Stats Highlights, 1st Week

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Published: October 31, 2016

*Sample size disclaimer — 3 games have been played, meaning the sample of data that we have to work with is extremely limited.  However,  the phrase “small sample size” in basketball is often misunderstood as “the data is useless.”  The data isn’t useless — you simply can’t extrapolate with it.  Statistics are still useful to describe what has happened, so long as they aren’t taken to be the final truth.*

Coming into the season, it was blatantly obvious that the defense needed work, and to date, this has been the success story.. that the defense has been okay.  This is a somewhat natural result of letting Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson walk away and replacing them with better, more energetic defenders.  The stats reinforce that the defense has improved, but blah blah blah small sample size means nothing.  What my eyes see is a more aggressive trapping defense that looks great when opponents crumble under the pressure and awful when an unsuccessful double leads to a wide open layup or 3 pointer.  The hope is that this team, which is replacing more minutes than almost any other team in the NBA, will work out the kinks and be able to hold its own.

The other end of the floor has not been nearly as successful in the early going.  The offense has been awful, aside from Anthony Davis setting the world on fire.  Without Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday, this was somewhat of an expectation, but man, it has been BAD.

  • Offensive Rating: 2nd worst
  • Personal Fouls Drawn: 3rd worst
  • Offensive Rebounds: 4th worst
  • FTA/100 possessions: 4th worst (naturally, this is highly related to PFD, listed above)
  • 3PM/100 possessions: 2nd worst
  • 3PT %: worst

But there have been some positive indicators in the statistics too:

  • Assist/Turnover Ratio: 4th best
  • Assist Ratio (% of FGM that were assisted): 7th best

Put it all together and this is what it says to me: the Pelicans are moving the ball around much more than last season, as their assist ratio last year was below the league average.  Although Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon were good offensive players, they didn’t move the ball.  The MO this season was to get defensive-minded players who could move the ball on offense.  That has been the case so far, but the increase in ball movement has yet to yield any fruitful results.

The outside shooting has been absolutely terrible.  Dante Cunningham has been the only decent 3 point shooter thus far, and he didn’t even start taking 3 pointers until last year.  The team is shooting an eye-gouging 19% from distance right now, and because the outside shooting is so awful, teams are crowding around Anthony Davis without any repercussions.

The good news is that regression to the mean works both ways, and there’s no way that this team shoots so poorly from distance all year.  However, at this juncture, there has been no evidence to indicate that this team could be an above-average 3 point shooting group.

Offensive rebounding has been a popular topic of discussion this offseason and to start this year, and Graham McQueen addressed this issue a week ago.  Some of this is by design, as the Pelicans forego offensive rebounding opportunities to prevent their opponents from capitalizing in transition.  Some of this is due to personnel, as Graham notes, because the Pelicans don’t have available guards to get the ball to the rim.  Another reason that the Pelicans can’t grab offensive boards is because, besides Anthony Davis, they don’t have a single available player who can consistently draw second defenders.  The more attention a team’s offensive players can draw, the more likely there will be openings for offensive boards.  If the Pelicans are unable to play good offensive rebounders and defenses aren’t being forced into uncomfortable positions, they aren’t going to get a lot of boards; and because Davis is shooting so many shots, he’s not going to be in rebounding position unless he’s shooting by the basket.

 

Some Other Notes

  • Buddy Hield has been pretty bad, and he has looked very uncomfortable so far.  NBA players are longer and faster than college ones, and Buddy is having some issues adjusting to this.  There have been several occasions where Buddy has driven to the goal, jumped to get his shot off, and then haphazardly thrown the ball back to the perimeter (to guys who are not open).  I’m not worried about Buddy’s shot because I firmly believe that his shot will translate.. but as I noted this summer, Buddy isn’t quick enough to create separation unless teams are flying out at him to stop him from taking shots.  His game is always going to be outside in, and he is better served as a secondary or tertiary option than a primary one.  I’m a bit surprised that he isn’t more confident, though I think that he will get there.  In the meantime, it could be rough sledding.
  • The silver lining to having so many low usage players is Anthony Davis is turning into the statistical monster we always thought he’d be.  I’ve never seen Davis own his usage so much — he knows that this is his team and he’s taking a lot of shots to prove it.  This level of production isn’t sustainable, but I really hope Davis can continue to be this aggressive with better players around him.

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