One Team, One Stat: Pelicans take it to the paint

NBA.com Global on Oct 03, 2018 07:50 AM
One Team, One Stat: Pelicans take it to the paint
NEW ORLEANS, LA - APRIL 11: Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans dunks against the San Antonio Spurs on April 11, 2018 at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com

NBA.com's John Schuhmann gets you ready for the 2018-19 season with a key stat for each team in the league and shows you why it matters. Today, we look at the New Orleans Pelicans, who improved their shooting by shooting closer to the basket.

THE STAT

Last season, the Pelicans were the league's most improved shooting team, with an effective field goal percentage of 54.1 percent (fourth in the league), up from 50.4 percent (19th) in 2016-17.

THE CONTEXT

That wasn't a huge jump historically. Two teams - the Nuggets and Lakers - saw bigger jumps from 2015-16 to '16-17. But effective field goal percentage is the most important of the "four factors" on both ends of the floor, and a big step forward in how effectively you shoot is a big step forward offensively.

So, though the Pelicans saw the league's second biggest increase in turnover percentage - from 12.7 per 100 possessions (fourth fewest) in 2016-17 to 14.4 (16th fewest in the league) last season - and remained in the bottom 10 in both free throw rate and offensive rebounding percentage, they saw the league's second biggest increase in offensive efficiency. They scored 107.7 points per 100 possessions (ninth), up from 103.3 (26th) in '16-17. It was just the third time in the 16 seasons since they moved to New Orleans that the Pelicans (formerly the Hornets) ranked in the top 10 offensively.

The Pelicans did see a small jump in 3-point percentage, rising from 19th (35.0 percent) to 13th (36.2 percent). They also saw an increase in the percentage of their shots that came from 3-point range, but so did 21 other teams, so they fell in the rankings in that regard, from 16th (31 percent) to 20th (32 percent).

Really, it was in the paint where the Pels became much stronger offensively. And they did it by shooting better and more often inside.

There were seven teams that saw bigger increases, but the Pelicans went from 20th (31 percent) in 2016-17 to seventh (33 percent) in regard to the percentage of their shots that came from the restricted area, the spot on the floor that yields the most points per field goal attempt league-wide (1.26). Both DeMarcus Cousins (from 41 percent to 44 percent) and Anthony Davis (from 32 percent to 41 percent) saw jumps in the percentage of their shots that came from the restricted area, and Davis one of the best high-volume finishers at the rim.

But it wasn't just the bigs. Jrue Holiday also saw career-high marks in both the percentage of his shots that came from the restricted area (35 percent) and how well he shot there (64.4 percent). The latter number was a career high by a wide margin (up from 56.5 percent over his previous three seasons). E'Twaun Moore's 65.6 percent in the restricted area ranked fifth among 32 players 6-5 or shorter with 200 or more attempts.

The Pelicans also saw an increase in the percentage of their shots that came from elsewhere in the paint. That's not necessarily a good thing, because non-restricted-area paint shots are worth the least league-wide (0.79 points per attempt), but New Orleans was the best in the league on those shots at 46.1 percent.

Moore (51 percent) and Holiday (48 percent) both ranked in the top six among players who attempted at least 200 of those non-restricted-area paint shots, while Ian Clark (51 percent) was in the top seven among players who attempted at least 100.

Of course, things changed when Cousins was lost for the season to an Achilles injury on Jan. 26. At that point, the Pelicans ranked sixth offensively (108.3 points scored per 100 possessions), with the league's third best effective field goal percentage (54.9 percent). Without Cousins, their free throw rate took a big drop, they didn't get to the basket as often, they didn't shoot as many threes, and their mid-range attempts climbed back up.

They still shot pretty well (ranking 10th in effective field goal percentage) and cut down on turnovers. They still finished with a league-high 52.4 points in the paint per game.

But the Pels ranked 17th offensively after Jan. 26 and, though Davis led the league in scoring from that point on, it was defense (where they ranked fifth after Jan. 26) that played a bigger role in them being able to hold onto the 6 seed in the Western Conference.

And then, in a first round series against a top-10 defense, the Pelicans went and scored 115 points per 100 possessions, with Davis and Holiday combining to averaged 30 points per game (on 75 percent shooting) in the restricted area alone.

The offense fell apart in the conference semifinals against the back-to-back champs, Cousins is gone for good, and some of that non-restricted-area paint shooting might be unsustainable. But the Pels have replaced Cousins with the guy - Julius Randle - who scored the fifth most points (802) in the restricted area last season. This league isn't just about 3-pointers, and the Pelicans might be able to prove it again.

Note: The above table is based on true possession counts. Other efficiency stats here are based on possession estimates (typically higher than true possession counts).

PELICANS NOTES - GENERAL

1. Ranked sixth in pace (101.5 possessions per 48 minutes) at the time of DeMarcus Cousins' Achilles injury (Jan. 26) and led the league (104.5) thereafter.

2. One of two teams (the Warriors were the other) that had the same record at home (24-17) as they did on the road. Ranked fifth in road defense and fourth in point differential per 100 possessions (plus-2.0) on the road.

3. Led the league with nine wins after trailing by 15 or more points and had seven wins (three more than any other team) in overtime.

4. Were 30-20 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes. That was tied for the second most "clutch" games in the league and the their 0.600 winning percentage in those games was up from 0.386 (17-27) last season. No team saw a bigger jump in clutch winning percentage.

5. Conference semifinals series vs. Golden State was the fastest-paced series (107.9 possessions per team per 48 minutes) of the last 20 years.

PELICANS NOTES - OFFENSE

1. Took 62 percent of their shots, the league's highest rate, in the first 12 seconds of the shot clock, according to Second Spectrum tracking.

2. Saw the league's second biggest post-break drop in the percentage of their shots that came from 3-point range. Ranked 14th in 3PA/FGA (34 percent) before the break, but 26th (28 percent) after the break.

3. Had the league's best assist-turnover ratio (2.08) in the clutch (score within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime).

4. Scored 114.7 points per 100 possessions (third most for any team in any series last season) in the first round and just 98.5 (fewest for any team in any series) in the conference semis.

5. Ranked second in player movement (10.9 miles traveled per 24 minutes of possession) and third in ball movement (340 passes per 24 minutes of possession) in the playoffs, according to Second Spectrum tracking.

PELICANS NOTES - DEFENSE

1. Ranked 21st defensively (106.9 points allowed per 100 possessions) prior to the Cousins injury and fifth (103.7) thereafter.

2. One of only five teams that saw a decrease in the percentage of their opponents' shots that came from 3-point range from 2016-17 (33.5 percent, seventh highest rate) to '17-18 (33.3 percent, 13th lowest).

3. At the time, the Blazers' free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 0.173 in the first round was the lowest mark for any team in a playoff series over the last 20 years. Then the Pelicans themselves had a rate of just 0.165 in the conference semifinals vs. Golden State.

PELICANS NOTES - LINEUPS

1. One of three teams - Minnesota and Houston were the others - that got fewer than 1,000 total minutes from rookies or second-year players.

2. One of three teams - Minnesota and Oklahoma City were the others - that got less than 25 percent of their points from off the bench.

3. Lineup of Rajon Rondo, Jrue Holiday, E'Twaun Moore, Nikola Mirotic and Anthony Davis averaged 105.2 possessions per 48 minutes, the second fastest pace among 48 lineups that played at least 200 minutes together.

4. Outscored their opponents by 10.7 points per 100 possessions in 576 minutes with Davis on the floor with Nikola Mirotic, the best mark for any Davis combination that played at least 500 minutes.

5. The Pelicans outscored their opponents by 5.7 points per 100 possessions with Jrue Holiday on the floor, and were outscored by 7.9 with Holiday off the floor in the regular season. That (13.6 points per 100 possessions) was the third biggest on-off NetRtg differential among 266 players who played at least 1,000 minutes for a single team.

6. Elfrid Payton's teams allowed 114.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor last season. That was the highest on-court DefRtg mark among players that averaged at least 15 minutes in 40 games or more.

PELICANS NOTES - INDIVIDUAL

1. Ian Clark shot 31.8 percent from 3-point range last season, down from 37.4 percent in 2016-17 (with Golden State). That was the sixth biggest drop among players with at least 150 3-point attempts both seasons.

2. Anthony Davis ranked No. 1 in the NBA's efficiency statistic (which adds together the five basic boxscore stats and subtracts missed shots and turnovers). He led the league in blocks (2.6 per game), ranked second in scoring (28.1 points per game), and ranked fifth in rebounds (11.1 per game).

3. Davis was the only player (minimum 1,000 minutes) who accounted for more than half of his team's free throw attempts while he was on the floor.

4. Davis allowed just 0.72 points per possession on isolations, the best mark among 25 players who defended at least 100 isolation possessions.

5. Jrue Holiday ranked second in the league in total distance traveled (211 miles) in the regular season.

6. Davis (51.6 percent) and Holiday (50.5 percent) were two of five players who shot better than 50 percent on at least 50 shots with the score within five points in the last five minutes.

7. Holiday shot 55 percent on drives, the second best mark (behind that of LeBron James) among players who attempted at least 200 shots on drives.

8. Jarrett Jack recorded assists on 37 percent of his possessions, the second highest rate (behind that of Rajon Rondo) among 285 players who averaged at least 15 minutes in 40 games or more.

9. Jack took 65 percent of his shots from between the restricted area and 3-point range, the highest rate among players with at least 400 total field goal attempts.

10. Nikola Mirotic had an effective field goal percentage of 51.3 percent (below the league average) in 30 games with New Orleans after registering a mark of 58.8 percent (above the league average) in 25 games with Chicago.

11. E'Twaun Moore ranked fourth in the league with 63 corner 3-pointers. Darius Miller (54 percent) and Moore (50 percent) were two of eight players who shot 50 percent or better on at least 50 corner 3-point attempts.

12. Moore shot 40-for-67 (60 percent) from 3-point range in the second quarter, the best mark for any player in a quarter in which he attempted at least 50 3-pointers.

13. Of Miller's 487 field goal attempts, only 15 (three percent) came from the restricted area.

14. Though he saw drops after he was traded to Phoenix, Elfrid Payton still registered career-high marks in effective field goal percentage (51.6 percent) and true shooting percentage (53.8 percent) last season.

15. Payton took 74 percent of his shots in the paint, the highest rate among 65 players 6-5 and shorter with at least 500 field goal attempts.

16. Julius Randle led all centers in average seconds (of possession) per touch (2.61) and average dribbles per touch (1.35).

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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