Eight games are complete and the New Orleans Pelicans are 1-7, three games back of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference. There are plenty of reasons for a slow start. The most difficult schedule in the league and an unprecedented tsunami of injuries are easily identified culprits. This season the Pelicans will play just five games against teams who won 60+ games last year, comprising a paltry 6% of the total schedule. Right now those games account for 50% of the Pelicans' record.
Despite that slow start there are a number of positives to build upon for the Pelicans, especially on offense. Alvin Gentry's system of space and pace has been implemented with some difficulty thus far. Much of the problems surrounding the offense appear to be personnel, and therefore injury, based. Opponents are not inclined to respect the shooting threat of Ish Smith handling the ball, creating easy double team options and cramping space on the court. While Tyreke Evans is no knockdown shooter himself NBA teams are much less likely to let him get a head of steam by hanging back so conservatively.
All those weaknesses should mean the Pelicans would struggle to create high quality shots. So far that has not come to pass. New Orleans leads the NBA in catch and shoot three point attempts per game, at 20.8. 77.2% of Pelican catch and shoot attempts are from behind the arc this season, a substantial increase from 62.8% last season. Good Pelican threats are the ones shooting these shots as well. Eric Gordon (49), Ryan Anderson (38), and Luke Babbitt (22) account for 65.7% of those attempts.
Some have wondered if Gordon's torrid shooting last season was a mirage. After all, he is shooting a paltry 32.7% on catch and shoot threes this season. Last season he shot an impressive 48.4% on 252 attempts. The year before he was only slightly worse, knocking down 45.2% on 177 attempts. Remember that this time last year Gordon was struggling too, making just 3 of 21 attempts before a torn labrum put him on the shelf for 20 games.
It is not enough to demonstrate that the Pelicans are taking more catch and shoot attempts behind the arc, which are more easily made than pull ups off the dribble. The final component is the openness of these shots. Of 199 three point attempts 89.4% are considered open, with a defender at least four feet away. 101 of those shots, over half, are wide open and launched with a defender at least six feet away. That's acres of space in the league. Last year just 44.7% of Pelican three point attempts were considered wide open.
To review the Pelicans are taking more catch and shoot threes, the right people are taking those shots, and the defense is much further away on such attempts. That's good offense, any way you slice it. Time is on Alvin Gentry's side. The ball will start finding the bottom of the net soon enough.