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New Orleans Pelicans can shoot their way out of the problems on offense

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Can this team get back on track? Yes. But until Tyreke Evans is back on the floor getting to the basket appears to be a challenge.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Last season over 20% of total New Orleans Pelicans shot attempts came with seven or fewer seconds on the shot clock. These shots, considered late or very late, are routinely inefficient. To wit, the Pelicans posted a 44% eFG% with less than seven seconds on the shot clock and 52% in all other situations. Late shots are bad and this fact is not unique in New Orleans. Seth Partnow showed over at Nylon Calculus that late shots are exceedingly difficult league wide. One shining beacon of good news for Pelican fans is that Anthony Davis and company have drastically cut down on late shots. Shots with less than seven seconds on the shot clock compose just 16% in the young season.

It struck me as I dove into my research just how similar the Pelicans shot selection was last year through just a handful of games to their end of the year data. Through four games last year 19.61% of their shot attempts were considered open 3-pointers. By the end of the season that number crept all the way up to 20.62%. Looking at the information so far this season I see a lot of positives on where the Pelicans are getting their shots and the relative openness of them. 26.44% of all Pelican attempts are 3-pointers with at least four feet of space. Considering the sample size includes 50% of the games coming against the best defense in the NBA last season I find it difficult to call this anything other than a positive.

Open shots are there for the taking

Looking at it from a bigger picture the Pelicans are simply under performing. In each and every category they are shooting worse than they have in the past two seasons on jump shots. Is this the difference between defeating the Warriors and not? I doubt it. But, is it enough to swing the margin against the Orlando Magic on Tuesday night? It shouldn't be a surprise that a team drops what appears to be a winnable game when they shoot 36.7% on uncontested shots while creating an impressive 49 attempts.

2013-14 %FGA 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%
2014-15 %FGA eFG%
Twos - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 9.20% 38.11%
Twos - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 17.82% 41.02%
Threes - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 2.88% 39.03%
Threes - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 20.62% 57.76%
2015-16 %FGA eFG%
Twos - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 11.57% 33.33%
Twos - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 17.08% 40.32%
Threes - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 3.03% 27.27%
Threes - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 26.44% 54.69%

Some might say that the opponents want the Pelicans who are taking these shots to launch away. The problem with that is who has been shooting; the very best Pelicans from behind the arc. Eric Gordon (28), Ryan Anderson (22), Jrue Holiday (10), and Luke Babbitt (8) combine for 70 of the Pels 96 open 3-point attempts. Chip in attempts by Anthony Davis (10) and Dante Cunningham (9) and nearly all are accounted for so far.

Location matters

The Pelicans are creating good looks on jump shots. All the above data concerns shots from at least ten feet away. The real issues are coming close to the basket. Quite simply as a team New Orleans is getting close to the basket, but not quite close enough.

As a team the Pels traditionally got all the way to the basket, attempting a metric ton of shots in the restricted area. They did not convert these shots at even league average rates but the sheer volume created a relatively efficient offense. Tyreke Evans primarily drove this phenomenon by getting the work done himself. When his layup attempts failed to reach pay dirt Anthony Davis and Omer Asik were there to clean up. Evans led the league in Kobe Assists, covered in far more depth here by Kirk Goldsberry.

Of all the league’s top-tier interior producers, Evans is the only guy who largely creates those buckets for himself. Only 27 percent of his 392 close-range field goals are assisted, by far the lowest assist rate of anyone near the top of the list. A vast majority of Evans’s chances near the rim come off of dribble drives that often compromise the shape of the defense. This is a valuable act, even if it doesn’t result in a bucket for Evans. The Pelicans rebounded an absurd 47 percent of Evans’s close-range misses last season; the league average in that zone is 38 percent. Out of 33 players who missed at least 200 shots within 8 feet of the rim, Evans’s shots produced the second-highest offensive rebounding rate, trailing only James Harden, the league’s no. 1 purveyor of havoc.

As a drive-happy wing with a mediocre jumper, Evans is about as unconventional as they come. He led the NBA in Kobe Assists last season, thanks in large part to human Hoover vacuums Davis and Omer Asik. The more you look at Evans’s game, the more you think of Harden. In 2015, that is a huge compliment.

This is a multifaceted issue which goes beyond just Tyreke's absence. While no player more positively effected the Pelicans offensive rebound rate last season than Evans there is a defensive component as well. In an attempt to play fast Alvin Gentry has played small frequently. As a result the Pelicans are not crashing the glass, ranking 26th in offensive rebound rate. Last season they ranked fourth.

Playing small, focusing on getting back for transition defense (still a work in progress and deserving its own dedicated analysis), and the absence of Tyreke Evans have all combined to result in far too few attempts at the basket. Instead those attempts are being replaced by shots in the paint but not at the basket, some of the least efficient available.

EDIT: NBA Stats recently pushed an update, moving a number of Pelican shots from the paint to the restricted area. The below table has been adjusted to the new data.

Team Restricted Area Paint Mid Range Above Break Corner 3 Offensive Rating
NOLA 2015-16 30.49% (1.05) 17.58% (0.78) 21.98% (0.73) 20.33% (1.22) 9.34% (0.62) 94.6 (26th)
NOLA 2014-15 42.33% (1.12) 12.63% (0.78) 23.45% (0.80) 17.18% (1.05) 5.26% (1.15) 105.6 (9th)
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)

Defenses are collapsing to keep the Pelicans from the rim, creating opportunities behind the arc. As a team New Orleans simply isn't making opponents pay, shooting a putrid 21% on corner threes. Converting those attempts at the previous rate (38%) would add nearly 24 points to the Pelicans total.

Solution remains to make shots

When the Pelicans begin to knock down open 3-point attempts opponents will adjust. This will create space in the paint. Space in the paint means more chances for layups and a higher percentage of those shots finding the bottom of the net. Once Tyreke Evans joins the lineup a valuable driver is added to the mix.

All these issues are intertwined. The issues at the rim and behind the arc cannot fix themselves independently. Until this team makes teams pay for collapsing on the paint the offense will struggle to score.

It's a make shots league.