Stop me if you’ve heard this one line before: It’s a make or miss league.
At the end of the day, finishing with more made shots than an opponent is grossly determinative in the outcome of a basketball game. If necessary, may I remind you that Dean Oliver had once assigned the most weight to the shooting category in his famous Four Factors.
Through 36 games — nearly half the season — the New Orleans Pelicans rank in the bottom five in field goal percentage (FG%) as well as effective field goal percentage (eFG%). Adding to their lowly overall offensive rating, the Pelicans rank in the bottom third of the league in free throw percentage as well as free throws per field goal attempts, and are dead last in offensive rebounding percentage.
Fans have sadly watched these ingredients mixed numerous times and end in offensive disasters, and it was never more evident than in the loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Pelicans finished with a 42.6 eFG%, 8 offensive rebounds (but just 2 second chance points) and 10 free throw attempts (of which they made 7), yet they remained within striking distance of stealing a victory against the World Champs until the waning minutes of the action. In nearly the last 8 minutes, the Pelicans managed just 4 points (all by Buddy Hield), and over the final 3 minutes, the team scored zilch!
Let’s take a look at where some things went wrong or were just a product of bad luck.
Trailing 80-78, Hield got a wide open look in transition from three. Just as Cunningham had done moments earlier on an enviable corner three attempt, the attempt was missed, but that’s two shots Gentry and the rest of the world will take every day of the week.
Soon after, Anthony Davis followed with two turnaround missed jump hooks, one against Tristan Thompson in single coverage (and Iman Shumpert sitting on the weak side) and the other versus Richard Jefferson on a Cleveland breakdown. Davis has been all kinds of incredible but having a poor shooting night throughout, AD needed to attack the rim on at least one of those looks. For instance, had he just thrown any kind of ball fake against Jefferson, Davis would have had a 1-dribble easy slam dunk.
With the score 86-82 and the Pelicans down still by a manageable spread, Dante Cunningham misfired on a relatively easy floater and Davis couldn’t tip in the offensive putback. On the season, DC has only been effective on long perimeter shots so the miss here should have been expected.
Down 6 points now on the very next offensive possession, Jrue Holiday had the worst mistake of the stretch: a double dribble because he had made up his mind he was going to bounce a pass to AD on the roll before Thompson had committed himself.
Turnovers of this variety just can’t happen, and this one effectively put the game out of reach as the Cavaliers scored on their next trip to take an 8-point lead. At the time it felt as though the entire team had tightened up during the fateful stretch. In re-watching the video clips, I’m still undecided whether nerves played a part, but the fact of the matter is the execution should have been much better.
It’s a shame because not only did the Pelicans catch a break with Kyrie Irving sidelined and Kevin Love suffering from food poisoning, the Cavaliers wound up posting their worst eFG% (41.4%) of the season. Golden opportunities like these don’t come around very often against the cream of the crop in the NBA. Entering Monday’s contest, Cleveland had lost all 3 other games where they had posted an eFG% under 45%. The Pelicans should be proud of the defensive effort, but if they haven’t yet done so, consider severing the hand in Evil Dead 2 fashion that is to blame for all the damn misses.
The vomit-inducing graph above perfectly illustrates the woes on the scoring side of the ball. The blue line represents the Pelicans offensive rating in every individual game this season, and the red line refers to their opponents season defensive rating at home or on the road based on the locations of the above schedule.
It’s clear that most nights the Pelicans offense has trouble eclipsing the average mark of the opponent’s defense — regardless of who they play — as it’s happened only 14 times! Moreover, New Orleans has failed to reach the triple digits in ORtg another 14 times. Their record in those games is 2-12 with the only wins coming against the Pacers and Heat. The reason the Pelicans pulled out victories was because Indiana and Miami performed well worse on offense.
Thanks again, defense!
In the four games since going exclusively small, the Pelicans are averaging a mere 99.8 points per game — that’s about 2.5 points worse than their season average. Despite a 103.6 ORtg (21st), the latest points total is merely good enough for 25th in the league and sports the 22nd best FG% during the timespan. Both of those marks need to be stronger to make a legitimate playoff push, especially when the opponents defensive ratings were 7th, 18th, 23rd and 25th.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a pleasant surprise to watch New Orleans stifle opponents from scoring consistently since it’s a first during the Davis era. Yet, it seems more and more likely that the Pelicans traded in yesterday’s problem for a brand new one over the summer because the offense is equally as dismal as the defenses seen in years past.
In the next day or so, we’ll take a look at what Anthony Davis and the rest of the crew can do to improve upon the points-starved offense. Provided a few changes are made, it may not be entirely too late for a little optimism.