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Shooting for Success: Pelicans Early Shot Selection Data

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The Pelicans couldn't hit the water standing on the causeway so far this season. But at least they are aiming from the right place.

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Hello and welcome to another season of "Shooting for Success". When last we got together I wanted to show everyone the new data NBA Stats had rolled out; defender distance. Now instead of relying on the eye test to determine if a player is missing open shots there is actual hard data on just how open players are on each and every shot taken.

Thanks to this new information we can discover if the Pelicans are just missing open shots so far this season and not rely on a finicky eye test filled with preconceived ideas that they played really good defensive teams. For instance, some analyst (and there were many who came to this conclusion) might say that the Memphis Grizzlies really wore down the Pelicans on Tuesday night. One would think with the "Grit and Grind" that Memphis has built their reputation on this meant every shot was well contested.

You would be wrong. (Dear Zach, if you are reading this is not intended as an insult. Merely a disagreement. I will explain below.)

The Pelicans shot poorly on Tuesday, hitting just 33.7% (29/86) of their shots. Let's remove the bias of "this defense is good because history and scoreboard" and see what impartial cameras measuring the exact distance between players when shots are released has to say.

New Orleans FGM FGA eFG%
Twos - Defended (Less than 4 Feet) 20 49 40.82%
Twos - Open (Greater than 4 Feet) 5 13 38.46%
Threes - Defended (Less than 4 Feet) 0 2 0.00%
Threes - Open (Greater than 4 Feet) 4 22 27.27%

The Pelicans shot 4-22 on three pointers without a Grizzly defender within four feet. Even more fun, they shot 0-8 with a defender at least six feet away. (Note, NBA Savant is amazing and has determined I will never sleep again.) Six feet of space is acres in the NBA. The Pelicans had eight catch-and-shoot opportunities without a defender within six feet and turned them into zero total points.

The Grizzlies wanted those players to shoot one could think. Nope.

That's not great defense. That's luck.

Ryan Anderson shot five threes with the closest defender at least six feet away, missing all five. Anderson produced an effective field goal mark of 62.34% last season on such shots. Those five shots over time turn into over nine points. The Pelicans lost by just 12. In the header image with Eric Gordon the closest defender is Mike Conley. Conley is not pictured because he is EIGHT AND A HALF FEET AWAY. There are 14.8 seconds left on the shot clock, this is not a fast break. Luke Babbitt missed a corner three in the third quarter - the closest defender, Marc Gasol, is 17.6 feet away. Gasol might as well not even be on the court.

The Pelicans have played just four games, hoisting 357 field goal attempts. Last season they attempted 6743 shots. Taking the current sample size of shots and making any real statements based on whether they go in or not is pretty foolish. Just like it is absurd to leave Ryan Anderson open for five different WIDE OPEN three point attempts when he plays just 27 minutes. Instead, let's focus on where the Pelicans are shooting and if those shots are open or not.

Shot Selection Making a Difference

Watching any Pelican game this season it jumps out to the viewer how many layups and bunnies are being missed. As a team they are shooting just over 50% in the restricted area. Tyreke Evans (40%) and Eric Gordon (38%) have struggled the most. Remember, with a significantly larger sample size last season Evans converted 53% and Gordon hit 55%. Not world beating numbers, but much better.

What many might not notice is just how often the Pelicans are shooting in the restricted area and how that shot selection compares to previous Pelican teams. With that, I can help.

Team Restricted Area Paint Mid Range Above Break Corner 3 Offensive Rating
NOLA 2014-15 47.62% (1.01) 9.24% (0.85) 21.29% (0.68) 16.25% (0.83) 5.60% (0.60) 100.0 (20th)
NOLA 2013-14 37.88% (1.14) 15.91% (0.76) 26.93% (0.82) 14.36% (1.13) 4.62% (1.14) 104.7 (13th)
NOLA 2012-13 34.50% (1.15) 16.97% (0.77) 26.16% (0.79) 18.09% (1.09) 4.03% (1.15) 102.7 (16th)
NOLA 2011-12 31.61% (1.17) 18.09% (0.83) 35.08% (0.80) 10.95% (0.97) 4.20% (1.11) 98.3 (26th)

Shooting in the restricted area that often is a function of all the missed shots and the Pelicans collecting an absurd 31.1% of available offensive rebounds. That will come down and shots elsewhere are bound to rise. The ball will go through the hoop more. What jumps out to me is the marked decrease in "dumb zone" shots between the restricted area and the three point arc.

Just 30.53% of shots are launched from the Anti-Morey zone in New Orleans thus far; significantly lower than the previous Monty low of 42.84%. This is the continuation of a long trend for Monty Williams, and he should be applauded for continuing to improve the shot selection.

Team "Dumb Zone" Frequency
NOLA 2014-15 30.53%
NOLA 2013-14 42.84%
NOLA 2012-13 43.13%
NOLA 2011-12 53.17%

Also of note the Pelicans are taking more threes and more of those three point attempts are from the corners. Corner threes and shots at the rim are related and a sign of efficient offense. While they are at it Monty's crew is also attempting free throws at the highest rate in his tenure. The green triangle is the ideal area to score the basketball. Where shots come from is going to be less variable than if the ball goes in. New Orleans is picking the right spots; now they must hope for some regression to the mean on results.

Shooting Open Shots Too!

Of course it would be easy to "improve" the shot selection in the eye of an analyst focused solely on if those shots are coming from regardless of the defense. Thankfully that has not been the case for the Pelicans. The below charts, as those from last week, are only on twos attempted 10 or more feet from the basket.

NOLA 2014-15 %FG eFG%
Twos - Defended (Less than 4 Feet) 10.08% 44.44%
Twos - Open (Greater than 4 Feet) 15.97% 33.33%
Threes - Defended (Less than 4 Feet) 2.24% 0.00%
Threes - Open (Greater than 4 Feet) 19.61% 42.86%
NOLA 2013-14 %FG eFG%
Twos - Defended (Less than 4 Feet) 10.72% 39.28%
Twos - Open (Greater than 4 Feet) 26.55% 41.41%
Threes - Defended (Less than 4 Feet) 3.06% 46.60%
Threes - Open (Greater than 4 Feet) 16.21% 57.78%

Not just is New Orleans taking more threes; they are taking more OPEN threes and fewer contested threes. The ball is not going through the hoop. If you think any coach in the NBA is looking at Ryan Anderson's shooting numbers (28.6% behind the arc this year) and telling his defenders to go ahead an sag off of Ryno I have some beachfront property in Covington to sell you.

It would be different if Anderson was missing due to the impact of the defense; that simply is not the case. Anderson has just missed shots. Before anyone launches into the "he lost it because of the neck injury thing"... He demonstrated quite clearly what he is still capable of in the Orlando game, pouring in nine points in 45 seconds.

The Pelicans on this roster can knockdown open shots and three pointers. There are thousands upon thousands of shots as evidence to that fact. Do not get down on shooting percentages over such a small sample size.

Instead celebrate that New Orleans is taking so many more threes and open shots. The ball will start going in soon.

Statistics from NBA Stats and NBA Savant, who makes searching through NBA Stats stuff easier.