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Pelicans offense fails to find rhythm with open shots missing

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It's a make shots league. No, really. That might be about it.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Alvin Gentry was brought on board to increase the pace of play and maximize the skill set of Anthony Davis. Thus far results have been mixed. AD is averaging 23.9 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, largely in line with his season averages last year. Davis is turning the ball over more often, taking more threes, and abandoning the offensive glass almost entirely.

On the plus side his defensive rebounding has taken off which has helped Gentry play a lot more small ball than before. When Davis and Anderson share the court the Pelicans have been demolishing the competition in the last three weeks posting a +12.3 Net Rating while collecting 78.1% of available defensive rebounds.

Offensively this team looks nothing like the one Monty Williams ran. The ball is moving, as the Pelicans are passing 313 times per game compared to 271 last year. The pace is up as New Orleans averages nearly seven more possessions a contest. The good folks over at Nylon Calculus provide a visual representation of the metamorphosis.

One area the Pelicans have improved dramatically upon is shot selection over the course of the season. Inefficient shots in the "dumb zone" between the restricted area and 3-point line have declined as shots at the basket and behind the arc have rose. Despite an awful losing streak New Orleans is posting the best field goal percentage in the restricted area since 2012.

The darkest mark remains in the corner. The Pellies are shooting a ghastly 28.4% on corner 3-point attempts this season, by far the worst mark in the league. Worse yet 81 of those attempts were open, and New Orleans still shot just 28.4%. League average on such shots is 38.5%.

The offense has been slowly improving. The shot selection is solid. The process by which many of those shots are created still looks and feels stilted, not unlike a baby giraffe trying to walk for the first time. Let's take a look at the shot location data.

Shot Selection Progression

Team Restricted Area Paint Mid Range Above Break Corner 3 Offensive Rating
As of November 1st 29.67% (1.11) 18.68% (0.82) 25.27% (0.75) 19.41% (1.13) 6.96% (0.79) 96.3 (21st)
As of November 8th 29.89% (1.17) 14.66% (0.77) 24.44% (0.78) 21.43% (1.13) 9.59% (0.76) 98.7 (20th)
As of November 15th 30.00% (1.19) 14.07% (0.69) 24.42% (0.79) 23.60% (1.15) 7.91% (0.84) 98.6 (22nd)
As of November 22nd 31.30% (1.19) 13.46% (0.72) 24.03% (0.84) 23.70% (1.10) 7.51% (0.86) 101.3 (16th)
As of November 29th 32.26% (1.16) 13.69% (0.74) 24.07% (0.83) 22.98% (1.09) 7.02% (0.88) 100.8 (17th)

From NBA Stats. Percentages are how often opponents shoot from each range. Within parenthesis lies the points per shot.

Good stuff here generally. The return of Tyreke Evans should have a significant effect on shots taken within the restricted area. One thing to focus on will be if the Pelicans begin to crash the glass on those Evans drives. As Kirk Goldsberry pointed out for Grantland (R.I.P.) in September Evans drives to the basket were incredibly valuable even though he shot 44.1% on shot attempts resulting from drives.

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.

New Orleans is currently 29th in the league in offensive rebound rate, collecting just 18.6% of their own misses. Last year they ranked 4th at 27.1%. It comes as no surprise that Tyreke Evans had the greatest positive effect on offensive rebound rate last year among rotation players. This goes beyond the absence of Evans. The entire team has eschewed chasing offensive rebounds this season in favor of getting back in transition.

The 2014-15 Pelicans chased offensive rebound opportunities 45.3% of the time. This season that number has plummeted to 33.3% according to data by Seth Partnow of Nylon Calculus. Tyreke Evans will increase the number of attempts in the restricted area. However, if the team still refuses to pursue the basketball a number of his misses, and therefore much of his effectiveness, will be diminished.

Open Shot Woes

2015-16 %FGA eFG%
Twos - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 46.69% 47.27%
Twos - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 23.53% 51.39%
Threes - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 3.28% 23.33%
Threes - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 26.51% 53.57%

Last season 44% of Pelican shot attempts were considered open to SportVU cameras; that is with the closest defender at least four feet away. This year 50% of Pelican shot attempts are open. Some of that is related to location. Fewer shots in the restricted area mean that defenders are less likely to be present to contest. Still, that does not account for all of the open shots the Pelicans are creating compared to last season.

This is not a matter of opponents allowing poor shooters to take open shots either. Of the 366 open 3-pointers launched by the Pelicans 229 (62.6%) were fired by Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, or Luke Babbitt. Those three are shooting 37% when they're open behind the arc. Last season they combined to shoot 41.6% on open looks. In 2013-14 it was 39.5%.

A couple percentage points matters. Shoot at 2013-14 rates and the Pelicans add 15 points, 2014-15 and the Pelicans score 30 more points. The difference between being -125 on the season and -95 probably adds a victory or two onto the ledger. In fact the Pels scoring margin, as bad as it's been, suggests they should be 5-12 according to Basketball Reference.

In the end this game is about making shots. It seems every time I sit down to analyze the Pelicans the result is the same. Over the past two seasons this team has done a good job creating open shots and shots at the rim. When things are going well those open shots are going in. That energy is infectious on the team.

We think that effort and heart are things that create made baskets. What if it is the other way around?