Starting Slow and Finishing Weak

Published: December 2, 2014

Through the first month of this season the Pelicans have hovered right around .500. We’ve seen some good, some bad, and unfortunately, the surprisingly unsurprising happened and injury has again thrown a wrench in the team’s playoff plans. With Eric Gordon now out for the foreseeable future, the Pels’ problems become larger and fixing them requires a prompt solution if the young team wants to stay in the playoff race. Roster problems aside, two things Monty and Co. can work on immediately are starting and finishing games.

The Pelicans are averaging just around 23 points on 43% from the field and about 27% from 3 in the first quarter. FT% is below 70%, eFG% sits around 45, and TS% is below 50; the team’s first quarter offensive rating is just 98.4. The shot distribution is pretty similar to the other 3 quarters; the Pelicans just aren’t making their jump shots to start the game, shooting about 27% on jump shots and 40 for 145 on shots from 15ft or longer.

There may be a couple reasons for this. As Jake Madison pointed out, the Pels’ offense is not one predicated around a lot ball movement (the Pels rank among the bottom of the league in touches and passes per game). However, as the game goes on the Pels find more of a groove, scoring over 25 ppg in the 2nd and then over 27 ppg in the 3rd. The offense is still among the better teams in the league in efficiency, as the team is looking for and taking more open shots than last year, just not making them at the beginning of the game. Finding the open shots might just be taking a little longer to find than Pelicans’ fans would hope. Whatever the reason, one simple solution would be to feed Anthony Davis a little more in the 1st. Coach Williams has often expressed that the team needs to realize that Davis is the go to guy and wants to find him more touches. While he is already averaging over 5 shots in the opening 12 minutes, trying to give a couple more touches and a shot or two more to a bona fide MVP candidate is never a bad idea.

In the 4th the Pels are only averaging a little above 24 points, but the real problem comes on the other side of the ball, as the team has a shocking defensive rating of 118.6, giving up about 3 more points than they average in the first 3 quarters on close to 50% shooting (with an average +/- of -2.8). Opponents’ FT and Rebounding rates make a significant jump, while the Pels turn the ball over much more frequently than the previous 3 quarters.

The Pelicans have improved overall on the defensive end from last year with the addition of Omer Asik, but with Gordon out and the hole at SF getting bigger, new problems have presented themselves. Asik and Davis have a tremendous presence and form a terrifying duo to attack, but Asik, one of the top rim protectors in the league, is only playing about 5 minutes in the 4th quarter. Ryan Anderson, not the most defensive minded player to put it lightly, is playing more 4th quarter minutes than anyone else on the team (10 minutes).  How the Pels finish games has gotten better recently though. A 40 point 4th against the Hawks and a 23-18 4th against the Wizards show some improvement as the team figures it out down the stretch, but they will need to figure it out quickly as they recently dipped below .500 to 7-8 in a very competitive West.

There is reason to hope though. Holiday is shooting above 50% in the 1st helping keep the team’s scoring up in the opening quarter, Ryan Anderson is still feeling his way back from injury but looks better every day, and Davis really is an MVP candidate. Tyreke Evans has had the most trouble to start the season, struggling at the rim of all places, but looking at his previous five NBA seasons, following his efficiency as the season progresses gives plenty of hope:

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So we can realistically expect for him, and hopefully the first quarter offense, to get more efficient as the season goes on, and hopefully the Pelicans can see some results sooner rather than later.


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