For instance, as someone who is based and grew up in Detroit, Michigan, it was fun for me, at the time, to see the Detroit Pistons acquire Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith in the summer of 2013. You see how that ended?
The Pelicans can’t afford to make that kind of mistake this off-season. Instead of adding a Jennings or Smith, they need to focus on adding rim protection.
In his book, “Basketball Analytics: Spatial Tracking,” Dr. Stephen Shea identified rim protection as the number one variable that contributed to a team’s Defensive Rating. Unfortunately for the Pelicans, they finished dead last in opponent rim field goal percentage, allowing teams to shoot 71.6% against them (per Cleaning the Glass).
We know what you’re thinking. If this was such a problem, why did the Pelicans finish 6th in Defensive Rating last year?
Great question. While they showed a great deal of effort and were clearly well-coached on that end of the floor, there were a few things that were unsustainable about their defense as we project the team outlook moving forward.
First, the Pelicans had the second-lowest opponent 3-point percentage (36.1%) on wide-open threes. Being that these shots are inherently uncontested (duh), this has very little to do with the Pelicans’ defense and a lot to do with luck/variance. Most importantly, this is not something they can rely on being in their favor moving forward.
Another thing to think about is that the team played most of the season (53 out of 82 games) without Zion Williamson, a supremely talented offensive player who struggles at times on the defensive side of the floor.
The one benefit to his absence is that they could often have one of their dynamic two-way wings/forwards (Josh Richardson, Herbert Jones, Trey Murphy III, Naji Marshall, or Dyson Daniels) on the floor in his place. So, they were sacrificing his offense to double down on defense. That’s why they finished the season 18th in Offensive Rating.
The goal next season is for Williamson to be healthy and on the court. So, the Pelicans will be trading their defense for more offense. Williamson is such a phenomenal offensive player that the tradeoff is worth it. But to mitigate the damage done by subbing out one of those wings/forward for him, New Orleans can add more rim protection to clean up any messes on the backline.
So, when you are thinking about who the Pelicans should draft or sign this off-season, keep this need they have in mind.