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Shooting for Success: Pelicans offense reaches top-10 status

Three consecutive seasons of improvement makes you ask if Monty Williams is actually an offensive coach in disguise.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

When last we got together to discuss the Pelicans offense, it was the All-Star break. New Orleans was in tenth place in the Western Conference; the team sat one and a half games behind Phoenix, with Oklahoma City also in their path for a playoff bid. After the break, the Pelicans went 18-11 to secure the honor of being Golden State's first victim. Over those 29 games, Anthony Davis and company were eighth in the NBA in offensive efficiency, a mark consistent with their performance throughout the season. That is an impressive achievement when considering that Anthony Davis played in just 22 of those 29 games.

There are two primary areas I want to focus our attention on with the Pelican offense. First, a discussion about where are they shooting from. Not all shots are created equal and it behooves the vast majority of teams to focus on getting to the basket or shooting from behind the arc. The area outside the restricted area and inside the three point line is largely inefficient for all but a few players. Of course, it is important to note that the Pelicans employ one of those exceptions in AD.

Second, I want to look at the quality of those jump shots. It is one thing for Davis to attempt 564 shots from beyond ten feet. It is another to consider that 67.9% of those shots (383) were attempted without a defender within four feet. Open shots are more valuable; the creation of a combination of offensive design, other threats, and defensive miscues. As I will demonstrate, a great deal of the improvement on offense is because the Pelicans were open more often.

Real Estate on the Basketball Court - Location, Location, Location

As usual, all of this data comes from the NBA Stats website. Common among 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.

Team Restricted Area Paint Mid Range Above Break Corner 3 Offensive Rating
NOLA 2014-15 38.93% (1.13) 12.94% (0.78) 24.84% (0.80) 17.31% (1.08) 5.71% (1.24) 105.4 (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)

The Pelicans went from 29th in three point attempt rate to 23rd this season. At the same time they increased from 5th to 1st in the restricted area. Those shots were siphoned off of the less efficient areas of the court. In four consecutive seasons now, the team has attempted more shots in the restricted area while decreasing the number of shots in the paint but outside the restricted area; one of the least efficient pieces of real estate on the court.

As a team they are attempting fewer long twos and taking more threes instead. All this while running their offense through a superstar whose effectiveness from mid range, especially at the top of the key, is becoming a serious issue for opponents to deal with each night. The Pelicans as a team attempted 1,688 mid range shots this year; Anthony Davis accounted for 534 (31.6%) of those shots.

Open Shots Create More Points

It is not enough to just try to allocate shots to the correct areas. Open shots go in at higher rates. This is an area the Pelicans have begun to excel.

2013-14 %FGA eFG%
Twos - Defended (Less than 4 feet) 10.72% 39.28%
Twos - Open (Greater than 4 feet) 20.20% 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%

It was not enough for the Pelicans to simply shoot more 3-pointers this season; they decided to increase the number of those shots which were open as well. This was no case of opponents giving shots to poor shooters either.

Of the 1,405 open 3-pointers attempted Ryan Anderson (323), Eric Gordon (290), Quincy Pondexter (162), Jrue Holiday (115), Luke Babbitt (105), and Norris Cole (64) accounted for over 75% of those shots. Even leaving Tyreke Evans alone (186 attempts) was not a solid strategy; Evans buried 34.9% of his 3-point attempts with at least four feet of space.

Still Work to be Done

Despite the Pelicans shooting worse on open shots their shooting improved. All thanks to creating more open shots, especially more 3-pointers. Their effective field goal percentage crept up from 49.5% (19th) in 2013-14 to 50.1% (11th) in 2014-15. This is not the finished product, but continued improvement should be expected.

I believe we have seen a glimpse of where this offense is headed. Anthony Davis suddenly became a vastly improved distributor towards the end of the season, averaging 3.8 assists per game after March 9th. It should come as no surprise that the Pelicans shot better behind the arc, posting a 64.3% eFG% on open 3-pointers over those 19 games. Davis as the fulcrum in the high post, floating and distributing instead of always diving to the rim, turns an already potent pick and roll heavy scheme into a much more dangerous animal.

Last season while reviewing the Pelican shot selection, I earmarked three areas I hoped to see improvement. Finishing at the rim, avoiding paint attempts that were not in the restricted area, and creating more corner threes. They accomplished two of those three goals, missing on increasing their effectiveness at the rim. In order to continue in this direction, it would be good at this point if the team actually took a fewer shots in the restricted area and elected to kick it out more often.

Tyreke Evans (on drives) and Omer Asik (after offensive rebounds) are the two biggest culprits driving down the Pelicans field goal percentage in the restricted area. Improving positioning and Evans keeping his head up on his many forays into the paint should increase the number of corner 3-pointers created. Asik oftentimes forces up challenged layups unnecessarily after an offensive rebound. He's big and long but not at all a leaper or explosive. Kicking out and allowing the Pelicans to run another set would be preferable to forcing an acrobatic layup or worse yet getting blocked from behind.

Progress is good but there is still plenty of room for improvement. Hopefully an off season with limited turnover and an entire training camp together can result in a fourth consecutive year of growth on the offensive end.