The Slow But Efficient Pelicans Offense

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Published: November 28, 2014

The New Orleans Pelicans this season, depending on where you look, are ranked 4th in offensive efficiency. It’s a big jump from last season’s ranking, and where the team has been under head coach Monty Williams—generally ranking somewhere in the middle of the league efficiency-wise. It’s a nice improvement to see, especially considering that the team’s pace remains more or less the exact same.

More than that, the ball movement within the Pelicans’ offense is very similar. This season, the Pelicans rank dead last in touches per game and passes per game according to NBA.com/stats. But the Pelicans were on the bottom end of ball movement last season, yet finished 13th in offensive rating. So what’s changed?

The Changes

Smarter Ball

Overall the Pelicans have simply played smarter on the offensive end. They are taking more open shots per game, per NBA.com/stats, compared to last year. That will obviously make you a better offense. Rather than letting the shot clock dwindle down completely the Pelicans are shooting more in the Average range of between 15 and 7 seconds remaining and shooting less in the 7 seconds and under range. This means they aren’t forcing up attempts because the shot clock is about to run out on them. All this adds up to an improved eFG% compared to a year ago.

Health and Improvement

The Pelicans, for the most part, are healthy this season. Getting guys like Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday back from injury will improve the offense. Their replacements filled in admirably at times last year, but are not on the same level of play. Better players will make the offense better. Sometimes it is that simple. Tyreke Evans firebombing from behind the arc doesn’t hurt either.

Keeping in a similar vein to the above, Anthony Davis ascending to the top of the basketball world adds another dimension. He’s taking good looks at the rim or open mid-range jumpers, and generally avoiding forced shots. His improved offensive game is also creating space for teammates. Opponents have been so terrified of Davis they are double teaming him. When he sets a screen you see guards going underneath it to take away the passing lane which leaves the ball handler open to shoot. Just Davis’ presence right now will make the Pelicans better.

Turnovers

If there is one category which could be the difference maker for the Pelicans’ offense this season this is it. A few seasons ago Mason gave us the benchmarks for certain stats. Take a look at Turnover Rate. The Pelicans’ main guards (Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, and Austin Rivers) are all in the good or elite category when it comes to offensive rating; and all are improved from last season. Holiday has pretty much cut his turnover rate in half and is sitting on an insanely low 8.8%.

Anthony Davis has even reduced his turnovers. He is more sure handed this year and isn’t getting the ball poked out of his hands under the rim. This was expected to come with time as he gets more comfortable in the post. Big men who put the ball on the ground in the restricted area risk lots of turnovers (Emeka Okafor comes to mind). Davis catches the ball and doesn’t need to gather himself before putting up a shot or dunk.

Monty Williams

Monty Williams deserves a lot of credit for this improvement. Teams with a lower turnover possession usually have fewer touches. Monty knew that slowing down the passes per possession (the Pelicans have about 20 fewer touches per possession this season) would cut out some of the weaknesses of his players. It’s a bit of a band-aid over the larger problem of the average guard play, but one that maximizes efficiency.

It’s not a fun offense, and it tends to go against the NBA grain to have guards pounding the ball. But it’s working. You could throw a caveat on there and say For now. This team is 7-6 which has to slot in as a disappointment for most people. If the season continues like this something may need to change. More ball movement can tire an opponent out which in turn hampers them in other ways. And with Gordon out injured you can bet Monty will need to make some adjustments.

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