Before the turn of the century, Pamela Dalton, a noted sensory psychologist, created a concoction known as stench soup on behalf of the Department of Defense. There was a desire to find an odor or set of odors that would quickly stop a group of people in their tracks, dissuade them from their purpose and make them want to flee the scene. In this case, the military was interested in discovering non-lethal means to get an enemy to drop their weapons and disperse.
By all accounts, she was largely successful, but the true recipe has thankfully never been divulged. However, it is believed it probably contains at a a minimum some combination of rotten corpses, human waste and other comparably horrifying smells.
A writer for Harper's magazine actually had the privilege, or in my opinion, the unluckiest assignment that year, to get a whiff of the smell and then translate it to paper. I'd argue he did a wonderful job, combing through history of other examples of terrible stenches before finally get to the point, that yes, Dalton's odor was as vile as anyone could imagine.
So, why have I started this article with a hopefully interesting but quite unusual tidbit? Well, in case you missed it, the Pelican's defense is headed down a similar road: a combination of putrid factors have a chance of morphing into one of the worst recorded defenses over the last twenty years.
Through 28 games of the 2015-16 regular season, the Pelicans own a 108.3 defensive rating (second to last) and give up 107.5 points per game (second to last). Last season, the Minnesota Timberwolves had a league worst 109.6 DRtg, the year before, the Utah Jazz (109.1 DRtg), and the year before that, the Charlotte Bobcats (108.9 DRtg).
They are all seemingly comparable to this year's Pelicans except for one important difference. Even when New Orleans emerges the victor, their defense stinks, and at an epically bad rate I might add. Their DRtg mark of 106.0 through their first 9 wins of the season is the second worst figure in the NBA stats database (going back to the 1996-97 season). Conversely, the defense of the Wolves (100.6), Jazz (100.5) and Bobcats (97.3) fared a hell of a lot better in their wins.
In wins, New Orleans gives up 105.1 points per game, miles higher than the 2014-15 Wolves (98.3), the 2013-14 Jazz (95.1) and 2012-13 Bobcats (94.0). Pace is partially at fault for the difference, but the vast disparities arise from how well the opponent's shoot the ball. The Pelicans rate in the bottom third of the league in allowed FG%, 3FG% and FTA -- in their wins.
Seriously, no winning defense has been as nauseating in the last twenty years as the 2015-16 Pelicans. And this is even after their performance against the Portland Trail Blazers Wednesday night when their Northwest opponent shot under 35% from the floor and 25% from deep. When an opponent falls victim to the Pelicans, they can normally be sure of two things. One, their offensive numbers will still likely improve despite the loss, and two, their defense failed just as much, if not worse than New Orleans.
This past Sunday, the then 11-16 Denver Nuggets and their 24th ranked offense scored 125 points, shot 46.9% from the field and 48.6% from three-point land. Ten days prior, the 9-11 Washington Wizards and their 22nd rated offense scored 105 points in the Smoothie King Center on an even 50% from the field and 44.4% from three-point territory. Get the theme?
A few days ago, Mike Prada highlighted some of the issues in a piece about the woes of the Pelicans in general despite one roster being occupied by Anthony Davis. (If you haven't perused it yet, I urge you to give it a look.) In general, breakdowns, lack of adequate help and effort have all been to blame. That simplified defensive system announced on media day must have been a farce because the current group still has issues after making just one rotation.
According to NBA Stats database, the worst defensive rating posted by a team in wins only over the course of a season were the 2005-06 Atlanta Hawks (106.3). Their full season mark of 108.3 was bad too, but normally teams show significant improvement in wins. As it wasn't the case for Atlanta, it hasn't been for New Orleans either.
Perhaps what's more troubling though is that this isn't Alvin Gentry's first rodeo. During his best season as head coach, the 2009-10 Phoenix Suns had a 102.5 defensive rating in wins only, the worst in the league. The reason they were able to win 54 games and nearly reach the Western Conference Finals was because of that stellar offense. In wins, they posted a 116.5 offensive rating.
Care to wager how well the Pelicans offense has played in their nine wins? That's right, it's also tops in the league. Their 115.9 ORtg even edges out the vaunted Golden State Warriors, thus giving impetus for delving into whether this Gentry-led squad even needs to be playing at a breakneck pace. If a slower pace by having, gulp, Tyreke Evans and others dial it down a bit (or in other words dominate some possessions) paves the way for the most efficient offense in the league, is there any legitimate reason the team should be looking to run faster?
That's an interesting discussion for another day, though. For now, let's worry about a defense that is trending the wrong way. In their last five wins, the DRtg is an unfathomable 108.6! (Thank goodness for a 118.2 ORtg!) Yep, even the hapless performance from a tuned-out and rudderless Trail Blazer squad wasn't nearly enough to move the needle in the direction of noticeable improvement. Until the Pelicans can string together more defensive efforts in their wins as from a few days ago, we can only consider it an anomaly and hence why I wasn't all that enamored with the team's most recent win.