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2014 Preseason: Early Trends

We've only got 4 exhibition games in the books, the majority of which haven't been televised, but a few interesting patterns have begun to emerge.

Richard Dole-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, the Pelicans posted a glorious 7-1 record...that ended up not amounting to anything. We'll never know whether the startling amount of injuries snatched away a much more promising campaign. However, a number of statistics did end up serving as wonderful indicators for the regular season. Where available, the numbers in the parentheses below are the NBA ranks.

2013-14 Pelicans Preseason 51.6% 26.5 16.8 25.9 (24) 26.1 20.0 50.0%
2013-14 Pelicans Regular Season 49.5% (17) 23.6 (13) 15.9 (29) 22.6 (27) 26.5 (29) 22.3 (20) 51.5% (25)

In layman's terms, the Pelicans avoided the three point shot like the plague, but they did an average to an above-average job nearly everywhere else on offense. Defensively, though, they were bad across the board. They fouled at an abysmal rate, allowed too many free throws, yet still managed to give up a large amount of three point attempts.

Through four games this preseason:

2014-15 Pelicans Preseason 49.4% 26.2 27.3 25.3 (18) 28.5 16.5 47.4%

The Good

The first thing that should jump out at you should be the three point shooting. Last season, the Pelicans rarely incorporated the long bomb, as evidenced by a pathetic 19.3% three point rate. Through the four exhibitions, that rate stands at 34.8%. For comparison's sake, the Houston Rockets led the league last season at 32.6%. And to top it off, more has not been less with the team converting all those looks at a 39.4% clip.

Apparently with a new focus on offense, it is equally good news they haven't shied away from contact. They are still averaging an impressive amount of free throws a game. It's great to see that if you're not cashing in easy looks around the rim, the offense next seeks attempts from the charity stripe and the three point line.

Not only have the Pelicans made a concerted effort shooting from beyond the arc, they've done nearly as well limiting opponent's from the same area, allowing a three point rate of only 21.7%. Last season, opponents took 27.8% (23rd) of their field goal attempts from three. The 21.7% figure is even more extraordinary considering 3 of their 4 opponents ranked in the top six in three point rate last season (HOU, ATL, MIA).

Best of all, not only are the Pelicans chasing the opposition off the the three point line, they're also making life difficult on opponent shooting in general. In 2013-14, the Pelican's defense gave up an eFG% of 51.5, good for sixth worst in the league. This preseason that figure stands at 47.4%. Last season, that figure would have ranked third best in the NBA.

The Bad

For all the good, the Pelicans haven't been without their faults too the last few weeks. The Pelicans are still fouling at a prolific rate and consequently allowing too many free throw attempts. Even though the team is getting in better positions defensively -- word is Monty will have the team's bigs hedge less on PnR's -- the personal fouls need to come down. It is unclear how many minutes Ryan Anderson will be able to handle early in the season, and without the emergence of a legitimate 4th big thus far, Omer Asik and Anthony Davis will be counted on a daily basis.

The addition of Asik hasn't helped the rebounding differential yet -- the Pelicans have out-rebounded only one of their four opponents (HOU). Their preseason total rebound rate currently stands at 49.7%. Last season, that figure was at 49.5%, placing the team 21st in the association. The loss of Al-Farouq Aminu's proficiency on the glass hurts so the rest of the team needs to step up in his absence. I expect Tyreke Evans return to the lineup to assist the TRB%, but if Monty decides to bring him off the bench, let's hope Luke Babbitt gets a longer look at the starting SF spot.

With only a single televised Pelicans game so far (and I missed it), it's difficult to get a read on ball movement. However, between social media and the team's paltry assist average of 18.25 (3rd worst in preseason), it isn't irresponsible to assume it's not good. Last year, we remarked repeatedly the glaring lack of secondary assists among the entire squad.

Small Sample Conclusion

Within a span of 240 minutes, the Pelicans shot selection has shown improvement and their defense is showing signs of more stops. In 2013-14, #FullSquadron already showed playoff potential and these very early improvements seem to have the team on an even clearer postseason path. However, they are far from perfect as a number of holes still need plugging. It will be definitely be worth watching how the remaining three preseason games play out.