Game On: Phoenix Suns @ New Orleans Pelicans

Published: November 5, 2013

Small Sample Size Theatre is still ruling the day in the NBA as teams are playing surprising well (or bad), players are putting up crazy or mind-numbingly poor stats, and nothing has yet begun to regress to the mean.  All that noise makes it hard to get a real handle about some teams – particularly young teams like the two that will be facing each other tonight.  What is real, what is not?  I’ll try to pick out a few tidbits.

First, Goran Dragic will not play, which will force Gerald Green into the starting line-up.  This means that most of the offensive heavy lifting is going to fall on the shoulders of the high-energy Eric Bledsoe, and that’s a problem for a very thin Suns squad.  This team has managed so far a offensive rating of 101.1 this season – which is about average.  Most of that is due to a very high number of three pointers taken.  Dragic has created a good number of those shots for his teammates – playing as a skilled secondary ball handler next to Bledsoe.  Without him, Bledsoe is going to have to do it all himself, and though he’s a phenomenal talent, I’m not convinced playmaking is his strong suit. (See his 1.52 assists per turnover rate)  Without those threes, the point anemia Pheonix is facing may be too much to get past.  It may be.

I say that that because Phoenix’s defense has been good so far.  They have held opponents to an effective FG% of .429.   That’s a crazy number, but it screams fluke – last year the best defensive team in the league – the Pacers – only kept shooters to an eFG% of 45.3.  So far, they’ve given up lots of foul shots, been a bad defensive rebounding team, and have been poor at getting turnovers.  That  eFG% is what is saving them and pushing them to the fifth most efficient defensive in the league.   However, the Suns are not the Pacers and especially not with Gerald Green, Channing Frye and the Morris brothers getting significant minutes.  PJ Tucker and Bledsoe are talented defenders, but they can’t cover that much ground.

So the Pelicans need to do what they have done well so far.  They need to attack the basket and get free throws – which they can.  They need to mix up their ball-handlers so that Bledsoe’s terrific on-ball coverage doesn’t become a problem.  They need to fight the Sun’s offensive rebounders (Plumlee, PJ Tucker and Bledsoe all contribute here) and dominate the glass like they have so far.

But as simple as it sounds, the key to this game will come down to just making shots.  The Pelicans have the worst 2-point conversion rate around and it’s killing them.  They get to the rim on a solid 43.7% of their shots, but only finish them at a 41.8% rate.  That’s awful, but also flukey as no team shoots anywhere near that bad at the rim.

So which flukey number will fail in this meeting – the Pelican’s dreadful rim conversion rates, or the Suns crazy good defensive field goal percentage?  Keep an eye on that FG% in the first quarter.  It will tell us a lot.

Enjoy the game.


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