-game lead for the Grizzlies (through Saturday’s games) ahead of ninth-place Phoenix (18-24). New Orleans (16-27) has won 10 of its last 15 games, putting the Pelicans back in striking distance of eighth after they had been seven-plus games back not long ago. Monday’s game will be the first matchup of the season between the Grizzlies and Pelicans, who host Memphis on Jan. 31. The remaining two meetings of Southwest Division counterparts will take place in late March.
77.1, 76.4: Shooting percentage from the field in January for New Orleans centers Jaxson Hayes and Derrick Favors, respectively. In addition, third center Jahlil Okafor has connected on 60.7 percent of his shots this month, giving the Pelicans a three-pronged, extremely efficient threat at the “five” position. Hayes has gone 37/48 from the floor in his nine January appearances, while Favors is 42/55. Both players have been excellent in pick-and-rolls, with Hayes frequently finishing feeds above the rim and Favors finding gaps in the defense to convert on layups and dunks, often created by Brandon Ingram (48 assists in January in eight games, an average of 6.0). In addition to Hayes, Favors and Okafor, forward Nicolo Melli is a fourth Pelicans frontcourt player to make over half of his January shots, going 16/29, or 55.2 percent. Shooting guard JJ Redick is a sliver under the break-even point at 49.3. Somewhat surprisingly, New Orleans actually only ranks 12th in the NBA in January field goal percentage (47.7), despite the standout performances from its bigs, but the Pelicans are ninth in offensive rating (114.2 points per 100 possessions, via NBA.com).
2, 6: Rank among the 30 NBA teams in total points scored this season by rookies for Memphis (1,217) and New Orleans (740), respectively, with the latter tally obviously likely to rise upon the imminent regular season debut of No. 1 overall draft pick Zion Williamson. The future looks very bright for the Grizz and Pels following a highly productive 2019 draft for both franchises, with point guard and No. 2 pick Ja Morant currently the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, having scored 649 points, followed by No. 21 choice Brandon Clarke’s 444 points. On the New Orleans side, eighth overall pick Jaxson Hayes is his team’s sixth-leading scorer in total points with 353, while No. 17 selection Nickeil Alexander-Walker has added 207 points. International free agent Nicolo Melli has 176 of the remaining 180 rookie Pelicans points, with Zylan Cheatham dropping in two buckets in his limited action. Memphis and New Orleans are second and fifth, respectively, in total rebounds by first-year players, as well as first and sixth in assists.