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About Last Night: Advanced Stats from Pelicans-Kings

Are the Pelicans flawed? Or is this just basketball?

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Basketball is a finicky game. Sometimes a team is "outworked" and the opposition appears to get every loose ball. We as fans see this and want to apply some meaning to the random bouncing of a ball. The other team "wanted" it more, which somehow bent those random bounces their way.

Other times one team or player will make a number of relatively open shots. Is it because that player is "clutch" or locked in? How about over the course of thousands of shots that player is going to make 45% of those long twos and statistically it is possible that there may occur a streak of five or six in a row? That's not a fun analysis. Not in this era of #Takes where an overarching narrative must be written midstream despite not actually having any idea about the ending.

Today I hope to cut the #Takes out of it and look at what really happened last night. Join me.

Make Shots

One of the most tired phrases in basketball is "it is a make or miss league". This, while being a constant reality in the NBA, is not going to help sportswriters craft those narratives that sell. Tropes like that surely fail to fill the airtime reserved for First Take over at ESPN. Resorting to Occam's razor is boring. Even if it is right.

Last night the Pelicans failed to make open shots. They lost because of this failure. New Orleans shot 3-17 behind the arc last night. 11 of those shots were open (a defender not within four feet) and five of those shots were wide open (a defender not within six feet). Just as a 45% shooter might make four or six shots in a row that same shooter may miss four or six in a row.

New Orleans FGM FGA
Twos - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 26 49
Twos - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 4 13
Threes - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 0 1
Threes - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 3 16

Jrue Holiday went 0-3 on open threes last night. Austin Rivers, Jimmer Fredette, Luke Babbitt, and Darius Miller combined to go 0-4 on open threes. Ryan Anderson went 3-7 and every single attempt featured at least five feet of space, acres in the NBA. While New Orleans does run an offense that is not particular pleasing to the blogosphere's eye that offense still creates open catch and shoot threes. Those shots, of course, are the preferred attempts of any analyst.

The Pelicans turned 16 open threes into just nine points. On the season New Orleans has created 228 open threes, 46 more than allowed to opponents. 82 of those open threes have gone in. If the Pelicans simply converted at their season average (~36%) you can put six or nine more points on the board. In a game ultimately decided by 10 points that matters.

Sacramento FGM FGA
Twos - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 25 44
Twos - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 7 19
Threes - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 0 3
Threes - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 5 11

Sacramento, on the other hand, made shots. On the season the Kings are 57-174 (32.8%) behind the arc on open shots; they average 12.4 open threes a game. New Orleans held Sacramento BELOW their average of open shots and yet were burned. That happens, but it is not a failure of design or process, simply of execution by the Kings.

On the season the Kings create open shots on 38.6% of their attempts (427/1105). Last night 38.9% (30/77) of Sacramento shots were open. Considering, for a moment, that Sacramento has had one of the most difficult schedules in the entire league (2nd according to Basketball Reference) the Pelican defense held up remarkably well last night. The Kings are a good basketball team and on a night when the Pelicans could not make open shots Sacramento pulled out the win. The credit goes to the Kings.

Other Stats of Note

New Orleans outscored Sacramento 54-44 in the paint. As you can see in the below shot charts New Orleans shot more often within eight feet (45 vs 40) and at a higher percentage (57.8% vs 55.0%). The Pelicans also attempted more open threes (referenced above - 16 vs 11) and shot more free throws (29 vs 24). Omer Asik and company won the battle on the defensive (78.8% vs 68.9%)  and offensive (31.1% vs 21.2%) glass.

Pelicans Shot Chart

Pels SC

Kings Shot Chart

New Orleans has the next two days off before traveling to Atlanta. The Pelicans will be on a quick road trip playing the Hawks (Friday) and Wizards (Saturday). The schedule does not let up any time soon. Through the New Year they play just six games against the (L)Eastern Conference. Four of those are on the road. If New Orleans can make it to 2015 around .500 and healthy the schedule eases up considerably. Between now and then prepare for a bumpy ride. Just don't panic.

Stats from NBA Stats, NBA Savant, and Basketball Reference