Why The New Orleans Pelicans Shouldn’t Play Transition Basketball

It isn’t a question of pace but of getting out in transition is something Mason pointed out to me on twitter the other day. I was saying that I think the New Orleans Pelicans will play with a slower pace because of the Omer Asik trade, but Mason was right: Transition is the correct word even though it ties in with pace.

But whatever. The Pelicans shouldn’t get out and play in transition.

It almost seems counter intuitive with the Asik signing. The team has athletic players in Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, and Anthony Davis, and now a guy to swallow up the ball on defense. This New Orleans Pelicans team is almost built to run.

But that doesn’t mean they should.

Even with Asik’s rim protection and rebounding skills the Pelicans still suffer in two areas…

Defensive Rebounding

The Pelicans ranked 21st in DRB% last season. They simply gave up too many second chance points. Combine that with being below average in causing turnovers and you have opponents who maintain offensive possessions. It’s no surprise the Pelicans ranked 27th in defensive efficiency last season.

Adding in Asik and his career 28.2 DRB% helps but the team is still losing Aminu and his rebounding abilities. Anthony Davis will certainly improve but opponents will reason they are going up against a monster front court and look to take one of the two Pelicans towers out of the paint through the use of high pick and rolls, etc. Unfortunately, Asik can’t fix everything himself.

In Monty Williams’ first season the then-Hornets finished with a defensive efficiency of 10th best in the league. They also ranked 2nd in DRB%. That defense was anchored by Emeka Okafor—much like the Pelicans defense will be stabilized by Asik. But the main reason for the high DRB% was the gang-rebounding style Monty likes to use. It was not uncommon to see four then-Hornets crashing the glass after an opponent’s miss.

You can look at the stats and say Asik and Davis are better rebounders than Okafor, Aaron Gray, David West, and Jason Smith. No one will debate that but their stats that season dip because everyone on the floor was hitting the boards. Yet, even with two superior rebounders this coming year, I expect to see more gang-rebounding and less transition because…

The Perimeter Defense Is Bad

The Pelicans’ guards and wings are going to get beat on the perimeter. This forces the bigs in Davis and Asik to rotate over to try and contest open looks or clog the lane to the rim. Sure they may force a miss but they will be taken out of rebounding position because of this. And that opens the door for the opponent to grab offensive rebounds or at least establish superior position under the hoop. Gang-rebounding eliminates this. Defenders flaring out in transition doesn’t. Getting stops should be the priority over scoring easy points, at least right now for this team.

This doesn’t mean the Pelicans won’t get out and run after defensive stops, but I find it more likely they play in transition close to the 9.8% of the time in 2010-11 than the 13.6% from last season. Monty likes the slow defensive, grind it out style of basketball; and there is enough fire power to score in a slower half court style of offense. It’s not as fun and exciting, but if it leads to a playoff spot, like in 2010-11, I don’t think anyone will really complain.

23 responses to “Why The New Orleans Pelicans Shouldn’t Play Transition Basketball”

  1. We need to capitalize on transition opportunities, but not to the point that we’re turnover prone or giving up offensive boards. AD and Tyreke are monsters in transition, so we need to take advantage of that. 
    After turnovers is when our transition game should be on full speed, but after defensive rebounds we should play a slower pace (save for the long rebounds guards occasionally get)

  2. jmbell7 That would be a good mix of everything. Unfortunately the team doesn’t force many turnovers. Though, Holiday being healthy will help that.

  3. We may not get many steals but shouldn’t the increased block rate from the addition of Asik be taken into account? Seems like where we lack in steals we can more than make up for it in blocked shots.

  4. I think our disconnect is that I just don’t think the Pelicans’ perimeter defenders are as bad as you suggest. Jrue Holiday has always been regarded as a plus defender, and Evans was at or very near the top 50 in the league last year in points per possession allowed against isolation and P&R ball handler possessions. Rivers has immensely improved defensively since the start of his rookie year, and Darius Miller even rated well against dribble penetration attempts in his limited minutes. Gordon was bad, yes, but Holiday/Evans/Rivers/Miller are all capable of stopping opponents from getting into the paint with ease. Where the Pelicans’ perimeter defense struggles most is against perimeter shooting; but that typically should not impact Davis or Asik’s rebounding positioning.

  5. That and a kind of built in assumption that Davis will be the same level of rebounder this year. With Asik next to him and weight added, I think he takes another leap on the boards.

  6. MasonGinsberg I’m glad you’re optimistic about our perimeter defenders.  I was hoping we’d pick up our best one in free agency, but I’m assuming Monty trusts that Tyreke will be able to cover elite scorers.  Then again, having a defense anchored by Asik/Davis makes defending easier.

  7. When healthy the team was pretty good at forcing turnovers and defensive rebound rate was pretty good as well, if you look back at the glory days

  8. Maybe we have our cake and eat it too.  We run when the opportunity presents itself: get a rebound and push the pace.  Maybe we score on the secondary break when Davis or Asik out run their man.  This is a versatile team, weakness at SF not withstanding.  So I except us to play at different paces depending on the lineup. the match ups, etc.

  9. MasonGinsberg I agree with everything you said. Our defense should be good at 4 out of 5 positions and if Gordon gets it together we could have solid defenders at every position.

  10. Off topic but its Timberwolves vs Pelicans at 9pm tonight in the final consolation game…going to watch my 4th game for a total price of $4.99..win or lose that’s a good deal…hoping we show up for this one

  11. Yes, bad perimeter defense will lead to rotations and issues on the defensive glass. But the answer to this is not to gang rebound and sacrifice getting out in transition and easy baskets. The answer is to PLAY BETTER FREAKING PERIMETER DEFENSE.
    There is no reason why this team should be being play bad perimeter d. We have good enough individual defenders on the outside, guys like Gordon and tyreke need to improve their off ball d, which should actually be easier than on ball d because off ball d is just focus, want to, smarts, coaching ect. On ball d requires those things as well but also requires staright up athletic talent.
    Slowing the game down is a cop out. It’s the easy way out. By itself, it is hard as hell to play perfect, focused, fly around rotations defense, force a tough shot, get the rebound. It’s even HARDER, to do that THEN sprint out on the break, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.
    Playing a slow down game is the easy, cop out, old man team style of ball. That’s not our roster and I’ll be pissed if we don’t play at a high pace.

  12. For a little bit of context: Robin Lopez has a higher block percentage the last two years than Asik. Are we entirely sure this will be the case?

  13. I’m on my phone and don’t have access but what’s the Pelicans opponents shot chart look like? Is the painted area red or green?

  14. How is going with a strategy to improve your defense a cop out? How is that old man style?
    The Heat this year played with the 27th slowest pace. We’re they old man style? Was it effective and were they in the finals?

  15. I agree we need to improve our defense. I disagree that improving our defense needs to come at the expense of the pace we play.
    As to the heat, I’m pretty sure they were one of the oldest teams in the league this year, so that kinda aides to my argument. They also had the best player in the world  and played in the East and got blown of the floor by a team that plays at a much faster pace. ( and one of the big things about the heat’s downfall analyst point to is how they get so many less easy transition buckets than they used to). 
    Whereas we have one of the youngest rosters in the league, with a lot of athletes and the best running big man in the game. I think it’d be pretty dumb if we didn’t try to play at a fast pace.

  16. This article is confusing and seems off topic. The only things it talked about is defense when the article is supposed to be about playing in transition? This team should play transition offense because they’re not strong at scoring in the half court. One thing is certain that this team isn’t great scoring in the post. No significant reason to play slower. This team is more effective scoring using their speed and in the open court.
    Just because we’re playing in transition a lot doesn’t mean other teams have to play in transition a lot. When the possession ends with an alley oop to Anthony Davis or a made shot, we don’t even need to worry about our transition defense.

  17. If it was up to this article the Pelicans would try to score 94.9 like in 2010-11. So win 46 games and miss the playoffs. If the team played like this article they would score 0 fast break or transition points and not get any easy buckets. Good luck getting any easy wins and making the playoffs scoring around 95 PPG in the West when 8 of the top 9 teams in the West all scored at least 104 PPG last year. So you want the team to play like the Memphis Grizzlies? Man, I’m glad this is only an article and not the Pelicans strategy for the upcoming season.

  18. The pace is going to be slow regardless, that’s how Monty runs his offense. If the percentage of transition play drops some but massively boosts the defense I don’t see why that’s a bad thing.
    But being a young team doesnt mean you have to play in transition. Being an old team doesnt mean you have to play slowly. I don’t think pointing out that Heat are old kills my argument. I was pointing out that their slow style got them to the NBA finals. And I think they’ve been slower paced for all four finals they’ve made.
    You play the style that you think will win you the most games; that will be the most effective style of basketball. For the Pelicans I, and I’d bet Monty, say that’s less transition and more of a focus on defense.

  19. Couldn’t get a shot chart but got some info on it. Pelicans were 6th worst in terms of opponent FG% in the ristricted area. 13th worst (so slightly below average) in the paint. 12th best (slightly abover average) against mid range. According to the nba stats page.

  20. I don’t know why, but I’ve got a feeling Miller will end up starting a lot of games at the 3 this year, getting 15-20 minutes as the starter.  Size wise, defensively, shooting – I just think he’s the kind of guy we need in there.  I like the idea of him much more than I do Salmons.  Maybe the old man has something left, who knows, but I think I’d rather ride w/ the young guy, especially after the way he played at the end of last year.

  21. I think you’re missing my point. A couple spots where I disagree:
    1. I couldn’t disagree more that the pace should be slow regardless. Look at our freaking roster and tell me that looks like a slow it down team. Monty should be able to adapt to his team, which has athletes all over the court, numerous guys that can push the ball up the court, and the best running big man in the league. Why would we not take advantage of this? Also we don’t have particularly great creators off the bounce or in the pickn’ roll to excel in this NBA’s half court. Jrue is alright in the pick n roll but he’s certainly nothing special and lacks creativity in his ball handling. Tyreke also is not very good in the pick n roll, as teams can just go under the screen and dare him to shoot, he is better taking his man 1 on 1 and barreling to the goal which is easier to do early in the shot clock in transition. We also don’t have a big man to throw the ball into every time in the half court. Maybe AD can develop more of a iso face-up game but he still better running the court and slashing to the basket. If that does not sound like a team that should try to play at a fast pace, I don’t know what kind of team should. 
    2. Playing good defense and playing fast aren’t mutually exclusive. You can play good defense and still push the ball up the court at a pace fast. You don’t have to choose one or the other. Transition doesn’t need to start until you secure the rebound, THEN you push it. I don’t know the stats; but I’d assume the best coached teams in the league like the spurs and the mavs play good team defense AND play at a fast pace. 
    3. Also in the article, it seems like you’re saying that the answer to our bad defense is to gang rebound. We have poor perimeter defense that causes our bigs to help which leads to the opposing bigs having rebound position. And the answer to this is to gang rebound??? My answer would be to coach better defense so these crazy rotations aren’t happening so often. 
    4. And I really don’t know what you’re trying to say about the heat. Them being in the finals this year had nothing to with their pace, so find a better argument there. The heat were in the finals this year for two reasons 1. they have the best player in the world and 2. they were playing in the east; that simple.

  22. We’re allowed to disagree. That’s okay. I think there is enough offensive talent on this team to score bunches in a half court offense. I don’t think running out in transition is massively increase the team’s offensive rating.
    I do think that focusing on grang rebounding will massively fix the defense. That improvement is worth more to me than getting out and running.
    1) The offense is going to look different this year. Look at Zach Lowe’s article for how the Pelicans plan to use Davis as kind of a Dirk 2.0. Let the offense initiate through him at the free throw line. Simply putting shooters with him would work, but pairing him with Holiday, who the Philly writers said can be a terrifying pick and roll guard with the right player, will be fine. There is enough firepower here that I don’t worry about scoring at all.
    2 & 3) These go together.They aren’t mutually exclusive. But the point of getting out in transition is you can often have a man advantage on the fast break. Waiting till you secure a rebound allows the opponent to get back and set to defend. It takes away this advantage.
    Of course the answer is to coach better defense. But you don’t say HOW. Many of these Pelicans players simply aren’t capable of it. So that answer wont work. Tyreke is maybe average, Holiday slightly above, the starting SF is average at best, Anderson is a negative defender, same with Gordon. They don’t miraculously become better–if that was possible it would have occured already. I say gang rebound, end the opponents possession and use the team’s offensive talent to score in the half court.
    A defender attacks and gets to the paint forcing Asik/Davis rotate over to contest the shot. Let’s say they do! Awesome! However often times they are out of position to get the rebound. If you have Holiday, Evans, Gordon etc flaring to the other end of the court to score in transition, then you’re leaving the opponent an increase chance of an offensive rebound. Instead of them moving down court you have them come in to help grab the defensive rebound and thus end the opponents possession.
    More than that, look at the history of Monty as a head coach over 4 seasons. He runs a slow offense. He likes to gang rebound. The Pelicans offense was 13th last season. It’ll stay around then regardless of pace, but here is a way to jump that 27th defensive ranking to something higher.
    4) I’m saying you don’t need a fast paced team to go far in the playoffs. You can have a slower offense and still succeed. Dallas was 3rd in offensive effecieny (according to the Hollinger rankings) and were 17th in pace. Spurs were 6th in offense eff and 12th in pace. The average pace of the top 10 offensive teams was 12.2–slightly better than average. Just because this is a young team doesn’t mean they have to run.

  23. xman20002000 DavidLeBoeuf Seems like Miller has been living scared.  That’s the way he plays.  He should’ve come to the NBA after winning his 1st NCAA championship with Wall/Cousins. (again scared)
    I like him as a person/player, but he needs to throw some caution to the wind in order to succeed. (i.e, SHOOT THE BALL and attack when necessary)

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