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The Good and Bad with the Pelicans’ Defense

Published: November 8, 2016

A lot has been made of the Pelicans’ revamped defense. Is it truly 10th best in the league? Is it actually bad? Is this smoke and mirrors? Small sample size? Being affected by one or two games?

It is still too early to predict where the defense will fall at the end of the season. But for now, we do have a good idea of what it’s done. This is by no means a fully comprehensive looking, but it should give you an idea of what’s going on defensively with the Pelicans. And with that, let’s break down some of the good and bad!

The Good

Pelicans rank 7th in Defended Field Goal Percentage

When the Pelicans defense does work, you can see it clicking. A lot of that has to do with having smarter, less lazy defenders out on the court. Arms up, hands over faces, just being in the way and harassing shooters. The Pelicans are doing this well so far this season. Opponents shoot 43.6% when the Pelicans defend the shot compared to 44.6% overall. That’s a difference of -1.0% and one of the better marks in the league.

Blocks and Steals

I’m sure you already know the Pelicans rank 1st in blocks this season. But did you know they swat away 8.2% of opponents’ shots? The Pelicans also rank 11th in steals per game, swiping the ball on 8.1% of all defensive possessions. Ending 16.3% of opponents’ possessions is something the team can build on. And that number should go up when Holiday, and his long arms, comes back.

The Bad

Free Throws Attempted and Percentage

The Pelicans are barely below league average when it comes to total fouls which looks pretty good. But when and who they are fouling is the problem. The Pelicans are allowing a lot of perimeter drives into the lane. Once beat the Pelicans are forced to rotate and foul. It’s resulting in opponent’s averaging 25.5 free throw attempts per game—9th worst. And because of who they are fouling teams are shooting 82.4% when the play the Pelicans. That’s 4th worst.

Opponent Fast Break Points

I was tempted to not put this in the Bad category, as it really isn’t a reflection of the defense. But it’s a defensive stat per so it’s going in here. The Pelicans are giving up 14 fast break points per game—11th most in the league. This is mainly due to the Pelicans’ offense and turnovers. The Pelicans don’t turn the ball over a ton (they rank 10th best in that category), but it’s who turns the ball over. Outside of Davis, most of the Pelicans turnovers come in the backcourt. That leads to man advantages and fast break points for the opponent. Better ball handling in the backcourt will fix this problem.

The Medium

Defensive Rebounding and Second Chance Points

I was worried about the Pelicans’ defensive rebounding ability, and I still am. But despite that worry, the Pelicans are the 13th best defensive rebounding team, grabbing 77.3% of available defensive boards. That helps limit opponents second chance opportunities and teams are averaging 13 second chance points per game, a hair on the wrong side of average at 16th in the league. I think some of this is inflated due to games against the Warriors and Spurs, two teams who don’t go after offensive boards, but, hey, it looks alright for now.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, it’s impossible to predict how the defense will fare the rest of the season, especially with such a small sample size so far, but they are doing things correctly. Coaching and better defenders has helped. But they are also making mistakes in certain areas. The good news is there is time to correct those. The Pelicans’ defense isn’t going to finish 10th best in the season, but somewhere in the middle sounds about right. After the train wreck that was last season, it sounds good to me.

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