HOUSTON — After the offseason brought the New Orleans Pelicans an All-Star point guard, a former Rookie of the Year swingman and a potential starting center, an undrafted journeyman made the biggest splash in his preseason debut Saturday night.
Anthony Morrow, who is playing for his fourth team since 2012, led all scorers with 26 points in a 116-115 win against the Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard started in place of Eric Gordon and made 8 of 15 shots, including 3 of 6 3-pointers and all seven free throws.
Morrow is expected to play a key role off the bench once Gordon is at full strength, but his performance Saturday assures the Pelicans they have someone who can step in and start if called upon.
“I will play whatever role I need to play. I just want to continue to contribute and be efficient on both ends of the floor,” Morrow said. “It is a great opportunity here. I’m working hard, and it’s paying off. We just need to keep making strides individually and as a team.”
The Pelicans will get their next chance to do that at 7:30 p.m. Monday as they continue their preseason Texas road trip against the Dallas Mavericks at American Airlines Center.
New Orleans will hope to see a little more consistency out of two other offseason acquisitions: point guard Jrue Holiday and center Greg Stiemsma. Holiday scored 13 points Saturday but was plagued by eight turnovers and fouled out in the fourth quarter.
“Anytime you come to a new team and you are a guard trying to play in the West, it is a big task,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “I thought he was a little loose with the ball at times, but I liked his ability to guard the ball — he was a bulldog on the ball. He will get better because he is hurting after a performance like that from a turnover perspective. But he knows if he holds onto the ball, we are going to be even better.”
Stiemsma also had a rough debut, committing three fouls with no points in 10 minutes despite starting both halves.
“I thought we allowed a lot of middle drives, which is tough when you guard (the Rockets’) Dwight Howard,” Williams said. “I was impressive with Arinze Onuaku just being physical with him, and Jason (Smith) was good, also being active.”
As for who will be the Pelicans’ starting center when the season begins Oct. 30, Williams was noncommittal.
“There is nothing written in stone at that position, but I’m not going to jump the gun,” he said. “That’s at any position. If you are playing the right way and it’s going to help our team, you are going to be on the floor.”
Two other bright spots were second-year men Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers. Davis had 21 points and two blocked shots, and Rivers almost single-handedly got the Pelicans back in the game in the fourth quarter.
Set to be a backup at both guard positions, Rivers scored 21 points and led the Pelicans with five assists.
“We’ve heard about Austin since the seventh or eighth grade,” Williams said. “Everyone wants him to be LeBron, but he is right where he should be. He works hard, he’s coachable and he’s not afraid. You can’t ask for any more.”
As the Pelicans prepare for the Mavericks, defense will continue to be a key theme. Dallas still features All-Star forward Dirk Nowitzki and has a new backcourt with Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis.
“We gave up two 30-point quarters (against Houston), and we want to stay around 23, 24 each quarter,” Williams said. “We’ve got a lot to evaluate so now I can show the guys that this is different from practice.”