Looking at the Pelicans’ Defensive Decline

Published: April 21, 2014

In Monty Williams’ first season as head coach of the New Orleans NBA franchise the team’s MO was defense. That slow grind it out style led to a playoff berth, a 6 game series against the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers, and a defensive ranking of 10th in the league.

Since that 2010-2011 season, though, the defense has continually regressed. The following seasons, in order, have yielded a defensive ranking of 15th, 28th and 27th. Yikes. So, what happened? Two areas, that go hand in hand, particularly stand out for this decline.

Defensive Rebounding

In that 2010-11 season the then-Hornets ranked 2nd in defensive rebound percentage, grabbing a strong 76.2% of all opponent missed shots. The next season that number dropped to 73.1%, followed by 74.4%. This season the Pelicans posted a defensive rebound percentage of 73.8% which ranked them 21st in the league. Allowing opponents to grab offensive rebounds is going to lead to easy points for the opponent. But it’s compounded by another problem.

Opponent Shooting Percentage

During that 2010-11 season teams shot 45.7% against the then-Hornets. It was good for 13th in the league. The next year that same stat dropped to 44.4% and the same 13th ranking. But then it gets bad. In 2012-13 it ballooned to 47.1% which ranked 26th and this season teams shot 46.5% against the team and a 24th ranking.

This adds up to be a team that allows opponents to shoot well against them, and when their opponents do miss they don’t grab the misses.

Because of the slower paced offense the team consistently allows very few attempts to be taken against them (ranking in the top 5 ever year) under Monty Williams. If the team can cause more disruption on the perimeter and contest shooters there is potential to be an absolutely suffocating defense that allows very few points. Part of the reason for the decline, in both areas, has been the absence of Jrue Holiday (a strong perimeter defender) and Jason Smith (an underrated defensive rebounder). Another reason for the high opponent shooting percentage is something Ryan has written about before: The Pelicans allow the opponent to take smart shots.

Towards the end of the year Monty would pair Tyreke Evans and Anthony Davis with three floor spacing shooters. Evans is already a weaker defender and pairing him with the likes of Morrow, Babbit, Roberts, Rivers (though his defense has improved), and Miller made it tough to stop opponents for long stretches. Sub out one of them for Holiday, a guy who can hit a catch and shoot 3 and pressure opposing ball handlers will be vitally important next season.

Bringing in another disruptive perimeter defender this offseason will be a priority as well. A guy who can space the floor will allow the offense to continue to put up points while shoring up the defense. It’s a move that could vault the Pelicans into the playoffs.

Do you have a certain player in mind? Let us know in the comments!


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