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Anatomy of an Improbable Pelican Win Streak

Every Pelican playing significant minutes is contributing. Significantly.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Despite what appears to be an "easy" stretch in the schedule, this has been the most improbable of win streaks. Anthony Davis played under nine minutes. Ryan Anderson played fewer than seven minutes. Jrue Holiday has been seen in a walking boot to protect his still healing leg injury.

Yes, New Orleans has defeated three consecutive Eastern Conference opponents. Two of these opponents were far below .500 and two of the games were in the Smoothie King Center. But it still makes absolutely no sense. None. Our arena has sadly become a bit of a ghost town thanks to injury. Local reporters came to the game against the Raptors literally hoping to read the last rites (and no, I will not link to NOLA.com) and came away disappointed.

First, Eric Gordon literally blew the doors off the Miami Heat on the road after Davis and Anderson left the floor grimacing in pain. Then, Norris Cole and Tyreke Evans willed the Pelicans to a comeback victory over the Toronto Raptors. Last night Quincy Pondexter, mic'd up for the first time, scorched the nets while putting Brooklyn away.

Stat Dump

Stats

From NBA Stats

These are the only eight players to play every game. Much of this is completely unsustainable. Asik isn't going to shoot 71.4% from the floor. Norris Cole will certainly come back to earth. I think Luke Babbitt shooting 63.6% behind the arc has the faint whiff of small sample size.

There are some long term issues that continue to arise. I've read repeatedly that Monty is making a mistake by not playing Ajinca more. He's averaging 5 fouls in just 19.2 minutes over this stretch. It is literally impossible to play him more because he's constantly been in foul trouble. He not only leads the team in fouls (15, next closest is Asik with 9 in 35 more minutes) he also leads in turnovers (10) and turnover percentage (26.5%). Over one out of every four possessions involving Ajinca result in a turnover. He's making shots (good), but many have overlooked all of his negative contributions.

It would be easy to look at Gordon and Tyreke's offensive output and assume they are dragging down the team. The game is played both ways, though, and while each are on the floor, the Pelicans are better. Significantly better.

On-Off Stats

ORtg-On DRtg-On Net-On ORtg-Off DRtg-Off Net-Off On-Off Net
Gordon 104.0 91.1 12.9 123.6 132.2 -8.6 21.5
Evans 114.3 101.2 13.1 86.2 91.4 -5.2 18.3
Pondexter 108.4 95.2 13.1 106.7 104.9 1.7 11.4
Ajinca 116.1 103.3 12.8 102.1 96.2 5.9 6.9
Asik 103.1 93.0 10.0 115.9 110.2 5.6 4.4

From NBA Stats

The methodology here is simple. How much better is the team with you on the court than off it? The stats for Ajinca and Asik tell us a lot about who replaces them, each other. Ajinca makes the offense much better (14 points per 100 possessions) at significant cost on the defensive end (7.1 points worse) and vice versa.

Staring at the first chart you probably asked why Eric Gordon, shooting 30.2% from the field, leads the team in minutes in the last three games. Here is your answer. The team is terrible with him on the bench (the Lakers this season are posting a -6.7 Net Rating, the Timberwolves are -9.3 for a reference point) and amazing (the Warriors lead the league with a 11.9 Net Rating) with him on the court.

On Tap

Basketball is played in so many other areas than just inside the rim. We still overvalue offensive stats because the impact of the presence of players without the ball or on defense remains difficult to quantify. Standard box score stats, PER, shot charts, etc still struggle to account for "Luke Babbitt was open here because Omer Asik set an amazing screen" or "Quincy Pondexter talks a lot on defense" or "Norris Cole brings this attitude that helps the Pelicans get through cold stretches."

There is much about the game of basketball that currently escapes publicly available quantification. Rest assured, the Pelicans (and every other team in the league) are in the process of finding a way if they have not already. Just don't expect them to share it with us.