Being that they were eliminated in the play-in tournament by the Oklahoma City Thunder, the New Orleans Pelicans technically did not make the 2023 NBA Playoffs. But that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t learn a major lesson from it.
One of the central themes of the 2023 NBA Playoffs has been that if you are not primarily on the ball, or if you are not a center who can operate in dribble handoffs and pick-and-roll (a la Bam Adebayo and Anthony Davis), and you can’t shoot, you will be played off the floor.
We saw it in the first round in the Cleveland Cavaliers series against the New York Knicks. There, Isaac Okoro went from starting Game 1 to only playing three minutes in Game 2 to being taken out of the starting lineup for Games 3 through 5.
We saw it in the Sacramento Kings series against the Golden State Warriors. In that matchup, Davion Mitchell went from playing 28 minutes in Game 4 and 24 minutes in Game 5 to playing just eleven and eight minutes in Games 6 and 7, respectively.
We saw it with the Los Angeles Lakers and Jarred Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt came into the postseason as the Lakers’ energy guy/do-it-all defender but ended his playoffs with a DNP-CD (did not play – coach’s decision) in Game 4 against the Denver Nuggets.
In all these instances, we see players who can’t consistently hit threes (or play on-ball/center) get played off the floor because defenses sag off them to help in the paint, like this:
This is relevant to the Pelicans because, this season, they were a poor 3-point shooting team. They were 29th in 3-point attempts (30.1), and 23rd in 3-point makes (11.0). And as we noted yesterday, they only rostered four players who have been above league average on wide-open 3-pointers in the last three seasons (per thinkingbasketball.net).
Simply put, the Pelicans need to add more shooting if they hope to avoid what happened to the Cavaliers, Kings, and Lakers this year when (yes, we said when!) they get to the playoffs. They need to add players that can make the defense pay for helping off of them. This way, they can keep the paint from getting congested (and an open paint for Zion Williamson to operate is one scary sight).
That’s why, along with rim protection, adding shooting to their roster is of the utmost importance.