As a head coach, Steve Kerr is unfamiliar with losing. The Warriors didn't experience their third loss of the regular season until nearly Christmas. Golden State finished the 2015 campaign with a league-best 67 wins. Now, the team finds itself in the NBA Finals, despite a scary Stephen Curry crash to the floor in their last series. (Man, Memorial Day was oh so close to evoking nightmares for Bay fans for years to come.)
Thanks to a 16-win improvement and the Warriors looking like an invincible team for most of this season, many believe Kerr and his staff have been some magical elixir. Without a doubt, their input deserves to be lauded hundreds of times as they have made and continue to make excellent decisions on the sidelines. However, I think it's fair to also say that they were given a seat at a table with a stacked deck -- Golden State's roster was already oozing with talent. The team only needed a coach and a system to release the potential while not getting in the way of all the success.
Why am I mentioning the best team in the league?
Because the Pelicans could very easily follow a similar path starting this coming October. Like Mark Jackson, Monty Williams was known for contributing sometimes more harm than good. His strategies or rotations were off at times, but the biggest detractor was witnessing a talented offensive unit execute at one of the most mundane paces around amid a countless number of unoriginally designed plays.
Before the start of the season, I wrote a Winning Moves series that concentrated on five factors that I felt the Pelicans needed to improve upon in order to be able to take the next step. Since Gentry was brought in to mainly upgrade the offense, we'll concentrate on the first three parts of the series today, first having a look back at 2014, what transpired in 2015 and then how Alvin Gentry may improve upon these fortunes.
Unsurprisingly, New Orleans was 5th worst in Front Court Touches per game at 274.8. By itself, this number isn't detrimental; however, when you factor the Time of Possession (the total number of times the team possesses the ball per game in minutes), it became frightful.
TEAM Pelicans Warriors Thunder Heat Front Court Touches 274.8 (25th) 256.0 (30th) 274.1 (26th) 286.6 (21st) Time of Possession 19.3 (26th) 17.8 (6th) 18.0 (8th) 18.5 (14th)Out of the bottom 1/3 of teams in Front Court Touches, only 3 made the playoffs. Yet, despite the minimal ball movement, they all were in the top half of time of possession. Essentially, no team had the ball stick longer in each player's hands than the Pelicans.
How did the Pelicans fare this past season?
Only one other playoff team (Raptors) besides the Pelicans finished in the bottom 1/3 of the NBA in Front Court Touches. New Orleans finished dead last in Front Court Touches (277.6) and had the slowest time of possession (20.3)! Although opposing defenses had to deal with Anthony Davis and a talented back court (when healthy), New Orleans gave everyone an enormous break by not utilizing their speed, age or athleticism. More times than not, the opponents were allowed to catch their breath and set their defenses.
As I'm sure you've already noticed above, Mark Jackson's 2014 Warriors moved the ball less frequently than either of the mentioned Monty-led teams. During the course of just one off-season, Alvin Gentry and Steve Kerr significantly curtailed isolation plays and installed greater ball and people movement. During the 2015 campaign, the Warriors finished with an average of 328.6 Front Court Touches. In one year's time, their ball movement jumped from 30th to 6th in the standings.
Initial results were mixed. There were moments of gorgeous passing and cutting, but there were also turnovers. Lots of turnovers. Seven games into the regular season, the Warriors were averaging 22 a game. For a coach like Kerr, who believes ball movement, limiting mistakes and defending are the keys to basketball, it was painful to watch. "I had so many ideas in my head," Kerr admits now. "I put in too much."
However, the Warriors overcame their issues by simplifying the offense, reducing the number of plays from a neighborhood of around 20 down to just 4 or 5. As any advanced statistic will tell you, it all seemed to work out rather well.
We should fully expect that Alvin Gentry will not only increase the pace but also make ball movement a priority in New Orleans. What really makes this marriage interesting is Anthony Davis. As to where Gentry will attempt to use Ryan Anderson like a mix between Draymond Green and Channing Frye and Omer Asik like Andrew Bogut (although I have my doubts with this one), Davis represents a brand new facet that he hasn't had the privilege of directing since Amar'e Stoudemire back in 2010.
In Golden State, all of their bigs are better suited to passing than attacking the paint and the rim, hence all those dribble hand-offs. Davis allows Gentry to be much more flexible. On certain plays, expect Davis to quickly cut or dive to the rim. The next time up the floor, watch him show off his mid-range perimeter game as the defense gives him a little more space. Then, once most of opposing defenses are too pre-occupied with AD, expect him to pick up a lot of assists on a variety of plays: from finding open shooters around the perimeter to wings getting open underneath the rim on cuts or back screens.
Catch & Shoot FGA Catch & Shoot FG% Pull Up FGA Pull Up FG% Drives per Game Drives FG% 2013-14 Pelicans 21.7 (28th) 41.3% (6th) 17.6 (23rd) 37.6% (12th) 28.9 (3rd) 45.4% (13th)
The Pelicans 2369 drives comprised 68.1% of all of their shots inside 10 feet. That ratio was the third highest rate in the league, but as to where other teams in the top 5 were adept in utilizing other parts of the floor leading to smart shots, notice the Pelicans were not.
% of close shots consisting of drives Three Point Rate Close Touches Heat 80.3% 29.8% (6th) 15.5 (18th) Hawks 68.8% 32.4% (2nd) 17.6 (10th) Pelicans 68.1% 19.3% (29th) 13.1 (29th) Suns 66.8% 30.0% (5th) 14.8 (24th) Rockets 65.9% 32.6% (1st) 16.6 (15th)
Now, drives to the rim are never a bad thing, but when it's the only form of efficient offense, that's not good. Opposing professional teams are very capable at stopping a team's first option, especially when it entails clogging the paint. Consequently, it shouldn't be shocking to learn that playoff caliber teams, those with a low amount of close in touches, all ventured out and lived at the three point line.
During the 2015 campaign, the Pelicans failed to noticeably diversify the offense from the season before. What's more troubling is that they were yet again among the league leaders in catch and shoot FG%, but Monty's staff failed to take better advantage of it.
|Catch & Shoot FGA||Catch & Shoot FG%||Pull Up FGA||Pull Up FG%||Drives per Game||Drives FG%|
|2014-15 Pelicans||22.7 (23rd)||41.7% (2nd)||17.2 (26th)||34.7% (28th)||29.5 (5th)||45.0% (15th)|
On the other hand, the Warriors significantly increased their catch and shoot attempts with Alvin Gentry on the bench. If you're one of the best shooting teams, it behooves an offense to attempt to increase their number of free jumpshot opportunities.
|Catch & Shoot FGA||Catch & Shoot FG%||Pull Up FGA||Pull Up FG%||Drives per Game||Drives FG%|
|2013-14 Warriors||22.4 (25th)||41.5% (3rd)||22.8 (5th)||38.4% (6th)||20.1 (23rd)||45.3% (14th)|
|2014-15 Warriors||26.6 (8th)||41.3% (3rd)||21.4 (9th)||40.8% (2nd)||21.3 (23rd)||47.2% (7th)|
As Peyton mentioned last week, the Pelicans routinely ran too many inefficient plays. All 8 teams who finished above New Orleans in ORtg did not have anywhere near the same amount of offensive mismanagement.
If you were one of the many fans who clamored for more ball movement when the offense stalled, the statistics show that you had a point. Only one team above the Pelicans misused a play type (ran a below average play type at an above average rate), and that team only ran it .1% more than the league average. As much as the Pelicans lacked elite play types like other teams, they also hurt themselves by running the wrong types of plays too often.
With the Warriors, Alvin Gentry greatly increased the number of catch and shoot attempts simply because the Warriors were and remain one of the best shooting teams in the league. Expect him to not only increase the number of looks with the Pelicans for the exact same reasons, but to also adjust the frequencies of New Orleans play types.
Last season, Eric Gordon and Quincy Pondexter emerged as two of the deadliest outside shooters.
Add to the mix a Ryan Anderson that I expect to return to form, Jrue Holiday, and possibly Norris Cole and Luke Babbitt, pounding away the shot-clock in another ill-fated isolation attempt will become so yesterday!
Front Court Touches Points per Half Court Touch Anthony Davis 32.2 .65 Dirk Nowitzki 40.9 .53 LaMarcus Aldridge 42.2 .55 Kevin Love 49.7 .53 Blake Griffin 53.9 .45
Anthony Davis mark of .65 points per half court touch placed him 5th in the NBA (out of players averaging 25+ minutes a game). On the other hand, his 32.2 front court touches ranked 159th. The next worst ratio belonged to Nowitzki who had the 20th best points per half court touch and was 90th in total front court touches. However, the German's ratio shouldn't surprise anyone nearly as much. He was 35 years old. His playing time and activity were closely monitored after a disappointing prior season due to knee surgery.
Out of the four players, Davis' touches should have approached Kevin Love territory (who ranked 22nd in PTS p/HCT and 56th in FCT). Their points per possession were identical and they were easily the best players on their respective teams. Love only had several regulars who were in the same ballpark of efficiency (Pekovic, Martin); similarly, only Ryan Anderson and Anthony Morrow compared well in PPP to Davis.
Yet, one wouldn't believe in parallel relationships when examining the amount of touches they got on their respected teams. Love ranked 2nd on his team in front court touches, Davis 6th. It is common knowledge that guards will lead their teams in touches. Ultimately, they bring the ball up the court and are responsible for initiating the offense. However, a team should still manage to get the proper amount of touches to the necessary focal points of their offense.
Contrary to what many believe, Anthony Davis did not take a huge step forward in 2015, despite a legitimate push for the league's MVP. Have a look at all the power forwards who had more touches than New Orleans superstar.
|Front Court Touches||Points per Half Court Touch|
Pretty sickening stuff. Davis registered the same points per half court touch as he did in 2014; in other words, he dominated again. This time around the mark was good for 4th in the league, trailing only 3 centers (Valanciunas, Drummond and Lopez). Unfortunately, his front court touches improved merely from 159th to 105th (among players who averaged 25+ minutes per game). Yes, it was an improvement, but no way was it enough.
Part of the reason was the fact that the Pelicans offense passes the ball less than any other team in the NBA, but the greater part of the blame must be assigned to Monty's offense, a guard-centric strategy. Tyreke Evans led the team with 64.6 touches in the front court, Holiday averaged 60.4 and Eric Gordon even managed a clip of 36.9.
Thus, amid the 277.6 front court touches the Pelicans averaged per game, Davis received the ball 13.4% of the time after the ball crossed half court. In comparison, Griffin received the ball 19.5% of the time on the Clippers. When one factors in the amount of improvement in Davis' decision making, the disparity in touches between these two players was absurd.
In his only full year of coaching Amar'e, Gentry fed his best player. As to where three teammates (Evans, Anderson, Holiday) were within 5 Usage percentage points of Davis in 2015, Stoudemire only had Steve Nash within the same proximity back in 2010.
The numbers above alone give rise to legitimate expectations, but Gentry recently took it one step further, he announced Davis' misuse to Pelicans management during the interview process.
Primarily responsible for the Warriors offense — top-rated for most of the season — Gentry believes the Pelicans have underutilized Davis’ offensive skills. Not only did he express this during his initial interview with Loomis and Demps, but Gentry also came into that session equipped with charts and graphs to illustrate his point.
Coming into 2015, I listed three important offensive factors to watch for improvement throughout the season. For practical purposes, Monty Williams and his staff failed to significantly transform any of them. This fact seriously begets the question, should Williams' strategies, schemes and offensive playbook have been given any credit for the team's 11-win improvement? This data screams no.
Honestly, these numbers make it all the more humorous that others cried foul when Williams was pushed out the door instead of Dell Demps. However, there is no need to dwell on this any further.
For all of Alvin Gentry's possible faults, offense has never been one of them. If the Pelicans core remains largely intact and healthy, I expect the offense to mount a serious challenge to the league leaders in efficiency and finish inside the top 5.
Although Gentry really is an offensive mastermind, a lot of the fixes that are required are rather simple in nature. However, don't be surprised if onlookers throw the word 'genius' around during next season as the Pelicans will immensely improve in these three areas and a number of others across the board.
Oh to be Alvin Gentry and get served the Pelicans roster on a silver platter the very first day on the job!