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Another Look at the Transition Game

Analysis can be incomplete when given limited or even the wrong data.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Just over a month ago, I took a look at the Pelicans transition abilities on both sides of the ball. In essence, the offense was seemingly failing to take advantage of their opportunities while the defense was surprisingly inept at preventing fast break points on the other end. Thanks to Synergy Sports, this confusing picture has become a whole lot clearer.


It's true the Pelicans don't look to run very much after turnovers, long rebounds and among other possibilities. And when they do attempt to push the issue, their conversion rates are less than ideal. According to the Synergy website, the Pelicans are below average in transition, scoring 1.051 PPP, which is good for 23rd in the league. This is troubling because the team doesn't normally look to run; New Orleans ranks 18th in transition attempts a game -- about 7 times slower than the league leading Golden State Warriors.

Things become even more perplexing when we take into account the Pelicans ranked 9th last year and 3rd the year before in transition efficiency. For a team that has never looked to really push the issue, but were at least once proficient, why have fast breaks become so problematic?

Player 2014-15 Transition Percentile % Player Involved 2013-14 Transition Percentile % Player Involved 2012-13 Transition Percentile % Player Involved
Tyreke Evans 20% 33.9% 54% 21.7% 58% (as King) 18.2%
Eric Gordon 23% 7.7% 73% 18.3% 90% 14.8%
Jrue Holiday 32% 10.7% 13% 5.7% 30% (as 76er) 17.9%

All three of the team's main ball handlers are below average in transition points per possession. For the first time in their careers, Evans and Gordon have fallen under their typical threshold of 'average' or higher. This is especially disturbing considering Evans appears to have taken on a larger burden in 2014-15.

Player 2014-15 Transition Poss/Game Turnover % FG% 2013-14 Transition Poss/Game Turnover % FG%
Tyreke Evans 4.7 18.4% 52.0% 3.6 9.8% 56.3%
Eric Gordon 1.9 10.4% 40.5% 3.4 9.8% 57.1%
Jrue Holiday 1.9 19.4% 51.0% 2.0 20.9% 47.9%

Well, well, well. Gordon is struggling at converting so perhaps it's a good thing his attempts have dropped percipitously from a season ago. On the other hand, Evan's attempts have increased and appear to at least partially come at a cost in turnovers, close to doubling from the previous season.

Case in point, we only need to look at last night's game. With 2:02 remaining in the game, Evans comes up with a steal.

With four Nuggets behind him, Evans should have dribbled up the floor himself for a classic 2 on 1 break and attacked Wilson Chandler on his current path with Cunningham streaking down the other wing. Instead, he started the fast break by passing ahead to Dante Cunningham, a player not used to making decisions in the open floor.

Not surprisingly, Cunningham ended up leading Evans just a little too much, to the point where a tired and physically ill Evans bobbled the catch.

Hence, a poorly timed turnover. The referee's next took time to look at an earlier Afflalo shot, determined it was a three, and immediately thereafter, Ty Lawson scored on a lay-up. Rather than the lead being cut to two, it balloons to six -- game over.

Supreme defense

As chilling as it is to watch the offense operate in transition, the defense has been sublime. This is contrary to what I wrote last month:

Similar to the offense not taking advantage of their opportunities, the transition defense leaves a lot to be desired. The Pelicans give up the 10th most fast break points with 13.9. They have the third worst efficiency too with only the Mavericks and Lakers doing a worse job defending opponent transition breaks.

This is troubling and puzzling at the same time. The Pelicans are among the league leaders in turnovers per game, 4th to be exact. They give up the 4th fewest steals to the opponents. Granted they are getting their shots blocked at a rather high clip, but with the speed of most of the lineup, this shouldn't be a big detriment. When a shot is blocked, it is usually near the rim, and thus it's merely a foot race back down to the other end of the floor.

The reason I was puzzled? The data over at Team Rankings is antithetical to Synergy Sports. TR currently lists the Pelicans opponent fast break efficiency as the 24th worst, while Synergy Sports ranks our team's transition defense as the 2nd best in the NBA, allowing a meager 1.01 PPP. (I'm not sure why there exists such a wide disparity considering every other team in the bottom tier of Team Rankings list coincides with the Synergy Sports data.)

In the last couple of seasons, the transition defense has been bad and none worst than just last year where the team came in dead last, giving up 1.24 points per possessions. However, that's a thing of the past. The 2014-15 Pelicans are excellent at stopping opponent's in transition. Last night, the Denver Nuggets, the 8th highest scoring team in transition finished with a mere 6 points in that category.

Tweaking the Identity

Taking everything into consideration now, I can't advocate that the team currently look to run whenever possible. Our ball handlers have been just too pitiful in this department. Transition has always been a weakness of Jrue Holiday. And this season Tyreke Evans is turning it over at an unacceptable level while Eric Gordon has had trouble finding the bottom of the net.

If one of the ball handlers has an obvious break, and they've got a good finisher or two athletes alongside of them, then by all means, please press the issue. Otherwise, just consider running some offense ... until at least Evans or Gordon can cure whatever has been ailing them.