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The New Orleans Pelicans have a Turnover Problem

Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

As the NBA season evolves, buzzwords crop up around teams at certain times of year. For the New Orleans Pelicans, you heard about Jrue Holiday moving “off ball.” In training camp in preseason, it was “ball movement.” And now, after the thirteenth game of the season, the buzzword is: “Turnovers.” Now, this isn’t to dismiss those buzzwords. Topics, themes, and concerns change as the campaign marches on.

For a team that is 7-6 and sits 7th in the Western Conference Standings, the Pelicans are in pretty good shape. Yet some are not sold on the team; even in their wins, the Pelicans have struggled and looked very beatable. A big reason why is that current buzzword: Turnovers.

The Numbers

So let’s lay out the numbers first. The Pelicans currently turn the ball over 16.7 times per game—24th in the league. Not good. This leads to the team having a TOV% of 16.2—23rd in the league. Also not good.

It’s easy to point to these numbers alone and say this is what’s holding the team back. And after turning the ball over 23 times in a bit of a struggle win against the Clippers on Saturday (a game they dominate if that numbers drops by even a quarter) it’s understandable and valid.

It’s also easy to try and hand-wave away the turnover issues. When looking at the team, they actually rank 10th in Assist/Turnover ratio, assist on 61.9% of their makes (3rd best in the league), and are 3rd in assists per game with 24.8. So the turnovers aren’t stopping the offense from doing what it wants: that is, moving and passing the ball. The Pelicans are 7th in the league with 317.6 passes per game. More passes mean more opportunities for turnovers, right? So it’s only natural that what is happening here.

Except that is not it. Not all turnovers are created equal. So let’s dive in and see what it going on and what it means for this Pelicans team.

There are two main culprits when it comes to turnovers for the New Orleans Pelicans: DeMarcus Cousins and Jrue Holiday.


Cousins agreed, after the game Saturday saying, “I am the main culprit of the turnovers right now. I had eight of them. I’ve just got to do a better job of taking care of the ball and making good decisions.” Cousins is averaging 5.2 turnovers per game, and they are not the result of him making bad passes in the Pelicans ball movement offense. They do come in two other forms, however.

The Offensive Foul

Yes, offensive fouls count as turnovers, and Cousins has picked up a number of these so far this season.

Of the two, the offensive fouls are the least hurtful. Cousins’ game is partially built around his physicality and ability to bully defenders. Offensive fouls will happen on occasion. While these are turnovers, they are side outs for the other team—meaning play stops and the opponent inbounds the ball. Keep that in mind for later.

The Uncontrolled Drive

These are the more hurtful turnovers. The other part of Cousins’ game is built around his athleticism and ability to drive from the perimeter and score at the rim—and hopefully draw a foul on the way. And while Cousins does this successfully very often, he does not have the handles of a guard and that results in turnovers.

While many of these turnovers are partially because Cousins doesn’t have the handles of a guard, the last one is a result of the team as a whole. As Cousins starts to drive both Holiday and Moore are in the same spot on the court. In general this makes a team easier to defend. But look how the Raptors defend this: all five guys are in the paint. There is zero respect for the Pelicans perimeter threats. Jrue Holiday is shooting 22% from deep. And while Moore is firing away at a 37.2% clip, the Pelicans overall rank 24th in 3pt% at 33.9%. The lack of threats and overall shooting compresses the court, hurts spacing, and makes it easier to defend the Pelicans’ Big Birds.

Jrue Holiday

Holiday’s overall issues are well known and Jason is going to be taking a deeper look at Holiday tomorrow, but the Toronto game was very eye opening. That game showed exactly what is going wrong with Holiday. When he tries to be a scorer and focuses solely on that role he excels.

Look at how decisive Holiday is on this possession. His eyes are on the rim, not looking for a teammate to pass to. He drives, doesn’t hesitate, and it leads to a score. With Holiday in that mindset he lives up to his contract.


But when he plays passively and looks to setup others is when the turnovers happen.

In the first video, Holiday hesitates which allows the defense a moment to recover. He then attacks which gets him stuck in a bad position. Holiday tries to pass out of it, but at that point all angles are covered and it leads to a turnover.

In the second video, Holiday just needs to drive and attack. Instead he is indecisive and passes instead of completing his spin move. It leads to a bad pass and a turnover.

The End Result

Despite the good passing stats listed above, the 16.7 turnovers per game are a bad thing for the Pelicans. Turnovers are empty possessions for the Pelicans, and for a team 14th best offense those hurt—especially in close or tough games.

But live ball turnovers like Holiday’s and when Cousins drives, create fastbreak opportunities for opponents. The Pelicans rank 16th in the league in opponent fastbreak points per game—with the opposition scoring 10.8 points that way.

And even if it isn’t in the fastbreak the opponents punish the Pelicans for team’s carelessness with the ball, scoring 18.5 points per game off the Pelicans turnovers. That ranks 21st in the league. Not good.

For a team that hasn’t grabbed a signature win, or a win over solid playoff team (the Cavs don’t count right now), gifting opponents points make you wonder if the Pelicans can compete with the NBA’s heavyweights. We’ll know soon, however, as 11 of the Pelicans next 13 games are against playoff contenders.

The good news is these types of turnovers can be cured or cut down with a little more emphasis on protecting the rock, and more decisiveness from Holiday. If the Pelicans do that they can only look better.

Cousins agrees, saying “It shows what type of team we can be if we just take care of the ball.”

Think turnovers are holding the Pelicans back? Is something else the issue? Let us know in the comments below!

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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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