Pelicans’ Past Problems Persist into 2021


The New Orleans Pelicans are off to a 4-6 start with disappointing losses to Indiana, Oklahoma City and Charlotte, resurfacing previous issues. Ten games in and the Pelicans have underachieved. New Orleans needs to improve and quickly. Here are the good, bad and ugly from the start of the season.

The Good

Defense! Defense!

Stan Van Gundy’s defensive scheme catapulted New Orleans into the top half of the league after being a disaster under Alvin Gentry. Heading into the season, this scenario appeared likely. All players bought into the scheme, and fans can effortlessly observe the result. The Pelicans have held their opponents to under 100 points three times. The system is simple and effective.

New Orleans is crowding the paint and letting teams shoot as many threes as they wish. Groups like the Bucks had success with the scheme previously, and early on, it seems New Orleans will have some system success. Despite this trend, New Orleans has four players in the top ten of contested three-pointers per game.

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The issue is good three-point shooting teams will destroy the Pelicans. All units except San Antonio and Toronto scorched New Orleans beyond the arc. Van Gundy will make minor tweaks to minimize this issue, but relying on teams to miss from three is a scary strategy.

Offensive Rebounding

New Orleans is terrifying on the offensive glass. Acquiring Steven Adams signified a concerted effort to decimate teams on the boards.

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Adams and Zion Williamson provide a rebounding frontcourt unseen in today’s NBA. According to Basketball-Reference, the team rebounds 11.4% of their misses through the first nine games, with Adams and Williamson averaging 6.9 offensive rebounds a game. No other duo matches this number.

The creation of second-chance points bodes well for New Orleans. Generating additional opportunities is essential to this team as they struggle to score consistently. Furthermore, once the offense and three-point shooting pick up, the obscene rebounding rate will make New Orleans an offensive juggernaut.

Brandon Ingram‘s Ascension

Brandon Ingram‘s first two seasons in New Orleans have been spectacular. A Most Improved Player award and All-Star berth last season exceeded all expectations. Now, Ingram is at another level, emerging as a low-end MVP candidate. David Griffin hoped for the best when trading for Ingram, but he didn’t expect this quick of a rise. When watching New Orleans play, Ingram’s demeanor is unparalleled. Rarely does he force anything. His focus shifted throughout the last two seasons from being a one-dimensional scorer to becoming a triple-threat.

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Along with his growth offensively, Ingram’s defensive intensity increased significantly. He looks much more engaged on defense and within the paint. Having Ingram further buy into both ends of the court helps New Orleans dramatically. Overall, Ingram’s continued growth is marvelous. His offensive game will only continue growing, and with his intense focus on defense, Brandon could be in the MVP conversation for years to come.

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The Bad

Offensive Woes

After Wednesday’s loss, New Orleans ranks 25th in points per game. Even though their defense is playing at a top-ten level, a porous offense like this will not allow NOLA to make a serious run. There are several issues with the offense, none more critical than their three-point shooting. New Orleans is 29th in three-point percentage. The lack of deep shooting clogs the lane, causing the team to settle for either mid-range shots or inefficient three-pointers. 

Everyone except Josh Hart and Eric Bledsoe are shooting much lower than last season’s averages, especially JJ Redick, who is at an ice-cold 29.5%. Additionally, New Orleans’ turnover problems are alarming. Ranked 26th in the league, New Orleans coughs up the ball over seventeen times a game, leading to 14.6 fast-break points per game for the opposition. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that this rate will decrease. Ingram, Bledsoe and Lonzo Ball have always been high turnover players. With the three tasked with initiating the offense, it is hard to see their turnover rate decreasing. 

Bench Production

New Orleans ranks last in bench scoring. The Pelicans have simply struggled to produce anything when starters sit. Redick’s slow start affects this issue dramatically, but there is a general lack of creativity from the bench. Hart, Redick, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Jaxson Hayes are the four players Van Gundy usually deploys, with Nicolo Melli occasionally. Alexander-Walker is the lone ball handler in that unit.

Having a traditional point guard off the bench will aid the production significantly. Pelicans’ first-round pick Kira Lewis Jr may be the answer, but his lack of experience will cause growing pains. Another option is to bench Bledsoe for Hart and having Eric serve primarily as the back-up point guard. While Bledsoe currently plays point as a starter, having him come off the bench will align his minutes with Redick. The change provides Bledsoe with the much-needed spacing that the starting unit does not have. 

The Ugly

Late-Game Execution

New Orleans’ four losses in a row come down to late-game execution. In ‘clutch’ situations, New Orleans’ offense stagnates. Converting on only 38.5% of shots and an alarming 16.7% from three (according to, the Pelicans struggle to create open looks. Teams now place all the emphasis on Williamson and Ingram and beg anyone else to beat them. 

Ball and Alexander-Walker have tried and failed to step up as the third option during the last stretch. Hart has shown to be the most comfortable third option but is a streaky scorer and is not a strong ball handler. Van Gundy needs to create more spacing for Ingram and Williamson, and once again, it may have to come from players more in-depth on the bench. 

Overall, a 4-6 is not what the Pelicans envisioned. Heading into the season, the Pelicans were in a promising position. The team could easily be 7-3 but have faltered. An improved offense will solve many of their issues, but New Orleans will struggle to win games against the NBA’s elite until then. 

About Vance Abreu

An Australian trying to make it big in Toronto, Canada. Weekly articles about the Pelicans journey to a NBA championship

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