Film Breakdown: New Orleans Pelicans Team Strategies


The New Orleans Pelicans have been in the thick of the playoff race, jockeying for positioning as we near the end of the 2023-24 regular season.

This is a team whose trio (Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum) averages between 19 and 23 points per game a piece.

While New Orleans did not have a representative in the All-Star Game, they do have an All-NBA defensive candidate in Herbert Jones.

With a combination of their balanced offense and a top-level defense, let’s take a look at the Pelicans’ film.

Pick-and-roll defense

The Pelicans primarily play up at the level in pick-and-roll coverages. They utilize Jonas Valanciunas, a traditional center, to take away driving lanes for opposing ball handlers.

However, due to Valanciunas’ lack of mobility, part of the Pelicans’ pick-and-roll coverages ask the low man to have multiple responsibilities.

The low man must tag the roller and then rotate back to the perimeter. Since the low man leaves the corner open, the defender on the wing must rotate to the corner. The low man completes the “X” coverage by rotating to the wing shooter.

Here is an example:

According to Cleaning the Glass via Nekias Duncan, writer and podcaster for, the Pelicans are top ten in shots allowed at the rim (10th, 9th, 10th) in the three years Willie Green has coached the team.

On the flip side, the Pelicans are bottom ten in shots allowed on the perimeter (23rd, 25th, 29th).

The Pelicans’ defensive strategies: ball handlers not allowed to get downhill and the low man has to tag the roll man. They use their athletic wings to rotate and contain the perimeter. 

The Pelicans are willing to live with above the break 3-pointers.

Here is an example:

In Green’s first year as coach, the Pelicans were bottom five in defensive point percentage. Incredibly, despite being top ten in perimeter shots given up the last two years, the Pelicans are first in defensive 3-point percentage.


The Pelicans run a heavy dose of 4-5 pick and rolls between Williamson and Valanciunas or Larry Nance. They run these 4-5 PNRs to allow a runway for Williamson or get a switch.

Here is an example:

They will set off-ball screens for Brandon Ingram to catch the ball in the midrange where he only has to dribble once or twice before putting his defender at his mercy.

Here is an example:

CJ McCollum has 4.8 of his 14.8 field-goal attempts that are catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. He is shooting 41.1 percent on catch-and-shoot triples.

Here is an example:

The Pelicans’ anchor, Herb Jones, is utilized as an on-ball screener for Williamson or Ingram.

Here is an example:

The Pelicans do not necessary run plays for Valanciunas, but when he has a favorable matchup on the low block, that’s when he gets his touches.

Here is an example:

Trey Murphy ghost screens

A staple play that the Pelicans run is a Trey Murphy ghost screen for Zion.

They have ran this action four times at the end of quarters. Zion has been the passer in this action six times.

Here are two examples:

Their star-studded trio and their depth are a team that are poised to be in the war zone of the West.

The Pelicans will look to continue to make noise through their balanced offense and defense.

About Mac Pham

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