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Making Sense of the New Orleans Pelicans’ Pace

Jake Madison

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© Kelley L Cox

As the New Orleans Pelicans have looked to adjust in the wake of the DeMarcus Cousins injury a lot has been made about the word ‘Pace.’

It’s increased. It’s one of the highest in the league. A team hasn’t played this fast in years.

All of that is true. And the table below shows how the pace has picked up as the season has progressed.

But…what does it all really mean?

To overly simplify it, Gentry wants his team to take quick shots in transition before the defense gets set. Gentry’s up-tempo offense wants to get shots in transition before the defense is set. Very Early and Early in the shot clock are when you have mismatches, man advantages, and higher points per possession.

And, in the wake of losing Cousins for the season, the Pelicans have been doing this more and more. Take a look at the table:

Almost 46% of the Pelicans offense is coming early on in the shot clock—in situations where the Pelicans can take advantage of the size, speed, and athleticism. That’s compared to 35% when Cousins was healthy.

EFG% drops significantly for the Pelicans (and every other team for the most part) once you get into the Average section of shot clock usage. By then defenses are able to get set and execute their system with all five guys. When you factor in that the Pelicans turn the ball over higher than average rate, it’s no surprise that the Pelicans want to play less in the half court.

The team’s offensive rating bears this out:

During the post-injury pre-streak period the Pelicans went through their shot clock profile largely resembled what we saw with Cousins healthy. And without Cousins to help carry the load in the half court and later in the shot clock, the Pelicans offense really faltered.

There’s an interesting takeaway here: The Pelicans overall EFG% is lower during the streak than it was before it. So why then is the offense better?

With a renewed emphasis on getting more opportunities that put Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday (who played absolutely outstanding on offense during the streak), and Rajon Rondo in better positions to succeed, you saw the Pelicans offense really take off and hit a new level of efficiency. Simply put, the Pelicans are taking significantly more efficient shots, and even if they’re making those slightly worse than before, the shear volume more than makes up for that.

Now, all of this isn’t to say the Pelicans are better without Cousins. They aren’t. They are just different offensively, and trying to fill the void that his injury created in the best way possible. An injury or a bad game from just one player can derail this Pelicans offense (which we’ve seen over the past two games where the Pelicans have the second worst ORTG at just 95.8) since you don’t have Cousins to help mitigate that. And it’s likely that the team will merge the two styles next season once Cousins is back healthy.

The season looked over when Boogie went down for the year, but a change in offensive philosphy has kept the team afloat and thriving. Good on Anthony Davis for stepping up, and good on Alvin Gentry for realizing what the team needed to do.

Jake J. Madison is the host of the daily Locked on Pelicans podcast. Covering the Pelicans and NBA since 2010, you can catch him on various sports programs around New Orleans and nationally.

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