The basketball gods are a cruel and vile bunch sometimes. Whenever basketball fans say a team "has to" win a game against opponent x, y or z, because a specific player is out or the game is the later half of a back-to-back or they have momentum, I cringe. Basketball is an extremely fickle sport -- the good shot can rattle out or the desperation heave may still find the net. The process can be disrupted for 48 minutes, regardless of rhyme or reason.
Several nights ago, the Pelicans missed three of four WIDE OPEN three point shots (two by Gordon, one by Anderson, one by Holiday) in the final six minutes. Meanwhile, Klay Thompson buried a well-defended corner three within the same time period. The Pelicans played poorly for 30 minutes but still found themselves with a realistic opportunity for victory in the waning 23 seconds of the game.
This is not where I talk about moral victories in losses, rather more a stream of thought ramble on the foundations of good basketball. Too often, the winning shot is celebrated when the execution is horrendous. For examples, see nearly every winning shot attempt by Carmelo Anthony or Rudy Gay. A good shot does not always go in and a bad shot does not always miss.
The Pelicans, much maligned (and rightly so) for terrible basketball, executed to near perfection, the final six minutes. Two egregious errors stand out: the backdoor inbound layup and the failed home run pass by Tyreke. Only one of those (the layup) was a serious error in execution, as the home run attempt is excusable due to Anthony Davis being amazing.
The rest of it was beautiful. An AD lob, a pocket pass from Tyreke, and a thunderous follow tip dunk from Davis serve as the highlights. But a critical stop by Anderson on Jermaine O'Neal, a forced turnover by the Unibrow thirty-five feet from the basket, and those four WIDE OPEN three point attempts, should not go unnoticed. The quality of the possession isn't always about the ball going through the hoop, rather the series of moves and counters lending to the higher probability of success. For a team that is young, growing and still has so much to learn, the attempts can be more important than the results.
As I stated in the Game Thread, there is a lot in this game to be frustrated about. The rotation, bringing in Roberts instead of Rivers, the pace of the second unit, Anthony Davis sitting so much in the first half, and the continuing love affair with 18-20 foot jump shots, should all be vehemently derided. But the last six minutes was close to a work of art -- offering a glimpse of the future -- with a promise of shorter rotations and more "Finishing Five" lineups in crunch-time minutes.
Attempting to ascertain why the Pelicans have been so terribly forsaken by the basketball gods is a simple exercise. There is a price to be paid for living by the mid range jump shot. Prior to the debacle in San Antonio, the starting five had performed admirably from a statistical standpoint. A great deal of that success was built in the sand of the mid range jump shot; not the rock of layups, free throws, and three point shots. When the gods ask for their sacrifice, woe to the team who builds on the long two. For their cold streaks will be frigid and no lead shall be safe.
Conversion to the religion of these gods is a bitter, painful struggle. The long two with 15 seconds on the shot clock after a solitary pass must be stricken from thy playbook. Mere lip service in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter is disrespectful to the faith. Your three point shots will falter and your layups rattle free. The clarion call of the official's whistle will not sound for thee.
Do not give in to despair, young Pelicans. Look to the King for your guidance. Remember his critics who would lament the pass to Donyell Marshall. Observe the evolution of his shot selection. Revel in his superior efficiency. Know in your heart that the righteous shot is ultimately rewarded. Allow the ball to find the optimum shot, rather than toil searching for thy own. Seek to bedevil the opponent with spacing and passing, rather than bedazzle the cameras with highlights. The wings of the angel Unibrow shall provide the masses their highlights.
Above all, cast down your false idols. The eighteen foot jump shot is so tempting because the opponent desires you to shoot it. "You're open for a reason" should be your mantra. Are you open because the offense has contorted the defense, or because the opponent is testing your faith? Believe in the extra pass, the expected points-per-shot, and the process to fulfillment. Wander not from the chosen path and you shall be rewarded!
It is no coincidence that a team named after the Pelican, whose religious undercurrent graces this state's flag, would be required to endure such a trial of faith. The frequency of inefficient long twos has increased this season, from 26.16% to a currently abominable 31.10%. More concerning is this increase has resulted in a decrease of above the break 3's, from 18.09% to 12.04%.
The biggest culprit? Well, Jason Smith's minutes have increased from 17.3 MPG to 26.9 MPG. And with it, we've had to bear witness to an astonishing 79.07% (102/129) of his attempts from mid range. A season ago, the percentage was a more reasonable (although still quite high) 59.82%.
For a point of reference, noted mid range aficionado Jrue Holiday only attempts 33.86% of his shots between the paint and the three point line. Indeed mid range jump shots have decreased from last season to this season as a percentage of all attempts for Holiday (34.32% vs. 33.86%), Gordon (22.26% vs. 15.47%), Evans (16.73% vs. 15.82%), and Davis (32.25% vs. 31.66%). While Anderson's mid range frequency has increased (21.35% vs. 32.84%), his limited number of total attempts due to injury limits his impact on the entire season to this point. Jason Smith has attempted more mid range jump shots (102) than Anderson has attempted SHOTS (67) in this short season.
For more analysis and thought processing, I direct everyone to Michael Pellissier's excellent column yesterday regarding whether Ryan Anderson should be starting. Yes, there are concerns with starting Anthony Davis at center regularly (ie. the beating his body will take), but at least it would lead me to write on another topic, say why Davis sagging off pick and rolls to defend the rim is ultimately the defensive tactic best suited to this roster.
In summation, I implore Jason Smith to consider, more thoroughly, an additional pass on the pick and pop. Rotate the ball to Eric Gordon on the weak side and follow the ball to create a side pick and pop option for EJ to attack the middle of the floor while spacing into the corner. And try taking a step or two further back.