Published: December 7, 2013
Everyone always spends a lot of time talking about offense. We rail at players shot selection, wonder why Jrue doesn’t generate more free throws, boo and hiss at the jumpshots of Evans and Aminu. We complain when there’s little ball movement and stare dumfounded when our guards drive one on two on a fast break when they have three trailing players. Pass, damnit!
And we’re totally focused on the wrong thing.
The Pelicans have been a very good offensive team this season. Per NBA.com’s media tool, they score 105.9 points per 100 possessions, making them the fifth best offensive team in the league. They have the 2nd lowest rate of turnovers in the NBA. They have the 3rd best offensive rebound rate which leads to the second highest 2nd chance points in the league. They force the 5th highest number of turnovers which turn into the 2nd highest fast break points in the league. Couple those athletic markers with a league average True Shooting% and you have a really good offense.
No, it’s the defensive side of the ball where the Pelicans fall apart, as has been the case for years. This season they have posted the 6th worst defense in the league, allowing 104.2 points per 100 possessions.
Back a month ago I talked about why the Pelicans couldn’t hold a lead and introduced Bad Shot Rate (BS Rate) – a measure of the percentage of shots a team (or their opponent) takes in the Dumb Zone. (I.E. not at rim or behind the three point line) The higher the opponent BS Rate, the better. Unsurprisingly, the team with the best opponent BS Rate in the league is the Indiana Pacers – who force opponents to shoot 49.81% of their shots in the dumb zone. The league average is 42.65%.
The Pelicans Opponent BS Rate is 37.5%. That’s the third worst in the league.
34.24% of opponent shots come at the rim, 8.26% come from the corner three, and 20% are three point shots not from the corner. All three of those are higher than the league average – and the Pelicans aren’t particularly good at contesting them either, allowing higher shooting percentages at the rim and from the corner(way higher here), and posting league average conversion rates when opponents take non-corner threes.
That is the anatomy of a bad defense.
It’s a shame too, because the Pelicans are really good at other aspects of defense. As said above they generate the 5th highest number of turnovers in the league. They are the 11th best defensive rebounding team (and were top 3 before AD went down) They only allow free throws at the league average. They could be an acceptable defense if they just didn’t allow so many good shots.
They miss rotations all the time. Two guys miscommunicate and run out on the same shooter, leaving another open. They hedge too far on the pick and roll and allow it to be split regularly. They turn back non-shooters, when they should let them roam the perimeter. But they don’t even do any of this consistently. It’s bizarre, and they really need to work on it.
But here’s the weirdest tidbit of information of all.
The Pelicans are actually a really good defensive team at home. What?
At home, they have posted a defensive rating of 98.8. On the road, they allow 109.6. As soon as they get on that plane, their defensive rebounding plummets, their ability to force turnover declines and they can’t stop fouling to save their lives. Essentially, all those athletic markers go to pot. Even their offense declines by three points – so they go from a team with an efficiency differential of +8.7 at home to one with a -5.3 on the road, a wild home-away swing of -14.0, which is about -10 more than usual in the NBA. -10!
Opponent quality on the road and at home doesn’t really account for it, so it’s hard to understand. Maybe it’s a sign of a young team not doing the right things on the road to stay competitive? I don’t know.
What do you think?