Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Exploring the Pelicans with SportsVu: Passing and Defense


Yesterday Pelican Debrief started a look at the first season of SportsVu player tracking data with regards to the Pelicans with an overview of the movement and possession numbers. Today we continue on that expedition by taking a look at the next two tracking categories—passing and defense.


It goes without saying that ball movement is extremely important to successful offense in the NBA. At a certain point a defense will break down thanks to some initial action and an offensive player has to make the proper read to get his team a bucket.

In the past the only real way to quantify passing has been assist numbers, both per game and rate. Now with player tracking we have a lot more ways to look at the quality and quantity of players passes.

For the Pelicans the quantity of passing had some huge discrepancies. Jrue Holiday led the team in passes per game with 60.5, which makes complete sense for a player that was charged with running the offense and getting his teammates good looks. In fact Holiday’s 60.5 put him in the top 20 in passes per game in the league this season.

With Holiday lost due to injury the responsibilities became split between a group of players and it showed in the numbers. Brian Roberts finished second on the team in passes per game with 39.2, Jason Smith finished third with 37.6, Tyreke Evans third at 33.9, Anthony Davis fourth at 33 and Ryan Anderson fifth at 32.9. Instead of one player dominating things, the passes spread out among a group of players to make the offense work.

This season Holiday posted 7.9 assists per game this season, which would have ranked him sixth in the league if he played enough minutes to qualify. What is even more encouraging than that rank is that Holiday’s passing was more effective than just the 7.9 assists per game he posted.

Holiday also recorded 0.9 free throw assists per game (a pass made to a player who was then fouled, missed the shot if shooting and made at least one free throw), and produced 14.3 assist opportunities a game, both numbers that ranked in the top 11 in the league.

The best number that came out of the passing stats though was Holiday’s points created by assist, where he ranked eighth in the league with 18.2 points created per game and eighth in the league in players with at least 20 games in point created per 48 minutes at 25.8. The most important part of this is that it meant Holiday was creating about three, three-point opportunities for a team that struggled with spreading the floor and actually attempting three pointers.

In another encouraging number Tyreke Evans also produced 11.8 points per game and 20 point per 48 minutes off of his assists, meaning when he had to take over as the primary playmaker late in the year things that position wasn’t held down terribly.

Defensive Impact:

While many of the other categories have multiple stats that have never before been publicly available defensively the only new numbers involve defending the rim. These numbers are one of the biggest areas where single season numbers have to be taken with an extreme caution as it is still unclear what exactly is great and how volatile these numbers can be on a year to year basis. All that doesn’t mean we can’t take something from this season’s numbers as we go forward and try to learn just what is what.

The most important number we can take from the data, and the one that probably is the one to watch as we go forward, is that opponents shot 48.9 percent on 6.6 attempts per game at the rim while being defended by Anthony Davis. With the way the roster is constructed now Davis is the primary rim protector, though Alexis Ajinca (50.4 percent) and Jeff Withey (42.9 percent) have a chance to become that player with more minutes. If Davis can keep that number down to below league average it will make a big difference going forward the Pelicans defense should continue to get better and better as they cut down on the opponent’s chances at the rim, especially if Withey or Ajinca become his permanent partner on the front line.

That concludes today’s look at the SportsVu data in regards to the Pelicans this season but make sure to check back over the next few days as we explore rebounding and drives tomorrow and catch and shoot, pull up and shooting efficiency numbers on Thursday to see what we can learn from them. In the meantime if you want to explore the date for yourself feel free to check it all out here.

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Tags: Anthony Davis Jrue Holiday New Orleans Pelicans

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