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New Orleans Pelicans are not as bad as their record indicates

The biggest problem is that too many are shooting blanks. Glass half empty or half full?

NBA: Preseason-New Orleans Pelicans at Atlanta Hawks Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the heroic efforts of Anthony Davis, the New Orleans Pelicans have started the season with three straight losses. This combination of factors has prompted many to overstate the obvious — the superstar has not gotten enough help.

Well, they’re not wrong.

When Davis is on the court, the Pelicans offensive rating hums along melodically to a tune of a 107.7 rating and defensively, 102.9. Without him, the music stops: the team is 6 points worse on offense per 100 possessions (101.7) and the defense balloons to a 111.9 mark.

If one removes the superstar’s production, the rest of the Pelicans field goal percentage stands at an anemic 38.9%. However, with or without him, the biggest disappointment has undoubtedly been the struggles from three-point range. New Orleans has converted just a ghastly 19% from deep, connecting on just 12 of 63 shot attempts.

Are his teammates going to remain this frightful for the rest of the season? No, of course not!

Listen to what Joel Meyers had to say on the topic in today’s edition of the Black and Blue Report. It’s spot on the money.

“It’s a group situation, it’s not one guy. And the newcomers are squeezing the ball a little bit now. Then all of a sudden you miss a few and you’re tentative. And there is doubt in your mind, doubt in your release, and a lack of conviction sometimes.”

Unfortunately, much of the distress has come from the new roster additions, making the front office easy targets for their recent summer acquisitions, and in turn further fueling the notion that Anthony Davis continues to be surrounded by a hideously inept cast.

“When you look at the new additions: Solomon Hill, E’Twaun Moore — although E’Twaun picked it up big time in the last game, he got to the rim. He looked good and hit 6 of his first 8 shots in that game. Add in Terrence Jones and Langston Galloway. That foursome is just 3 for 30 from beyond the arc.”

Taking a closer look, they’ve been so cold with their shots that common sense dictates it’s improbable to continue.

Frequency Overall eFG% 3FG Frequency 3FG%
Open (4-6 feet) 28.2% (8th) 33.3% (28th) 9.0% (21st) 8.0% (29th)
Wide Open (4-6 feet) 20.9% (9th) 50.9% (19th) 10.5% (20th) 31.0% (20th)

Hill and Jones have never been confused for deep threats, but they’re certainly capable of better than this. Meanwhile, Moore and Galloway have always been reliable performers from the perimeter throughout their careers.

As for Buddy Hield’s early season hiccups, namely an 0-8 start from deep?

“Yeah, there is no concern with Buddy because it’s early in his career and he has a beautiful stroke. It’s just there is more of a microscope on him because nobody else is hitting. So then you want the rookie, well... maybe the rookie can help out. Usually you don’t look that way; you don’t put that kind of pressure on a rookie. But because the other sources aren’t scoring and not answering the three-ball, then everybody is saying well maybe Buddy can help. But you don’t want that kind of pressure on Buddy to begin with. ”

Joel Meyers went on to speculate that the absence of Jrue Holiday has had a domino effect and ultimately magnified the shooting woes. We all understand the health of Holiday’s family comes first and foremost — as Meyers clearly pointed out — but he did not deny some results could be notably different if the team’s starting point guard was present on the floor.

All that said, there have been positives — in case anyone cares to hear the rest of the team’s early season story. The Pelicans rank 3rd in the league in pace (105.85) (after finishing 11th (98.91) in Alvin Gentry’s first full season), but it’s come without the usual uptick in mistakes. New Orleans sits a splendid 3rd in turnover ratio (11.3), so they’re getting the ball up the floor in a quick and timely manner without the addition of troubling unforced errors.

Defensively, the Pelicans reside 13th in defensive rating (103.2), despite having faced the Spurs and Warriors. They’re still giving up too many looks close to the rim (36.5 FGA inside 5 feet), but a lot of other factors are on the up and up thanks to sparkling data from the hustle categories.

Contested 2PT shots Contested 3PT shots Contests overall Deflections Loose Balls Recovered
New Orleans Pelicans 45.7 (9th) 20.3 (12th) 66.0 (9th) 18.0 (5th) 6.0 (T-6th)

In addition, the squad is forcing turnovers at a great clip (9th), and they have limited opponents to 1.19 points after their own turnovers (12th). They have also proven to get back well after missed shot attempts, giving up just 0.96 points per each possession (7th) following defensive rebounds by opponents.

Speaking of the glass...

The Pelicans finished the preseason with a 73.9 DREB%, good for 25th during the NBA’s exhibition schedule. Interestingly, the team witnessed similar improvement from the silly season to the games that count a year ago.

As Joel Meyers echoed in the radio interview, the defense isn’t the issue. Sure there are areas for improvement, mainly the amount of communication among players, but the larger issues have come on the scoring side of the ball for all those not named Davis.

“So, AD has been hard-to-believe good. We’ve talked about it on the telecast, David [Wesley] and myself, if he has a normal game, what’s going to happen? Well it turned out, it got away from them in the third quarter against San Antonio.”

Yes, the outcomes have so far mimicked Davis’ stat lines, and the Pelicans cannot go without the superstar anytime soon, maybe not for the entire season. We should also expect for his numbers to regress a bit because a 38/13 line with 6 combined blocks and steals is not sustainable.

But at the same time, if the team’s collective effort level doesn’t wane, and it sounds like the group will not allow that to happen, those struggling cannot possibly keep failing at the prodigious rates witnessed. The Pelicans are not likely to morph into some postseason beast, but the early numbers indicate they’ve been a better team than the results have shown.

As Meyers said, “There’s no room for panic, it’s only three games into the season, but some of the other guys are going to have to start making shots.”

Amen, because I’d bet a bunch of regressions to the mean are coming.