New Orleans Pelicans: Are we sure the defense has improved?

Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

The New Orleans Pelicans hired Stan Van Gundy in part to fix the woeful defense and for a few games, it looked like he might have.

Overall, the Pelicans have played better defense, as their defensive rating is nearly six points lower than it was last season, which is an improvement.

The addition of Steven Adams has made the difference, as the Pelicans are no longer giving up as many points in the paint and his rebounding helps to close out defensive possessions.

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But it is still early, so the Pelicans’ improved rating has been helped immensely by one game in which they held the OKC Thunder to just 80 points.

If you remove that game, things look a lot different for the New Orleans Pelicans, so the question is, has their defense actually improved?

New Orleans Pelicans: Where to the Pels rank defensively?

The New Orleans Pelicans are currently 23rd in team defense in the NBA, with a 110.7 defensive rating.

As I said, it is an improvement from last season when their rating was just over 116.

But is it really an improvement? Let’s take a look at the numbers.

The Pelicans have gone 1-6 in their last seven games, most of which have been on the road.

In that time, they are allowing an average of 116.5 points per game, in other words, the exact same as last season.

While fans have rightfully been concerned about the Pelicans’ bad offensive start, their defense is starting to look like it hasn’t improved as much as we thought.

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The Pels have taken a step back on offense so far this season, which will hopefully turn around once JJ Redick, Josh Hart and Lonzo Ball start making shots, but this defensive slide is far more worrying.

Stan Van Gundy’s philosophy is to limit easy buckets by stopping fast breaks and not allowing points in the paint.

The Pelicans have done the latter and are 3rd in the NBA in points in the paint allowed, a huge improvement from last season, going from 52 a game to 40.6.

But they are not stopping fast breaks, as they are allowing 13.2 fast break points per game, which is 20th in the NBA.

This is mostly because the New Orleans Pelicans are still turning the ball over too much, leading to 19 points off turnovers per game, 24th in the NBA.

The Pelicans have also been terrible at defending the 3-point line and are allowing opponents to shoot 38 percent, nearly two percentage points worse than last season.

The New Orleans Pelicans have struggled on both ends, though people have mostly focused on the offense.

They need to get the defense turned around quickly or it won’t matter how many points they score.

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