[Here's Part 1 of Nico's excellent preview for the summer as we head into the offseason. Check back for Part 2 tomorrow, and Part 3 on Thursday. -R]
What do the Pelicans need this summer in order to improve on their abysmal season?
Breaking Down what's Wrong
The first thing the team needs to do in order to get back into playoff contention is identify its primary weaknesses. That discussion begins with the roster. We welcome back an old friend to the discussion, the Four Factors!
|2012-13||Points Per 100||eFG%||TOV%||ORB%||FTM/FGA|
With that out of the way, I think it's pretty obvious which area of the floor the Hornets were weak - the defensive side. This isn't surprising by any stretch. When your top 3 minute getters are Vasquez (a super slow guard), Anderson (not really a gamechanger on defense) and Robin Lopez (a super slow big), I think a very awful defensive outing is to be expected. Teams continuously punished New Orleans on the pick-and-roll. This is where I think the Hornets can make the most immediate impact. With Vasquez and Lopez both defending for the Hornets in the most used play type in the NBA (the ball screen action), the Hornets had no choice but to compromise other parts of their game just to keep pace.
According to HoopData, the Hornets allowed the 7th highest eFG% from 3PT range at 55.9% with 26.6% of our opponents' shots coming from that area. That's just unacceptable. That's probably one of the biggest reasons why the team's FG allowed is so high.
Another issue is the Hornets didn't force a lot of turnovers. Is this a bad thing? Maybe. Turnover Percentage is the 2nd most important defensive factor after shooting so the fact that we rank 25th there probably contributes to our awful defensive rating. But does this mean the team's doomed if they can't force a lot of turnovers? Not necessarily.
If you looked at the past five seasons there were instances where a good defensive team ranks among the league's worst at forcing turnovers (i.e. below average). Here's a list of teams:
2012/13 - Indiana, Chicago, Oklahoma and Golden State
2011/12 - Chicago, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Oklahoma, Orlando, Los Angeles, Toronto
2010/11 - Miami, Los Angeles, Dallas, San Antonio, Indiana, Atlanta, Oklahoma
2009/10 - Orlando, Los Angeles, Cleveland, San Antonio, Chicago, Atlanta
2008/09 - Orlando, Houston, San Antonio, New Orleans, Atlanta, Portland, Detroit
In fact, most of the teams that appear here are usually found under a few classifications: They are a good defensive rebounding team, they have snail like paces and they force a lot of misses. With the exception of a few teams, this has been the general mantra for these teams -
We will not allow the other team to have a lot of chances to score on us by limiting the total number of times they can actually score on us.
Slower Pace = Fewer Possessions = Fewer Scoring Chances
Better Defensive Rebounding Rate = Fewer Second Second Chances = Fewer Scoring Chances
Those are the principles that most of these teams follow and I think that's what Monty Williams is trying to do here as well. This type of defense is most often characterized with "grinding" a game out similar to how Memphis has done it in the past few years (only they were able to generate a lot of steals thanks to Mike Conley and Tony Allen).
Is this something (i.e. the Memphis Grizzlies) that the Pelicans can imitate? Yes, probably. I think Monty's goal (in terms of defensive philosophy) is limit scoring possessions by slowing the pace down (which is sometimes called the Fifth Factor) and limiting scoring chances via defensive rebounding. Anything else that comes out of that (whether we allow a lot of free throws or not or force a lot of turnovers or not or whether we force a lot of misses) is not as important as those two things.
The Pelicans currently have one of those things down pat -- defensive rebounding (for now). Anthony Davis is the only sure thing in terms of good defensive rebounders. The two other big reasons why New Orleans is a good defensive rebounding team in terms of raw individual percentages (Greivis Vasquez and Al Farouq Aminu) are in a precarious situation (with their futures unclear).
Defense is more "we" than "me". So it takes a good system in place to construct a good defensive team. Having theoretically good defenders (long, quick, agile, smart) doesn't cut it (or it's harder to achieve). We can all agree that the Hornets players weren't really that smart in terms of "defensive responsibility". This necessitated Monty Williams simplifying his philosophy to "protect the paint at all costs" instead of "protect the paint intelligently".
If the Pelicans can somehow push their defense next season into average while maintaining the same offense they displayed this season, they'll be in contention for a playoff spot sooner rather than later.