New Orleans Pelicans: How to fix the Pels’ three-point defense

Lonzo Ball #2 of the New Orleans Pelicans, Josh Hart #3 and Brandon Ingram. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Lonzo Ball #2 of the New Orleans Pelicans, Josh Hart #3 and Brandon Ingram. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /
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New Orleans Pelicans
Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns reacts after scoring during the second quarter of an NBA game against the New Orleans Pelicans. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

What’s going on with the New Orleans Pelicans‘ three-point defense?

The New Orleans Pelicans capitulated in the fourth quarter on Friday behind a three-point barrage led by Chris Paul, losing 114-132 to the Phoenix Suns.

It was a script we have seen far too often this season, as recently as last Wednesday in the Pels’ loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. Agains the Suns, the Pelicans played a bright first three quarters and were then outscored 12-41 in the final period. It was a particularly hapless showing from the Pelicans in the fourth, but the signs that it could happen were there since the start of the game—and they have persisted throughout the course of the season.

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New Orleans concede the most three-pointers out of anyone in the league with opponents shooting 41 triples per game against the Pelicans. Opponents make around 39 percent of those threes, which is third-best in the entire NBA. Simply put, the Pelicans give up a lot of threes and opponents convert them at a high clip. That’s not a recipe for success for a team chasing the playoffs.

These numbers are not coincidental. This is a schematic decision by the Pelicans coaches who have opted to try to protect the rim rather than guard the perimeter. 28 games into the season, this choice has not paid off. The proof is in the pudding of course, but look no further than the past few games the Pels have played.

The Pelicans have recently lost to the Dallas Mavericks, Trail Blazers, and Suns. Those teams shot 56 percent, 44 percent, and again 56 percent against New Orleans, respectively. Their percentages from beyond the arc when facing the Pelicans were vastly superior to their season averages, especially in the Mavs’ case.

What do these three teams all have in common? They have an elite playmaker—be it Luka Doncic, Damian Lillard or Chris Paul—that can decipher the game as it is happening and pick apart the Pelicans’ flaws. It’s too easy for the Pelicans to lose and that should not be the case when they’re scoring around 120 points per game against teams of that ilk.