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Digging into the Stat Sheet

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A look at some of the numbers that don’t show up in the box score.

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Statistics in sports range from simple to convoluted, especially in this over analytical post-Moneyball era we live in now. Every sport now has people delving so far into the finest of fine points, that there are stats so obscure that they’d make the eyes of any hardcore fan glaze over.

The most important number right now for the Pelicans is three. As in three wins. And thanks to sites like stats.nba.com, we can see what is and isn’t working for New Orleans as they prepare to take on the rest of the league.

Fair warning, some of these statistics range from complex to downright obscure. Be prepared to have your head be like Flo-rida and spin right round.

The "D" Stands for Defense

Last year the Pelicans stunk on defense. Their 110.1 defensive rating was 27th in the league and that was with Anthony Davis leading the league in blocked shots. To help aid these issues, Dell Demps traded for Omer Asik. The thought was that Asik, already one of the better defensive centers in the league, would pair with Davis to make one of the best two man tandems since J and K in Men in Black.

So far, the thinking has proven to be correct, at least on the surface. Through their first four games (*Note- at the time of writing this, stats.nba.com only had stats through the Pelicans’ first four games of this season), the Pelicans have blocked a total of 30 shots (the fourth most in the NBA) and are averaging 7.5 a game (third most). Davis trails only Roy Hibbert in blocks per game with four per game, and Asik’s one a game is 16th overall.

Right now, there’s a pretty wizard block party going on in New Orleans. But those blocked shot numbers don’t quite mask all of New Orleans’ struggles defensively: the Pelicans are allowing opponents to attempt the second most shots at the rim (27.8 shots per game). Now, unfortunately, our block party has gone from totally wizard to fun, like if the only drinks available were water and milk. Luckily for the Pelicans, the presence of Asik and Davis means opponents are only shooting 53.3 percent at the rim. I use "only" loosely because that’s the 12th worst percentage allowed in the league.

Allowing almost 28 shots at the rim means that the Pelicans perimeter defense is getting burned consistently. How you fix that, I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s a defensive scheme thing, a playing the wrong guys thing, but either way, the Pelicans can’t hope to make the playoffs if their defensive strategy is "try and stay in front of them and if not hope AD or Asik blocks their shot."

Stolen, Not Stirred

What’s up with that title? Am I already out of creative ideas two pieces in? Damn.

Anyway, the Pelicans are tied with the Hornets (God that’s going to be weird for a looooong time) in steals per game with an even seven a contest. That’s middle of the road territory league ranking wise. Know who’s tied for the league lead in steals a game? Philly and Milwaukee! I know right? The Bucks and Sixers through their first five games are averaging 10.4 steals a game. Wanna know who’s fourth and sixth in the league in blocks per game? That’s right the 76ers (7.2 per) and the Bucks (6.4 per)! Sports are weird.

How We Doin’?

Before we get to the point, my friend needs to ask you something.

Obviously it’s still early, but through five games the Pelicans at least appear to be an improved team defensively. Defensive rating wise, the Pelicans’ 101.9 is good for seventh in the league through five games. I don’t know if we should be at this point emotionally just yet, but it's okay to feel optimistic going forward right? Asik’s addition alone makes this team infinitely better defensively and Davis is only getting better with time.

Perimeter defense is going to be the area to watch going forward. Right now Holiday is the only guy most people trust to stay in front of his man. If someone else can emerge defending the twos and threes of the league, the Pelicans should be a pretty decent team defensively.

And if not, who cares Davis will probably go all Mr. Fantastic and block those shots anyway.

Shooting Blanks

Now we reach the portion of the program where things go from good to bad. That’s right, we’re about to talk about the Pelicans’ offensive offense. If you want to stop reading and not be sad, stop here. But if you want to see just how bad the Pelicans have been to start 2014-15, you can but you can’t turn back. I think Dungeons and Dragons has something like this. And if not, please feel free to call me a dork for not knowing. Anyway, if you’re ready, let’s go ahead and see how NSFW New Orleans has been to start off the season.

Here’s your typical shooting statistics and how New Orleans has fared:

Category

Percentage

Rank

Field Goal

42.1 Percent

27th

Three Point Field Goal

28. 3 Percent

29th

Free Throw

71.1 Percent

26th

And here’s a more in-depth breakdown of how New Orleans is doing on different types of shots:

Category

Percentage

Rank

Catch and Shoot FG

33 Percent

26th

Catch and Shoot 3FG

28.1 Percent

28th

Catch and Shoot eFG*

41.8 Percent

27th

Drives

45.6 Percent

12th

Pull Up Shot FG

30.1 Percent

27th

Pull Up Shot 3FG

21.1 Percent

24th

Pull Up Shot eFG

32.9 Percent

28th

(*Note- for anyone that isn’t familiar, eFG is Effective Field Goal percent. It’s basically a weighted shooting percentage factoring in that a three point shot is more than a two pointer)

Yeesh…told you it wasn’t good. Remember that King of the Hill episode where Hank and his friends take Bobby to the Big 12 Title Game (RIP Big 12 Title Game) to see Texas play Nebraska because Bobby started to like football? And Texas, to Hank’s dismay, couldn’t do any of the fundamentals of football ("They can’t even punt!!!")? That’s kinda how the Pelicans are right now. If it involves anything offensively, the Pelicans don’t do it well. At all. But hey, know who’s last in Pull-Up Effectiveness percentage? That’s right, the Spurs! Yeah suck it nerds!

But seriously, look at those numbers and try and not get indigestion. Everything’s awful aside from free throw percentage, and they’re middle of the pack on that one. The Pelicans shoot threes like Michael Scott -- Gordon, Holiday and Anderson are all shooting 32 percent or worse from behind the arc. Jimmer Fredette, supposedly brought in to add some outside shooting, has yet to make a three point shot. Granted he’s only taken four threes all year. Still. Tyreke Evans has been the only guy you think won’t accidentally knock out a concession vendor with his three point shot, and is currently shooting 47.4 percent (9 for 19).

Just Keep Shooting

The only plausible solution to the Pelicans woes is, well…make baskets. I’m chalking up the first few games as nothing more than a cold start because remember last season the Holiday-Gordon-Evans-Anderson-Davis quintet was an awesome effective bunch.

Two of those five are just now getting back from season ending injuries, Davis, by adding Asik, is now getting to play the majority of his minutes in his natural position and Eric Gordon cannot be this bad from here on out. He just can’t. I know several of the guys here have done a terrific job covering just about every angle on Gordon’s awful start to the season, but I like to believe that Gordon will come around. And this is coming from a guy who’s pretty sick of No. 10 already. If he needs to come off the bench and have the pressure eased off him so be it, Austin Rivers is playing well enough to vulture some minutes from him anyway, but they have to get this guy right one way or another.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Not that it should be a surprise, but the Pelicans are one of the top rebounding teams in the NBA. Their 47.0 rebounds a game is good for third overall in the league and is .4 behind Sacramento for first. Even more encouraging is that New Orleans is also third in the league in contested rebounds a game (17.6) and ninth in contested rebounding percentage (37.4 percent). Simply put, when the ball’s up for grabs, New Orleans is doing an exceptional job coming away with it. Davis leads all players in the league in rebounding right now with 12.8 boards a game and Asik isn't hurting anyone chipping in 10.4 a night. The two are gobbling up boards as if they’re Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi and they have to rid the planet of some excessive hot dog epidemic.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Pelicans are average at best in terms of ball movement. As a team they’re averaging slightly over 21 assists a night, which is 14th in the league. Some of that, one would expect, probably has to do with the poor shooting numbers the Pelicans have put up so far. The silver lining is that the Pelicans are not that far off the pace set by the rest of the league. Milwaukee’s a top-10 team in assists and they only average 22.4 a night. Boston’s leading the league with an even 25 per game. New Orleans should improve with better shooting percentages and a hopeful return to All-Star form by Jrue Holiday. Holiday, by the way, is tied for ninth with Step Curry in assists a game with 7.2.

Where are We Headed?

Things look promising for the Pelicans in the early goings. Asik’s addition is paying dividends defensively and has only made the Pelicans even better in terms of rebounding. Holiday is playing like the top-10 point guard we were hoping we’d get when he came over from Philadelphia and, more importantly, seems to be back to near full health after a fractured tibia.

The biggest questions New Orleans needs to address going forward is whether they can escape this shooting funk and if they can improve their perimeter defense. If so, who knows, maybe we really can make the playoffs. Stay tuned -- 77 games remain.