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Shooting for Success: Pelicans getting good shots against NBA's best defense

Taking a deep dive into the SportVU data through two games.

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The playoffs are a different animal. Anthony Davis and the rest of the New Orleans Pelicans took an entire half in game one adjusting to the bright lights and increased scrutiny that a focused opponent brings to the table every game. Steve Kerr isn't watching other game film; his entire Golden State Warriors staff is laser focused on breaking the Pelicans.

Most experts expected the Pelicans to get their doors blown off, especially on the road. November 11th, that's the last time the Warriors dropped a home game with their starting five in tact. These Warriors went 39-2 at home, only good enough for the second best record ever.

Somehow this series has not gone to script. Monty Williams has this team playing far above their heads. While mental errors have resulted in boatloads of cheap points for the Warriors the Pelicans have actually executed quite well in the half court.

Let's take a look at where the Pelicans are shooting from and dissect the quality of those shots. Are the Pelicans creating open looks? How is their performance relative to the regular season? It has been a while since we dove in, and the regular season wrap up is still to come.

Shot Selection - Location

As usual, all of this data comes from the NBA Stats website. As with most "advanced" stats, this is basic arithmetic. The number of shots taken from a given area divided by the total shots taken is used to create the frequency found as a percentage in each box. The second number is the field goal percentage from an area multiplied by the number of points that shot is worth.

The total number of field goals attempted thus far is 165 for the Pelicans and 167 for the Warriors.

Restricted Area Paint Mid Range Above Break Corner 3
Pelicans 28.48% (1.11) 21.21% (0.80) 24.85% (0.49) 21.82% (1.33) 3.64% (0.00)
Warriors 29.34% (1.35) 15.57% (0.69) 19.76% (0.79) 29.94% (0.96) 5.39% (1.33)

There's a bit to chew on there. The Pelicans are not getting to the restricted area nearly as much as they did during the regular season. That makes sense, the Warriors are fantastic on defense and Andrew Bogut is a monster. Interestingly enough, Golden State is attempting fewer shots in the restricted area and from the corners. Considering how maligned the New Orleans defense was coming into this series, that is an accomplishment in and of itself. So far this series the Warriors are producing a 103.9 offensive rating, a far cry from the 109.7 they were chugging along at during the regular season.

Are the Pelicans just getting lucky?

Shot Quality - How Open Are You?

Where a shot is taken can tell you only so much. The pressure a defender is providing has a critical effect on the expected outcome. Here is a look at how open both the Pelicans and Warriors have been this series.

Pelicans %FG eFG%
Two - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 9.70% 37.50%
Twos - Open (Greater than 4 feet 20.00% 30.30%
Threes - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 2.42% 0.00%
Threes - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 23.03% 63.16%
Warriors %FG eFG%
Two - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 8.38% 28.57%
Twos - Open (Greater than 4 feet 10.18% 41.18%
Threes - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 10.78% 33.33%
Threes - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 24.55% 58.54%

So far the Pelicans have attempted 38 3-pointers with at least four feet of space. The Warriors have done a little better, getting off 41. The big difference here is Golden State's willingness to let loose even when a defender is within arms length. The Pelicans have largely held the Warriors to their season average  creating open 3-pointers, where 24.28% of their shots came in the regular season. Meanwhile New Orleans is actually exceeding their average number of open attempts behind the arc.

Another issue comes up when scanning the shot log of Anthony Davis. So far this series Davis is shooting just 5-17 beyond ten feet. Of those 17 shots just five came with a defender within four feet, and AD made just one of those attempts. Subtracting out those defended attempts leaves Davis going 4-12 on open mid range shots, well below his season average of 45.2% on open jumpers beyond four feet. As a team shooting 30.3% on shots converted all season at a 41% clip has had a noticeable drag on offensive efficiency.

Make Shots

I write this almost every game preview and it continues to be true. For the Pelicans to win they need to make open shots. 30% from mid range is abysmal, and Anthony Davis shooting 33% from that area is very likely to change when the series moves to the Smoothie King Center. New Orleans has yet to produce a real quality performance shooting the ball, shooting 35.7% on uncontested looks on Saturday and improving to just 41.7% on Monday night. The Warriors have been far more consistent; 51.6% in game one and 51.2% in game two.

For this team to upset one of the greatest teams in NBA history simply creating more open shots (78 to 74) is not enough. Those open looks must convert into points. All this before talking about rotations, the minute load on Anthony Davis, and any number of other quibbles with the game plan. Big picture from a "get to the right spot, do the right thing" the Pelicans have executed.

Now they need to put the ball through the net.