The Pelicans’ Defense: Lost in Transition

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Published: December 20, 2017

It is no secret that the Pelicans have really struggled in preventing opponents from scoring this season, but simply stating that fact gets us no closer to figuring out why. The team’s high turnover rate obviously plays a part, but there is more going on here – thanks to some new stats coming from CleaningTheGlass.com, we can learn more about what that is.

First, let’s start with what is NOT the problem – the half court defense. Currently, the Pelicans allow 93.6 points per 100 possessions in this phase, which is ever so slightly worse than league average. Could it be better? Sure, but given the fact that the starting lineup is pretty undersized on the perimeter and that the big men struggle to close out on open shooters, getting into the top 10 before Solomon Hill and his defensive versatility returns may not be especially realistic. If there is any area regarding half court defense that the team could improve, it’s through preventing offensive rebounds. New Orleans rates slightly above league average in this area, but given their personnel, one could argue that “slightly above average” shouldn’t cut it.

So, what IS the problem? Succinctly put, it’s the team’s inability to force opponents into their half court offense more often. Only 79.4% of opponent offensive possessions occur through half court offense, good for a bottom-10 ranking in the league. The obvious catalyst is that the Pelicans rank 26th in the NBA in turnover rate and they’re also slightly below average in stopping opponents from scoring once they do cough the ball up.

The issue that really pushes this defense over the edge, however, is actually transition points allowed after simple missed shots on offense. 31.6% of opponent live ball rebounds after Pelicans’ misses result in transition opportunities – 23rd in the league – but the truly damning stat is that the Pelicans are worst in the league by FAR in defending transition opportunities after their own missed shots. New Orleans allows 129.2 points per 100 possessions on such plays – for comparison’s sake, the Kings are second to last & still allow over 4 points per 100 possessions fewer (124.9) than the Pels (the median rate is around 115).

The moral of the story – while turnovers are no doubt a problem, the biggest underlying issue is the team’s general approach towards transition D. The Pelicans’ inability to both prevent opponents from getting out in transition or stop opponents from scoring on those opportunities has dropped this defense from close to league average to one that is now bottom-5 in the league statistically.

 

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