Examining Lineup Data – Get Well Soon, Q-Pon

Published: December 9, 2015

With the return of Tyreke Evans and Norris Cole last week, the Pelicans inched ever so close to the roster that the team envisioned before the season; unfortunately, results since their return have been less than ideal. Though the team put together an impressive overtime victory over the Cavaliers, New Orleans has also dropped games to the Grizzlies, Rockets, and Celtics, two of those three at home. There are lots of issues remaining for this Pelicans team to figure out surrounding rotations and the systems being implemented by the new coaching staff, but there could be a much easier way to at least get them moving in the right direction. Don’t be surprised if a healthy (and that part is key, given the nature of knee injuries) Quincy Pondexter’s eventual return is far more impactful for New Orleans than his raw box score contributions may indicate.

The Last Missing Piece

While Pondexter is certainly a talented and versatile player, the value added to the Pelicans by a healthy Q-Pon is arguably as much about who he is replacing as it is about how good he is himself. At present, Q-Pon is by far the best example the team has of a “3 and D” player. He provides both floor spacing on offense as well as New Orleans’ best shot at slowing down the most talented offensive wing players around the NBA. Currently, the Pels have replaced the bulk of his minutes at the 3 with a combination of Alonzo Gee and Dante Cunningham. Gee has held his own fairly well for the Pelicans on the defensive side of the ball, but offensively, he is a career 32.7% 3-point shooter and simply not a threat to create any sort of offense. As for Cunningham, he is more suited to be a small-ball 4 than a 3, as he simply does not possess the lateral quickness to stay in front of the league’s more agile wings who thrive at dribble penetration. While Pondexter is not elite defensively, he is unquestionably above average, which would be a major upgrade from where the Pels currently stand at his position.

The Lineup Data

Though Pondexter only played with the Pelicans for about three months last season, there is data that demonstrates just how meaningful his return could end up being. The initial motivating factor for this column was to look at lineups with Pondexter, Cunningham, and Davis in order to see if any insight could be gained regarding the potential effectiveness of a small-ball lineup with those players at SF, PF, and C. However, after looking at the data, there is reason for excitement even when the Pelicans run a bit bigger. The tables below are all of the 2014-15 lineups that Pondexter was a part of for the Pelicans that played the given number of minutes and deviated by the noted number of points per 100 possessions from the team’s overall regular season net rating of +0.7 (105.4 ORtg, 104.7 DRtg).

3-Man Lineups (> 100 MIN; NetRtg deviation: +/- 3)

QPon 3-Man Lineups

4-Man Lineups (> 40 MIN; NetRtg Deviation: +/- 5)

QPon 4-Man Lineups

5-Man Lineups (> 15 MIN)

QPon 5-Man Lineups

Key Takeaways

  1. Pondexter helps the Pelicans defensively while not hurting the offense. That sentence might not sound like high praise, but compared to the alternatives, it absolutely is. Quincy isn’t going to create much offense for himself or anyone else, but he cannot be left open from 3-point range, which is more than can be said for the team’s current options at his position. Defensively, he may not be the best athlete, but he’s long, smart, and is a good communicator, which makes both him and the players around him better.
  2. Pondexter and Cunningham make for an excellent defensive pairing. Look at every instance above with both Q-Pon and Dante playing together, and you’ll see a lineup playing at a level defensively that is far better than the team’s season-long defensive rating of 104.7. In fact, out of the Pelicans’ 67 different 2-man lineups with at least 100 minutes played, this pairing (395 minutes) was only trumped in defensive rating by Norris Cole and Omer Asik (175 minutes). The net rating of those two was -0.3, but given where the Pelicans stand on both sides of the ball, improvement on the defensive end is far and away the priority right now. Even if the two don’t start together, they should definitely see significant minutes together.
  3. Holiday and Pondexter have hardly played together. Jrue and Q-Pon played more minutes together last postseason against the Warriors (20) than they have in both last regular season (10) and this one (0) combined. Given the fact that those two are widely considered to be the Pelicans’ two best perimeter defenders, it cannot be overlooked that the defense hasn’t yet been at “full strength.”
  4. Bonus Non-QPon Takeaway: Death to the Anderson/Ajinca front court. It had a net rating of -9.4 in 344 minutes last season and a net rating of -17.8 in 98 minutes this season. It’s just not working, no matter who you put next to them. Don’t do it.

Make no mistake about it – the Pelicans are a very bad defensive team right now, and one player isn’t going to magically fix that. However, Pondexter is the only player on this team who can competently defend opposing wings while not dragging down the offense, and that matters. Assuming he can play at the same level he was performing at last season (which is no sure thing coming off of his knee injury), the Pelicans could be in for a much needed defensive boost as soon as Q-Pon can get back out on the court.


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