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High octane offense has New Orleans Pelicans on crash course for 2018 NBA playoffs

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Some real issues still exist, but they may not be enough to deter DeMarcus Cousins from appearing in his first postseason series.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans have joined the high-scoring elite and this season’s best revelation may pay off handsomely come April.

On this Christmas Day, the Pelicans have the seventh highest ranked offense in the league. If they can largely maintain that position, it’ll mark just the third time in franchise history that New Orleans finishes a season inside the top 10. Incidentally, the Pelicans made the playoffs in both of those previous two instances.

New Orleans currently sits in the top 5 in points (110.6), field goal percentage (48.9%), three-point percentage (38.4%), effective field goal percentage (55.6%) and true shooting percentage (58.6%). Turnovers and an inability to knock down free throws at a rate more in line with their high firepower peers is preventing the offense from ranking more prominently.

Yet, there’s no denying the offense has been mostly outstanding, having failed to reach the 100-point barrier only seven times. That’s close to a 17-game pace for the season; however, it must be mentioned that they’ve missed topping the triple digit threshold just once in their last 23 games. For comparison’s sake, the Pelicans scored less than 100 points a total of 27 times last season and a whooping 37 times in Alvin Gentry’s first year at the helm.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

An overall 108.1 offensive rating looks great on paper, but the Pelicans have only a 17-16 record to show for their entertaining accomplishments. That’s far from a playoff guarantee for teams who finish a season hovering right around .500 in the standings. The biggest problem, of course, has been a leaky defense that has allowed a hair more points than the Pelicans have scored this season.

While it’s ridiculous to argue against the desperate need for improvement in slowing down opponents, don’t get overly discouraged because recent history gives the Pelicans a 92% chance to make the playoffs — if the offensive production remains steady. Spanning the last five completed seasons, only four teams who finished inside the top-10 in offensive rating went on to miss the postseason: 2017 Nuggets, 2017 Timberwolves, 2014 Suns and 2014 Timberwolves.

Perhaps the most astounding aspect about New Orleans ability to pile up points on the scoreboard, though, is the nearly unprecedented numbers they’ve compiled in their 16 losses to date. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen such a compilation of defeats waste so many good deeds. Just have a glance at how the Pelicans compare to teams historically that led the league in points per game in losses only over the last ten years.

Team W/L Record Points per game Field goal percentage Three-point percentage Offensive rating
2017-18 Pelicans 17-16 107.4 (1st) 46.8% (2nd) 37.9% (1st) 104.2 (2nd)
2016-17 Rockets 55-27 106.0 (1st) 42.4% (24th) 29.5% (28th) 103.9 (3rd)
2015-16 Kings 33-49 103.3 (1st) 44.7% (3rd) 35.8% (1st) 99.3 (10th)
2014-15 Warriors 67-15 101.7 (1st) 44.1% (3rd) 35.0% (1st) 100.9 (4th)
2013-14 Mavericks 49-33 102.4 (1st) 45.1% (2nd) 35.8% (1st) 103.9 (1st)
2012-13 Nuggets 57-25 100.0 (1st) 46.7% (1st) 30.5% (27th) 102.4 (2nd)
2011-12 Nuggets 38-28 96.9 (1st) 44.6% (2nd) 29.2% (25th) 100.2 (2nd)
2010-11 Rockets 43-39 103.0 (1st) 43.8% (13th) 33.4% (10th) 103.7 (1st)
2009-10 Warriors 26-56 104.4 (1st) 44.8% (6th) 34.9% (3rd) 101.3 (4th)
2008-09 Warriors 29-53 104.4 (1st) 44.3% (4th) 34.6% (9th) 102.1 (4th)

Only the Milwaukee Bucks and their current 104.8 ORtg and 47.0 FG% in losses stand in the way of New Orleans sweeping all of the above categories, something the 2013-14 Dallas Mavericks almost accomplished unceremoniously. That’s impressive, and at the same time, disturbing — much more so than this chart illustrates.

In factoring losing outcomes only, not since the 2001-02 Washington Wizards has a team shot for a higher three-point percentage (38.1%), and as far as points, not since the early 1990s has a team scored more per game than the Pelicans. (Ie. See 1990-91 Denver Nuggets and their 118.0 PPG average in losses.)

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

So, we’ve established New Orleans is very, very good at scoring points, but admittedly, a few of us saw some of this coming. Who knew that an offense built around Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, two of the most prolific and well rounded scorers in the league, would be so potent? Or that the team’s three-point shooting concerns were overblown in New Orleans?!

Anyways, unlike most other teams, the Pelicans have not lost their fair share of games because the offense failed to put the ball through the basket. If they can figure out a way to prevent handing out too many easy points stemming from turnovers, second chance opportunities, heck, not getting back on defense quickly enough after misses — like we just saw on the two-game swing through Florida, then a fifth or sixth seed in the Western Conference could well be within striking range.

Alvin Gentry and his renowned ability to make offenses sing high-octane melodies has finally appeared during his third year as the head coach. The addition of Chris Finch to the coaching staff, the Davis-Cousins combo growing more comfortable together, players like Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore bouncing back from personal or lingering injury issues, and a number of acquisitions by Dell Demps (Rajon Rondo, Darius Miller, Jameer Nelson) that smartly addressed several team weaknesses, have all aided the Pelicans in morphing into an offensive juggernaut.

As long as serious injuries to the core stay far away, the New Orleans Pelicans should remain on pace to keep scoring copious amounts of points after the conclusion of the regular season.

Happy Holidays, everyone!!!