New Orleans Pelicans Small Sample Size Theater

Published: November 5, 2014

After four games, it would be foolish to assume how the next 78 games will play out. But what we can do is look at some trends and vow to monitor them as we move forward. With that in mind, let’s take a look at Part One of Small Sample Size Theater for the 2014-15 season.

The Pelicans’ Poor Jump Shooting

The Pelicans take an average of 31.5 jump shots per game that are either open (no defender within 4-6 feet) or wide open (Closest defender is 6 or more feet away). On those 31.5 shots, they make just 9.8 of them, or 31.1%. Nearly 18 of those shots per game came from deep, with the Pelicans only hitting about 28.5% of them. The good news is that they are not taking tightly contested shot late in the shot clock like in years past (have only attempted 2 three-pointers in the last 4 seconds of the shot clock all year). The bad news is that even though they are getting open looks, they just can’t knock them down.

Last year, the Pelicans were a terrific catch-and-shoot team, with numerous guards and wings at the top of the league when it came to spot-up jumpers. So, you might hypothesize that teams are running them off the line and their shooting percentage is way down for that reason. But you would be wrong. The Pelicans average 14.8 catch-and-shoot three-point opportunities per game and convert on just 27.1% of those. Last year, they were nearly 12% better in the same area. And if they had just maintained the same number from last year, they would be averaging 3.4 points more per game this season, and might be 3-1 or 4-0 instead of 2-2.

Eric Gordon is obviously the main culprit, although all have struggled offensively one way or another. He has taken 9 catch-and-shoot three’s this season and made zero. Last season, he shot nearly 45% in those situations, meaning he would be expected to make 4 instead of zero. That’s 3 points per game right there. And what is even worse is that 8 of the 9 attempts were either open or wide open. So, the good news is that he is getting looks that the coaching staff wants him to get but again the bad news is that he is not knocking them down.

Ryan Anderson has had an interesting start to the season, as he is creating a lot more of his offense than usual. About 40% of his attempts have come after he has put the ball on the floor – either driving to the bucket or posting up from mid-range. His catch-and-shoot jumper has been off a bit this year, as he is only shooting 30% in those situations, the high majority of which come from deep. The good news here, yet again, is that Anderson is getting open looks (92% have been either open or wide open), but again he just isn’t hitting.

Starting to see a theme here?

Davis and Tyreke Evans have been, far and away, the best catch-and-shoot guys. Davis is shooting 50% in those situations, on mostly long two’s, while Tyreke Evans is a ridiculous 63.6%, including 62.5% from three. Teams are leaving him wide open, but other guys are wide open too and they are missing. Tyreke is hitting at least.

Defensive Tendencies

The Pelicans are not sending opponents to the line, and that is the first step to making this defense respectable. Of the seven major rotation players, none of them are averaging more than 3.1 fouls per 36 minutes. Currently, they are 5th in the league in FT to FGA ratio on defense, and honestly, if it wasn’t for Alexis Ajinca they would be much higher. In the Charlotte game, he was responsible for nearly 40% of the FTA’s that the Hornets got. In the Memphis game, it was a smaller percent but his three quick fouls in the 4th quarter helped Memphis get into the bonus early, and they lived there for the rest of the quarter.

You don’t need fancy stats to tell you this, but Anthony Davis is good at protecting the rim, Omer Asik is great, and Ryan Anderson is bad. Opponents shoot 50% at the rim against Davis, 38.9% against Asik, and 78.3% against Anderson.

The starting lineup is doing a good job of protecting the three-point line, allowing just 16 attempts per 48 minutes and with opponents shooting just 26.9%. They also don’t foul (mostly because they don’t have Ajinca). Just 17.6 attempts per 48 minutes, which would lead the NBA. But most impressively, that unit just owns the defensive glass, snatching 83.1% of all rebounds on that end. Again, a number that would lead the league.


Monty has really been trying in these first four games. While the starting lineup has 76 minutes played together, no other lineup combination has more than 16 and only two lineups other than the starting lineup has double-digit minutes together on the floor. Already, in just 4 games, Monty has tried 36 different lineups. He has gone 3 small and 3 big. He has tried 3 point guards and he has tried 3 shooting guards. He has tried two of the bigs with Ajinca and two of the bigs with Babbitt. All the lineups have far too small of a sample size to draw conclusions, but the Holiday-Rivers-Evans-Ryno-AD lineup looks promising. It doesn’t rebound incredibly well and it doesn’t turn the opponent over, but it protects the 3-point line (11.1%) and is amazing offensively in literally every single category. It doesn’t turn the ball over, it rebounds on the offensive glass, it hits three’s, and it scores 138.3 points per 48 minutes. Which, you know, ain’t bad.

The starting unit is the worst at creating turnovers, while the same lineup but with Anderson instead of Asik creates turnovers at a higher rate. Now, they  don’t block as many shots and are generally much worse defensively in every way, but hey – they cause turnovers! The starting lineup has been fantastic defensively, but lineups without Davis or Asik on it are just miserable. And even most of the lineups with just Davis and without Asik have been quite bad. Asik lineups tend to give up more three’s, but Davis lineups give up more rebounds and more points in the paint.

The pace is up and down, depending on who is on the court for the Pelicans, but it is undeniable that they are generally slower with Asik. The Pelicans with Asik on the floor are a bottom ten team pace wise, and when he is off the court, they play at a top ten pace. As a result, the offensive rating goes down significantly, but the defensive uptick is worth it.

Lastly, and this should go without saying, the Pelicans are a terrific team with Anthony Davis on the court and downright terrible when he is off. They are +10 per 100 possessions when he is on the floor, and -23.4 per 100 when he is off. That basically breaks down to them being the best team in the NBA when he is on the floor and the worst team of all time when he is off. Thank god this is small sample size theater, because that is not sustainable. One way or the other, this team is going to have to learn to become a team, and not just a collection of players who are all dependent on one guy.


We can’t possibly draw any real conclusions from just four games and there is a strong chance that this horrific jump shooting we have seen is just a fluke. We have a much larger sample size that says the guys on this team are terrific spot-up shooters – well, outside of Tyreke. Maybe everything flips back. Or maybe the guys who are missing start hitting and Tyreke keeps hitting. Wouldn’t that be great? But there are some things that we can take from these four games. One, Monty is willing to experiment with lineups until he can find what works. Two, the lineups with Asik and Davis are far better defensively than anything New Orleans has had the last two years. They might not maintain this elite pace, but the team was awful last year, and going from that to average or above average is a huge jump.

Finally, the Pelicans have appeared to have taken a more conservative defensive approach this year and that will likely result in far less free throw attempts from the opposition. They also play at a significantly higher pace regardless of who is on the floor. Now, pace doesn’t just refer to fast breaks, it refers to how quick a team gets into their offensive sets and/or gets a shot up within the confines of the shot clock. They don’t dribble the ball needlessly anymore or hoist shots up at the end of the clock. Now, are they perfect? Of course not. But on both ends, they appear to be on their way.


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