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
Lonzo Ball #2 of the New Orleans Pelicans, Josh Hart #3 and Brandon Ingram. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

New Orleans Pelicans: How to fix the 3-point defense

The NBA is a league increasingly centered around three-point shooting. The Pelicans’ defense isn’t cutting it, which isn’t to say that they should focus entirely on guarding the perimeter and shun rim protection. We saw earlier this season how important limiting easy shots at the basket is and it’s partly why Willy Hernangómez has stepped into a more prominent role for Stan Van Gundy.

However, the Pels have the defensive playmakers to be more disruptive beyond the arc. Lonzo Ball is one of the best guard defenders in the NBA, blessed with great instincts and length. The same goes for Brandon Ingram, although his defensive effort has ebbed and flowed this year as he’s become Van Gundy’s centerpiece on attack. Eric Bledsoe is a former first team all-defense player that needs to get better quickly.

Van Gundy has the tools to make it work both on the interior and exterior. Some tweaks are needed, but it’s not like the Pelicans just don’t have the roster to make those changes. It’s not the same situation as the back-up guards for instance, where you have to accept that Kira Lewis Jr. and Nickeil Alexander-Walker have to play through their mistakes in order to grow.

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The main change that the Pels need to make is in terms of overcommitments. Too often, too many New Orleans players will gravitate towards the ball in a simple pick-and-roll situation. These plays are the bread and butter of most NBA guards, especially the best ones, so the Pelicans will face them on a nightly basis. They cannot be punished in the same way over and over again through a relatively simple action.

The Pelicans’ centers in Hernangómez and Steven Adams don’t necessarily have the foot speed to step out against guards, so I want to see the Pelicans have more faith in their smaller players. Have the bigs focus on recovering towards the screener rather than delaying what the guard is going to do. Bledsoe and Ball are capable one-on-one defenders who should set a defensive tone on most nights. Ball has been doing that throughout the season, but the same cannot be said for Bledsoe.

The other problem is that since the Pels’ bigs often commit to the ball handler, that leaves the screener with myriad possibilities. In the case that they can shoot, they can pop and launch a three. More often, the bigs the Pelicans have faced roll to the basket. With New Orleans’ center waddling on the perimeter, someone else has to come over to help on the other team’s screener.

What that means is that the Pelicans are then often playing at a disadvantage on defense. These can be 3-on-2 or 4-on-3 scenarios. Something else we see are 4-on-5 scenarios (the 5 being New Orleans), meaning that all the Pelicans are bunched up on one side of the floor and the weak side is wide open for a shot or cut.

Losing to the Phoenix Suns is understandable, but getting blown out in the fourth after failing to adjust the entire game is not. Let’s see if the Pelicans make some adjustments going forward.

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