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Pelicans have huge 3-point math problem, but the answer is no mystery

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“We have to shoot more 3s.” — Brandon Ingram

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Utah Jazz Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Through 13 games, the New Orleans Pelicans have a basic arithmetic problem, but the answer is staring them right in their faces.

Outside of the Cavaliers and Knicks, the Pelicans are taking and making fewer 3-pointers than the rest of the league each game. Conversely, New Orleans is allowing the most attempts and made baskets from that range on the other end of the floor.

If the disparity witnessed to date remains constant for the rest of the 2020-21 season, the Pelicans will go down in the record books with the worst made 3s per game differential in NBA history — by a country mile.

To boil it down into a tidy sentence: opponents have thus far outscored the Pelicans by an average of damn near 19 points from the 3-point line. Every. Single. Game.

One doesn’t have to be a genius to realize that New Orleans is handicapping their odds of emerging victorious, essentially needing to heavily rely elsewhere to reduce the impact of that enormous point differential from 3-point territory.

This means that the Pelicans require some combination of Zion Williamson being perfect from the field in scoring 30+ points, the team making a heck of a lot more free throws than opponents, strictly limiting opponents to one shot per possession and a slew of other important factors to go in their favor.

How feasible is it to place such a burden on other areas and demand significantly better results than opponents? Not great, especially when New Orleans appears to be a mediocre team from both talent and experience standpoints in the Western Conference.

Outside of Zion and Brandon Ingram, who do you trust to get a bucket? Have the Pelicans remotely looked like a cohesive defensive unit for a full 48 minutes? And this bench, have they been outscored by opposing reserves every single time out?

Despite the hard but honest questions, have a look at the results when New Orleans has been competitive from 3-point range versus when they have not on a given night.

Pelicans 3PTM Pelicans 3PA Opponent 3PTM Opponent 3PA 3PTM differential W/L
@TOR (12/23) 19 42 14 46 +5 W
@MIA (12/25) 10 35 16 37 -5 L
SAS (12/27) 5 24 11 36 -6 W
@PHX (12/29) 3 24 19 47 -16 L
@OKC (12/31) 13 36 15 48 -2 W
TOR (1/2) 14 38 14 48 0 W
IND (1/4) 9 27 19 45 -10 L
OKC (1/6) 4 22 19 46 -15 L
CHO (1/8) 15 38 16 42 -1 L
@LAC (1/13) 10 28 18 37 -8 L
@LAL (1/15) 9 29 15 37 -6 L
@SAC (1/17) 11 22 13 39 -2 W
@UTA (1/19) 6 26 21 47 -15 L

Another way to look at the importance of 3-point shooting in today’s modern NBA, when the Pelicans have launched 35 or more attempts, their record stands at 3-2. When they’ve failed to crack the 30-attempt plateau, they’re 2-6 on the year. (Notice: I didn’t even mention the makes here at all.)

Asides the fact that the Pelicans have yet to allow less than 36 attempts or 11 makes from 3-point land — hey, defense, let’s start doing a better job, shall we? — perhaps the most troubling aspect is that New Orleans is trending downwards in taking 3s.

The disparity in the 3-point make differential has been worse (-8.14) during this latest stretch where they’ve lost six of their last seven games. On average, they’ve been outscored by over 24 points per game from deep starting with the loss to the Pacers.

Through the first six games, the Pelicans averaged 33.2 3-point attempts. Over the last seven contests, that mark has slipped to 27.4.

Part of the reason for the drop in attempts is likely due to the fact that all the struggles witnessed this season have pushed the players to subconsciously move closer with greater urgency. The problem, though, it’s not worth trading for midrange twos for most or hotly contested shots at the rim in traffic when you’re not a gargantuan finisher like Zion or Steven Adams.

Soon or later — and hopefully with the aid of the coaching staff creating easier looks, the long-range shots have to start falling, but if they don’t, the responsibility will shift to the front office to shore up the Pelicans’ mind-numbing deficiency.

Following Tuesday’s 118-102 loss to the Jazz, Brandon Ingram said the answer point blank when Will Guillory of The Athletic asked about having any concerns over the 3-point math not sitting in the Pelicans’ favor.

“We have to shoot more 3s.”

Yeah, you do. Let’s start tomorrow. Even if you miss your first ten attempts.

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.