Poking the Bear

Published: April 12, 2014

And I know it’s my own damn fault

— Jimmy Buffett, Margaritaville

With just a few games left of the season, I’ve been looking at some of the season stats for the New Orleans Pelicans. Yes, I know there are some games left. Yes, I know I’m still recapping games from a month ago on top of that. I’ll worry about the latter, and some things about the former can easily be addressed right now.

Among the myriad of positive and negative things to discuss, I’m picking what I see as the most glaring statistical negative. It just so happens that it is highly correctable.

As of April 10th, the Pelicans allow the highest FT/FGA in the NBA, allowing 1549 free throws compared to 6253 field goal attempts (0.2477). The NBA average is 1394 FT compared to 6503 FGA (0.2144). 17 teams are below this average, with the Knicks (0.244) and 76’ers (0.243) joining the Pelicans at the bottom rungs. The Timberwolves (0.174), Spurs (0.183), and Bobcats (0.184) are at the upper echelon. Each of those teams are below and above NBA-average in DRtg, respectively. DRtg is an estimate of the number of points allowed per 100 possessions.

The Pelicans will likely remain at the bottom rung, but even if they do not, they will remain near the bottom of the NBA in this important category: FT/FGA and DRtg have a correlation of 0.48. As a measure of the Pelicans’ “lead,” the Knicks would have need to out-allow the Pelicans by at least 26 free throws over their last 3 games, 32 for the Sixers over their 4 games. This is ignoring FGA effects, but it’s just one illustration.

Let’s now look at If this rate were replaced with the NBA-average rate, then based on the Pelicans allowed FGA, then about 209 points are taken off of the board. Across 78 games (when these figures were run), this translates into 2.67 points per game.

Now, if we take the Pelicans’ ORtg (107.2) and sutract their DRtg (110.1), this yields a difference of -2.9, which is an estimate of the number of net points per 100 possessions from the Pelicans’ perspective (ORtg is an estimate of points scored per 100 possessions). Factoring in Pace (92.1), which is an estimate of the number of possessions per 48 minutes, or one typical game, this expected difference is 2.9 * 0.921 = 2.67.


Sure, the fact that the numbers happened to be equal at that precision is coincidence. The fact that this statistic is a big influence on how games have turned out this year is not. The number of free throws made by opposing teams is not only high compared to the NBA-normal, but it is having a meaningful effect on the team’s record, even with all the man-games lost to injury by very talented and very paid players. Also, this analysis does not account for overtime, for limited availability of these players (Ajinca joined late, for example), or high foul rate players who have departed (e.g. Sweet Lou). These variables are relatively insignificant to the overall point.

Now we get to the improvable part. Of players remaining on the roster, the biggest offenders in terms of fouls per 36 minutes are Ajinca (7.1!) and Stiemsma (6.1!), and they combine for 34.6 minutes per game. The next group are Miller (4.7), Smith (4.3), and Babbitt (4.1). Withey (3.9) and Rivers (3.7) round out the upper half of the team. For comparison, the next highest is Davis at 3.1 per 36 minutes. As noted before, much of these fouls are due to front court (4 at least) and lack of experience (all but Smith have no more than 3 seasons of experience, and 5 have no more than 1 prior season or have played overseas this season). The concentration of inexperience and poor defense in the front court was noted early on, so the general theme is no surprise. Also, Coach has said in no uncertain terms that he does not mind fouling early and often, particularly if it sets a tone. These fouls fail to set a tone, so it’s the worst of both worlds.

No matter where you place the blame, the result is clear, and it is clear that time and roster changes in favor of merely-average-foul-rate players will greatly improve this team’s defense, at least in terms of this one important statistic.

New Orleans Pelicans News

In the first full week of March, the New Orleans Pelicans broke their losing streak after first extending it to 8 (again), bringing their record to 26-37.

The loss of the week brought the losing streak to 8 as the Pelicans fell to the Kings, 96-89. It was a game of extremes that was actually very close except for a run in the third. The Pelicans sent the Kings to the line 41 times and had 3 players with at least 5 fouls, 2 of whom fouled out. The Kings also heavily out-rebounded the Pelicans, but the Pelicans countered by getting turnovers (18 v 9). In the last 2 minutes, the Kings went on an 11-2 run . . . 11 points in 2 minutes, people . . . right after the game was tied at 57. Rivers took the lone shot (a 3 for all you who are obsessed with efficiency) and missed it, nailing 2 of 6 free throws. Meanwhile, the Kings went 3 of 3 from the line and nailed 2’s at the rim and in the midrange (for all you who are obsessed with efficiency). The game never got closer than 5 after that.

The win over the Lakers was a convincing one, despite the potentially worrisome score of 132-125. The Pelicans were pretty dangerous from the left half of the floor, rebounded well, and got to the line more than they sent the Lakers there. They had a nice mix of shots from the perimeter and at the rim, and this success kept them from feeling the pressure by the inevitable late push by the Lakers. A 21 point lead early in the third was systematically eroded to 4 in just a quarter, but the Pelicans never gave up the lead and held on to win. The pace of the game in the second half led to quick scoring which seemed to confuse Pelicans defenders and temp then younger players into taking poor shots. The Lakers were very successful at the rim in the second half, and this is why.

The winning streak was not too hard to extend against the nearly hapless Bucks. The 112-104 final score says the Pelicans were slightly better than the Bucks in a game of poor defense, and that would be correct. Both teams shot efficiently, and both team fouled, but the Bucks did the latter far worse than the Pelicans, at least in terms of timing. The Pelicans took a lead early it the fourth and did not relinquish it, but the Bucks were just 5 back after an Evans substitution with 123 seconds left to play. From that point on, the Bucks scored 7, but the Pelicans scored 10. 8 of the 10 were from the line, and all 8 were from Evans. Davis got the other 2. This is the time when checks are earned, and those guys earned it that night.

The final win of the week was nice for a few reasons. First, it was just nice to win, this time over the Nuggets, 111-107 in overtime. Second, it was a comeback victory. Third, there were some exciting changes to substitution patterns. Down as many as 16 in the first half, the Pelicans managed to tie the game in the third in large part to the efforts of Davis and Gordon. The Pelicans built a small lead, the lost it thanks to sending the Nuggets to the line and giving up baskets at the rim. Then, Roberts hit 2 from the line and Morrow hit a late 2 to force overtime. In overtime, each player contributed, and Davis was playing as the primary big with Aminu, Evans, Roberts, and Gordon.

Around Bourbon Street Shots

There were three podcasts this weeks. Gerry V joined Ryan and Michael on In the NO to discuss youth and Eric Gordon. In the second episode, Anthony Davis was the topic of conversation. The third was a new podcast hosted by Chris Trew, this time joined by Mason.

Mason also gave a report of his second day at the Sloan conference and added a look at analytics and the Pelicans specifically.

`Voices’ of the People

During pregame, it was reported that B.Roberts gathered the troops for a pep talk….Well guys, if anyone was wondering I think this is the leader of this team…and it makes sense…older,well traveled and he’s the point guard…….so, what does this mean going forward ? hopefully more wins and also for next years bench players….will Pierre Jackson or Austin Rivers be here next seasons ?..Also it was great to see Whitey get some good run last night………It’ll be interesting down the stretch to see who plays more, which may give an insight to who’ll be back next year….Right now I think Miller,Stemsma,Babbit and Aminu are on the outside…Aminu probably has a better chance to return,but only at the veteran min………..


lost by 7, Rivers missed 4 straight and AD missed 2 straight. Ballgame.Edit


I enjoy the back and forth with Gerry V.

I think that sometimes if I get too set in my own stance, he shakes things up a bit and allows me to see things from a different perspective.

It appears that’s how it is with Ryan as well.

Good show.



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