The Pelicans Defense – and why they can’t hold a lead

Published: November 7, 2013

The season is young, and game to game numbers can shift fairly dramatically as the Pelicans run into teams that are hot – or not – or having babies like they did last night.(Congrats, Z-Bo!)  As the Pelicans stand today, they are scoring 104.4 points per 100 posessions – and giving up 103.3 points per 100 posessions.  Those numbers rank 10th and 12th respectively in the league and both of those numbers are improvements over last year, when they finished 16th and 28th in the league.

Given the chance to write about exciting offense, or fundamental boring defense, I will now, predictably, take defense.  Buckle up, and let’s talk Turnover Rate, Defensive Rebounding, Free Throw Rate, and Field Goal Defense!

Opponent Turnover Rate

The Pelicans most impressive defensive improvement is obvious to those who watch the game, as this year’s squad is dramatically more athletic, faster, and more disruptive.  Last season, the Hornets managed to generate turnovers on 13.1% of plays – the 5th worst rate in the league.  This year, the Pelicans are the 8th best in the league, forcing turnovers on 16.8% of plays.  if you want to find the primary reason the Pelicans aren’t still a disaster defensively, this is the place to look.

Defensive Rebounding

Happily, the Pelicans are even better overall in another defensive category, though it wasn’t that much of a leap from last year.  Last season the Hornets snatched 74.4% of all available defensive rebounds and finished 8th in the league.  Despite featuring only two skilled rebounders for their position, the team has managed to improve on this number, grabbing a massive 79.1% of available defensive rebounds – and moving up to 4th in the league.  This is a hard number to sustain, but if they do, they will easily post a top-3 finish.

Opponent Free Throw Rate

Here’s where things start turning a little sour.  The Pelicans are actually giving up more free-throws this year that last, allowing a free throw attempt every 4 field goal attempts.  Last year, opponents earned a free throw every 5.  This marks a decline from 19th to 21st in the league, though free throws are up across the league.  We’ll have to watch this to see if whistles are blown less often as the season goes on – but if a focus on calling fouls remains strong this could be a problem.

Field Goal Defense and BS Rate

The last category, and probably the most important, is Field Goal defense.  Last year, New Orleans allowed an effective field goal percentage of 52.0%, ranking 28th in the league.  And . . . this year the Pelicans are allowing a 52.0% effective shooting percentage.  Sigh.

Since this is so vital, I decided to dig in even further.   For those of you who have read my work here – or listened to the podcast – you know how I feel about mid-range shooting.  In general, good defenses force opponents to take shots in the Dumb Zone – taking away three pointers (particularly corner threes) and shots at the rim.   Last year the team was terrible at keeping opponents from the rim – and nearly as bad at the three point line.  This year, that trend has continued and it needs to be addressed.

To illustrate, I put together a stat I call Bad Shots Rate (BS Rate) – I combined the percentage of shots a team’s opponents take at the rim and from behind the three point line – and end up with a ranking on how good each team is at forcing teams to take mid-range shots.  The Pelicans, predictably, have the 7th worst BS Rate, as 37.23% of shots taken by New Orleans opponents are inside the Dumb Zone.  The league average is 41.22%.  The Pacers, with the best defense in the league, force 47.49% of opponents shots to be taken in the Dumb Zone.

Controlling the type of shots an opponent gets is a foundational principle for any defense – and this  foundation is badly cracked.  It doesn’t matter how well you contest if the other team is getting the shots they want, and other teams are really getting the shots they want.  Pelican opponents get corner threes – the most efficient shot in basketball – on 9.51% of their attempts.  That’s the third highest rate in the league.  The league average rate of shots at the rim is 33.3%.  Pelican opponents get shots at the rim 35% of the time.

This means that when turnovers stop coming in bunches – something that inevitably happens for stretches – all those good shots will start going down in bunches.  That means that unless this is fixed, the Pelicans will be susceptible to big runs by their opponents.  That means no lead is safe.  As we’ve seen.

Let’s hope the Pelicans will get better at this as they grow familiar with one another.



  1. bobmurrell

    November 7, 2013 at 11:47 am

    Love the BS Rate – great new stat. I feel like that’s very indicative of smart defense – not just the performance of your opponent, but really dictating what your opponent’s opportunities are. 
    Are their advanced stats trademarks? Get it.

  2. MikeDatTiger

    November 7, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    Great post. How much of this do you think is related to Anderson’s absence? Watching the games, it seems like Stiesma has been sitting out in the Dumb Zone a lot, unable to effectively guard threes but getting blown by for shots at the rim. If his minutes could be reduced via Anderson return, I wonder if that could help an improvement as much as increased chemistry will.

  3. Major504

    November 7, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    Maybe you should be a consultant for the Pelicans, because if they aren’t reading this, they are missing out on some good information. Great read.

  4. thouse

    November 7, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    Spot on. Most of the gnashing of teeth comes from the offense, which can certainly improve, but has been fine overall.
    Obviously small sample size, but this seems to indicate Monty’s system is deeply flawed. Last year with all the youth and lack of talent, I was willing to give him a bit of a pass. But Monty’s defense seems designed to give up 3s, which is very, very bad. Maybe guys are still blowing assignments, but the longer this continues, the less likely it looks like a long tenure for Monty in New Orleans.

  5. GerryV

    November 7, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    Good offensive teams know the corner three flattens out the defense….in transition salt spacing occurs when you run guys to the corner..tough to guard corner to corner……also create driving lanes for the handler advancing the ball or lane runners……
    1- sprint
    2- locate ball
    3- run to the corners or corner
    4-  another runner to front of the rim
    5- ball side cut
    Play out of that…..marvelous spacing for shooters and runners.

  6. GerryV

    November 7, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    bobmurrell If the mid-range shot is a BAD SHOT….and its available,maybe players should master the midrange game like the ole days where there were masters at doing this….the key is to make available shots… Pelicans don’t take enough 3’s ( #30 in att.’s 6.4-13)……if teams increase their success at making the mid-range attempt think about the havoc that creates for defenders……

  7. GerryV

    November 7, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    MikeDatTiger Anderson is not a good defender…slow lateral defensive quicks.

  8. GerryV

    November 7, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    and do you know why this is happening?

  9. DavidLeBoeuf

    November 7, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    Perimeter defense looked a lot better last night.  Switches were crisp, hedges were tough.  There were still breakdowns from time to time, but I imagine that would have to get better with more time together.  Hope so!

  10. bobmurrell

    November 7, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    GerryV The article is about defense, and the point of forcing the opposing team to shot less corner three’s and post shots is because those are the most efficiently shot locales in the NBA currently. The least efficient is the mid-range shot. Just statistically, if you force a team to make less shots where they’re better (near the basket or the corner three) and to leave them open for “harder” shots (the mid-range), then your defense ought to improve. Look at Indiana as an example, the numbers and common sense back that up – make the other team be incredibly efficient, don’t let them get the “easy” buckets.

  11. macs21

    November 7, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    thouse It’s not the design of the system, it’s the execution.
    All of his perimeter players – i.e. the players more important for stopping open three’s with timely and intense rotations – have never played in his system before. Last year he had slow guys so time didn’t help. I think you’ll find this season it will, particularly when Anderson comes back and RIvers can play more next to Tyreke as Roberst won’t be needed to stretch the floor as much. He’s easily the least athletic perimeter player we have and you can actually see PG’s running straight past him into the lane and collapsing the d for easy kick-outs to open shooters.
    Or in some cases (Bledsoe and Conley) a free path to the front of the rim when no-one rotates across to help. Usually when there hasn’t been a screen and they’re just straight line driving past his terrible man to man D.

  12. macs21

    November 7, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    GerryV MikeDatTiger Not true, Anderson is a good team defender.
    In other words, he’s better at the stuff being referred to in Mike’s comment. Stuff like not standing in stupid places and knowing when to rotate. Plus he’s more familiar with Monty’s system than Stiemsma which will also help.
    He’s not a great Perimeter defender, but he’s a solid post defender and defender within a team concept.

  13. mateor

    November 7, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    bobmurrell GerryV David West, 19 foot assassin. One of the strongest mid-range shooters in the league, along with Chris Bosh. Their teams seem to be doing pretty well.
    A good mid-range game is basically invaluable, it is just that almost no one is good at it. And it is the shot of choice for end of shoot-clock clunkers.

  14. RafaBrazil

    November 7, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    macs21 GerryV MikeDatTiger  Anderson knows where to be, he understands and is aware of what he has to do on defense, but he is not big and strong enough to guard Cs and is way too slow, especially on lateral movement, to guard PFs that well… He’s an adequate defender, but far from a good defender IMO. He lacks the physical tools to be a good defender, though he’s really smart and excels on offense moving without the ball, getting open for his spot-ups, just like he knows where to be on defense, he’s just not athletic enough to be a good defender. That’s what I think of it, gice me your thoughts!!

  15. thouse

    November 8, 2013 at 7:32 am

    macs21 thouse I do think there is something to be said for playing with more experienced players. Defense isn’t just effort, but angles, understanding tendencies, trusting your teammates, and court awareness. It takes time for young players to learn this, even Davis was underwhelming last year at times and still has lapses this season.
    However, the numbers are not good over the last 3 years. Monty’s teams consistently play among the slowest in the league. Even with this restriction, they gave up the 4th most corner 3s last year, the 2nd most in 2011-2012, and the 14th most with his best team in 2010-2011.
    I hope the team proves me wrong, but I am growing more and more doubtful that the defensive issues can be solved without a rethinking of scheme.
    Also, Rivers is not seeing the floor unless they move Roberts. Roberts has been fantastic this season, regardless of defense (which AT THE MOMENT is quite good. A better DRating than everyone other than Smith, Aminu, and Steimsma). He balances the 2nd unit much better than Rivers, who is more similar to Evans with his offensive repertoire.

  16. NOH Domination

    November 8, 2013 at 9:51 am

    GerryV bobmurrell Ryan Anderson should help the 3PA.. As for mid-range, that’s all Kobe does.

  17. GerryV

    November 8, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    and the guys he defnds just stand in the post? no movement? knows teams concept yes but knowiwng and doing ti are two different things,,i disagree with you….he’s just a fair defender…

  18. GerryV

    November 8, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    like i said..” slow tootsies”

  19. GerryV

    November 8, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    I know its about defense… the 3 pt shot is vital but once these young pups know that available shots from mid-range pissoff post defenders because it makes them have to step up the lane and help which exposes the baseline…..find me an off the dribble guy that gets in the lane and you won’t sleep at day the young pups will learn how vital it is and practice it more……i don’t buy into the baloney about the mid-range game…practice it and it returns….

  20. GerryV

    November 8, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    i agree…thery need to learn how to draw contact there and the bennies it reaps…..

  21. RafaBrazil

    November 8, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    GerryV I thought I touched it when I spoke of his lateral quickness, especially because we want opponents to take mid range shots, and he’s easily beaten when somebody puts the ball on the floor driving from the perimeter. What I tried to say was that he is aware of what to do, just can’t do it consistently, due to his physical limitations. All in all, I agree with what you said, “slow tootsies”!

  22. mateor

    December 5, 2013 at 9:07 am

    GerryV Here is Lebron talking about Chris Bosh’s role in the offense
    “Our offense is predicated through CB playing a lot of the high-post and 18-foot areas, knowing that he’s going to be played by a lot of 5s,” said James. “The centers in our league are always trying to protect the rim, and CB is always like our outlet on offense.”

  23. GerryV

    December 5, 2013 at 11:04 am


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