How the Pelicans’ defense lost their crown against the Kings

Kevin Huerter, Sacramento Kings. Naji Marshall, New Orleans Pelicans. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Kevin Huerter, Sacramento Kings. Naji Marshall, New Orleans Pelicans. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

The depleted New Orleans Pelicans suffered their second straight loss (and sixth in their last seven games) at the hands of the Sacramento Kings by a final tally of 123-108.

And while no one variable can be solely responsible for a double-digit defeat, there was one facet that stood out above everything else: the turnover battle.

A brief history lesson for new readers: Dean Oliver, legendary basketball statistician and current member of the Washington Wizards’ coaching staff, once posited that there are four factors that  explain the majority of outcomes for any given game.

One of these factors is, of course, turnovers, which he estimates makeup 25% of the equation. To measure this factor, he uses a pace-adjusted version of this stat known as turnover percentage (TOV%).

Anyway, in yesterday’s loss to the Kings, the Pelicans lost the TOV% battle 16.5% to 11.3% (meaning that they turned the ball over 16.5% of their possessions and that the Kings coughed it up 11.3% of the time). In the second half, this disparity was even more pronounced, as the Pelicans posted a TOV% of 14% while the Kings reduced their error rate to 5.9%.

The turnover battle was especially critical to this specific game for two reasons. First, the Kings have the number one offense in basketball. So, generally speaking, the more chances you give them to execute said offense, the more likely it is that they run up the scoreboard on you.

This probably goes without saying, but this Pelicans’ offense can ill-afford to get in a shootout while Zion Williamson is on the shelf (26th in offensive rating since he went down with a hamstring injury on January 2nd).

And second, the Pelicans’ defense relies heavily on their ability to force turnovers. The reason being that by forcing turnovers, they can cover up their biggest defensive weakness: paint protection.

On the season, they have normally done a great job in this category, ranking eighth in the NBA in opponent TOV% (15.0%). But alas, they couldn’t perform at their normal rate against Sacramento, and because of that, the Kings were able to feast in the paint – scoring 58 points in that area. For reference, the most frequent paint-scoring team in the NBA, the Memphis Grizzlies, averages 58.9 points in the paint per game.

Not having known turnover inducers Josh Richardson, Jose Alvarado, and Larry Nance Jr., didn’t help matters much either. But regardless, the Pelicans will need to get back on track in this statistical category if they are going to put this lose behind them and keep pace in the highly-competitive Western Conference play-in race.

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