Pelicans Passing to Wins

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Published: February 4, 2015

On January 19th, the New Orleans Pelicans were 20-21 after losing in disappointing fashion to the New York Knicks. Since that game, the Pelicans have won six of seven, easily their most productive stretch of the season, and are one game back of the Phoenix Suns for the 8th and final playoff spot. The Pelicans have accomplished this with an explosion on the offensive side of the ball, despite the fact that they are without starting point guard Jrue Holiday.

How is the team doing this? Interestingly enough, with more assists. After the New York Knicks debacle, the Pelicans were 9th in the league in offense with an OffRtg of 105.5. But since their victory against the Los Angeles Lakers on January 21st, the Pelicans have had an OffRtg of 109.7, good for fourth in the league during that span. Part of this will be attributed to hot shooting. After the Knicks loss, the Pelicans were shooting 34% from beyond the arc, but since then they have been shooting 39.7% from beyond the arc.

But hot shooting doesn’t tell the whole story. Davis summed it up best after Monday night’s impressive victory that snapped the Atlanta Hawks 19-game winning streak when he said “We just need to continue to do what we’ve been doing, the past couple games. We’ve been rebounding, defending, sharing the ball. We don’t care who scores. That’s what we have to do.” It’s been something the Pelicans have been touting all season long, but haven’t been able to do in consecutive games until this streak.

Which leads to the tell-tale stat: Percent of Field Goals Made Assisted (Or in not-robot talk, how many of the shots the Pelicans have made via an assist.) Before these past seven games, 54.8% of their made field goals came via an assist. That was good for 26th in the league. That number has skyrocketed up to 61.2% for the streak, a number good for 10th in the league. This is clearly shown in the 3-pointers made stat, where the Pelicans went from 84.8% of their makes being assisted, to 95.7% (good for third in the league.) The Pelicans are passing more, and making the game easier for each other as if they were the other bird team.

While seven games definitely falls under the “small sample size” doctrine, the splits on wins and losses has been there all-season. The Pelicans assist on their made field goals only 52.7% of the time in their losses this year. In their wins, that number jumps to 57.9%.

Evans as the Point Man

Now, the Pelicans are zipping the ball around like some of the best offenses in the league. And it starts, with Tyreke Evans’ newfound role as the starting point guard. In four of the last five games, Evans has tied a season-high with 12 assists. The team has won all four of those games (and lost the only one he didn’t have 12 assists in.)  Evans has been a huge barometer for the Pelicans’ since he has arrived. I wrote about his win/loss splits for NOLA Defender last year, and this year hasn’t been any different. That split includes assists, with Evans averaging 7 assists per game in wins, and 4.5 assists per game in losses.  Over the last seven games, he is averaging 8.9 assists per game.

But what has been fascinating, is watching how he has excelled at the point guard position over the last seven games. After the Los Angeles Clippers game, Evans told ESPN that “I knew DeAndre Jordan wanted to block shots tonight so I just wanted to probe, get in the paint, look for Ryan (Anderson), Eric (Gordon), Dante (Cunningham). They did a good job of spacing and knocking down shots.”

And it shows statistically. As per NBA.com, Ryan Anderson, Dante Cunningham, Davis, and Eric Gordon are all averaging over a field goal a game that is being assisted by Evans over this seven game stretch. Gordon is playing so well off Evans, that he is making a couple of three-pointers a game off of Evans’ passes (and is shooting a lightning 73.7% from beyond the arc off of Evans passes.)

Holiday In?

So the question is “Why now?” especially with their starting point guard out during this seven game stretch. It isn’t like Holiday is a selfish player, according to NBA.com he averages more passes than any player on the team. Our own Michael Pellissier noted yesterday that the Pelicans were 12-5 at home with Holiday in the starting lineup. No small feat.

But there is data out there that makes you wonder if arguably the second and third best player on the team (Evans and Holiday, no matter what order you want to put it) don’t play well together. While the five-man lineup of Holiday-Gordon-Evans-Davis-Asik has a Net Rating of 12.7, Evans and Holiday don’t seem to always be on the same page. When you put Cunningham in for Holiday, and slide Evans to the point, that lineup has a net rating of 16.8 (though it is in 38 fewer minutes.)  According to NBA.com, while Holiday passes to Evans more than anyone else on the team, we only see one assist per game come from it (and Evans’ field goal percentage is unaffected by receiving passes from Holiday.) The same can be said the other way around, where Evans is only averaging half an assist a game when passing to Holiday. Holiday is also only shooting 32.4% from beyond the arc after receiving a pass from Evans, a problematic number when compared to how Gordon has been shooting off of Evans’ passes of late. The two of them too often look like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James circa 2010-11, taking turns attacking while the other watches. And it leads to a stagnant offense which this team can’t always recover from.

All of this isn’t to say that Holiday and Evans aren’t compatible. In the end, Holiday hasn’t even played a full season’s worth of games with the Pelicans yet. But if Evans continues to play so well as a point guard, and in particular with Gordon next to him, the Pelicans may need to find ways to play those two next to each other more. Either way, the Pelicans now know what ball movement does for their offense, and they must continue to share the ball, if they want this streak to continue, and to make a serious push for the playoffs in the Western Conference.

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