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Pelicans slide in power rankings thanks to leaky defense

Imagine facing the Warriors every night. That’s what opponents are doing to the Pelicans defense.

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NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

We thought if we knew one thing about the New Orleans Pelicans it was that the defense would be solid. Even last season after adding DeMarcus Cousins the team posted a solid defensive rating, good enough for 8th in the entire NBA. For the first ten games of the season that held firm, with the team ranking 9th in the league. Then the wheels fell off.

In their last six games Pelican opponents are posting an eFG% of 58.2%, the best (or in the case of the Pelican defense worst) mark in the league over that span. Atlanta would have shot the Pels out of their own gym if not for their severe lack of talent while Toronto and Denver could not miss. While it would be popular to say opponents are just “making shots” the Pelicans are also contesting less often, deflecting fewer balls (down from 14.1 to 11.7 per game), recovering one less loose ball per game, and drawing fewer charges.

Of the 197 3-point attempts by opponents in the last six games 101 were wide open (without a defender within six feet) and another 74 were open (closest defender four to six feet away). Opponents are shooting 43.7% behind the arc in the last six games after shooting 34.6% in the first ten. More troubling, attempts are up nearly 10% per possession (roughly three more attempts per 100 possessions) over that same span. 3-point “defense” is more about discouraging attempts than making opponents miss, which is incredibly volatile in all but the largest samples.

All told the Pelicans have the worst defense in the entire NBA over the last two weeks, posting a horrid 116.9 defensive rating. How bad is a 116.9 DRtg mark? The Golden State Warriors, leading the league in offensive rating, have a 114.5 ORtg this season. New Orleans is making their opponents look better than the Warriors in their last six games. Yikes.

Last Week: 15 - This Week: 19

A six-game stretch where they played five top-10 offenses and allowed 117 points per 100 possessions has dropped the Pelicans from ninth to 26th in defensive efficiency, and the schedule isn't getting easier. After they host the Thunder on Monday, 11 of their next 14 games are against teams that currently have winning records. The good news is that Anthony Davis is probable for Monday after butting heads with Nikola Jokic in Friday's loss in Denver. The Pels have been outscored by 10.4 points per 100 possessions in 193 minutes with DeMarcus Cousins on the floor without Davis and the bench has been mostly bad, though Darius Miller hit a couple of big threes late in Monday's win over Atlanta.


Last Week: 16 - This Week: 16

DeMarcus Cousins is averaging career highs in points per game (27.1), rebounds per game (13.2) and assists per game (5.6). He is on pace to joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor as the only players to average 27-13-5 for a season.

Sports Illustrated

Last Week: 17 - This Week: 19

Boy, getting blown out by Denver and briefly losing Anthony Davis to injury yet again sure feels like rock bottom. For their sake, I hope it is. This is a talented team.

USA Today

Last Week: 12 - This Week: 16

Curious what coach Alvin Gentry thought of his team's performance after Friday night's 146-114 loss to Denver?

"It sucked. ... We didn't do anything right, and everything was terrible, coaching included. It was an embarrassment. We embarrassed our franchise, and that includes everyone."