Over the last half-decade, we’ve seen a gradual shift in the way NBA teams are built. Gone are the days of playing someone like Tony Allen thirty minutes a game just to play defense. If a player only gives you something on one end of the court it will be on offense these days, which is why the New Orleans Pelicans could just lean into theirs.
Many fans will mention the Golden State Warriors as the reason for this shift, and yes, their offense was dynamic and only stopped by injuries (especially once they got Kevin Durant). But the defense of those teams was good at worst during their run. In fact, their worst finish by defensive rating (108.6 in 2018-19) was still miles above where the Pelicans finished this year (113.3).
The game has changed, teams want scoring from every player on the court and will deal with the trade-off that comes on the defensive end. Take a look at the remaining playoff team’s stats from the regular season. All stats in the table below come from NBA.com/stats.
The four remaining teams all finished in the top ten for scoring last season and three of the four were top ten on defense as well. But we’re one shoe size away from the Nets taking the Bucks spot in the conference finals and the changes in ranking that would bring. Brooklyn finished with the top offense in the league and the 22nd ranked defense. For context, the New Orleans Pelicans finished 13th on offense (113.0) and 23rd on defense (113.3).
With the changing landscape of the NBA. Does it make more sense for the New Orleans Pelicans to ditch defense and go for broke on offense?
Clearly, a shaky defense doesn’t disqualify a team from title contention as it has in the past. New Orleans is in a pretty good situation if they decide to focus more on offense than defense. Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram are capable of scoring efficiently and in bunches.
We saw Zion score at least 20 points in 25 straight games last season, oh he also did that while making at least half of his shot attempts. I may not be that far off in thinking that Zion can do more of that next year. Some fans may want him to keep stretching his range so that he becomes a decent three-point shooter; while I see the merit in that thinking (and agree to some extent), Zion should continue to score points with crazy efficiency until defenses can stop him.
The last two seasons for Ingram were nearly identical from a statistical standpoint. From an on-court perspective, however, those two seasons were vastly different. In 2019-20, Ingram was the lead scorer and earned an All-Star spot. Last season, Ingram was pushed back to second banana but still provided the same scoring punch for the Pels. There’s no reason to think Ingram won’t put up another 23 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists stat line next season.
After those two, the Pelicans don’t have anyone who is guaranteed to attract the attention of the defense. This will need to change for New Orleans to become more competitive for next season and beyond.
If you were at just one stat from each game and predict the winner, the smart choice would be made threes. NBA games today are won by making more threes than your opponent not necessarily playing better basketball. This is where the New Orleans Pelicans really struggled last year. They finished in the bottom five for threes attempted and made last season, resulting in another losing record.
The Pelicans have players who can get hot from three-point range but no one who forces opponents to change how they defend a shooter. If New Orleans can get a guard or wing with elite shooting who causes defenses to spread out instead of shading towards the paint life will be made easier for everyone on the roster.
NBA basketball games are won with offense now and the New Orleans Pelicans need to join in the revolution sweeping the league. The front office has stressed the importance of adding shooters to this roster, which makes me think they’re thinking in the same vein when it comes to the offense being the primary focus of the roster. It’s time to go all-in and add more scoring to the Pels roster in order to become a contender.