New Orleans Pelicans Must Change Archaic Approach To 3-Point Shooting

Grading a season rarely makes for a straightforward assignment. The New Orleans Pelicans’ 2022-23 campaign is no different.

The Pelicans wrapped up the regular season with a 42-40 record, posting their first winning campaign in five years. That’s a notable accomplishment in light of suffering through more injury and illness than all but two other teams in the league.

On the flip side, the Pelicans failed to make the playoffs after jumping out of the gates with a 23-12 record. They had the second-best net rating (+5.4) across the entire league on New Year’s Eve, with only the Boston Celtics standing superior. The major slide down the standings that followed was deeply troubling because the tide wasn’t able to be stemmed for months.

It was particularly disappointing to watch them bow out with a loss in the 9-10 matchup of the play-in tournament. That game was played on home turf against the Oklahoma City Thunder, an opponent featuring the youngest roster in the league.

From the standpoint of preseason expectations or keeping main contributors healthy enough, the Pelicans fell well short. To steady the ship after a 10-25 tumble and finish within two games of the No. 5 seed in the West, however, deserves some positive acknowledge, especially when it coincides with important individual growth witnessed down the stretch.

For those exclusively interested in the short term, there’s no debating the bitter taste left in a lot of mouths. This season represents a step back from a year ago. For the rest of the group who have at least an eye on the future, though, there should be an understanding that the poor conclusion may actually lead to greater immediate success than a more positive one would have as soon as next fall.

“If I’m a fan, and David Griffin comes back up here next year and says, ‘yeah, you know, we just got to get better,’ I’m going to be pissed off,” David Griffin said during his end of the season media availability. “We’ve got to get better right now. We’ve got to learn from everything that we didn’t do properly and make that mean something.

“But I will tell you, I’m also really, really grateful that we didn’t trick this up, find a way to win 50 games, win one round in the playoffs and convince ourselves we’re better than we are. We didn’t set false expectations for ourselves. We are not good enough right now and we know it.”

The Pelicans are aware of flaws that must be addressed with the roster and strategies. They do not sound content to stand pat. So let’s identify the issues that stand out most, starting with the archaic 3-point shooting mindset for today.

While they wound up in the middle of the pack in 3-point conversion rate (36.4%) at 15th, the Pelicans launched the second-lowest amount of 3-pointers (30.1 3PA) per game. They must do a better job of maximizing the offensive output by shooting more attempts from distance.

It’s not a secret that Zion Williamson wants to get to the rim on every touch. 12.9 of his 16.2 field goal attempts came within five feet. Opposing defenses have been collapsing on him since he made his rookie debut against the Spurs. However, we witnessed him start to draw even greater attention this season. While there were signs of some adjustments, there need to be more, especially when he’s off the floor.

In matchups against the Bucks and 76ers, for instance, we saw three players fully committed to stopping Williamson’s forays into the paint. Beating a wall of either Jrue Holiday, Giannis Antetokoumpo and Brook Lopez or PJ Tucker, Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid requires alternate options of attack.

The Pelicans made 18-of-45 3s against the Bucks — the most 3-point attempts of the season, but that 128-119 loss proved to be the exception rather than the rule.

While CJ McCollum attempted 16 3-pointers against Philadelphia, setting a new franchise record of 11 makes, New Orleans finished with only 31 deep-ball attempts as a whole.

Obviously with a top 5 paint scorer on the floor, there will be a priority for Williamson to pound the lane, or in Brandon Ingram’s case, to seek midrange shots. However when they sit, there should be discernible upticks of 3-point attempts on the Pelicans. That wasn’t the case this past season and the difference pales in comparison to teams with other dominant players per 100 possessions.

PlayerDrivesFGA w/in 9 feetTeam 3PTA w/ player Team 3PTA w/o player
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander23.911.430.536.7
Giannis Antetokounmpo14.
Jaylen Brown11.49.340.045.3
Jimmy Butler14.19.332.738.4
De’Aaron Fox15.77.734.738.7
Brandon Ingram13.66.228.430.7
Ja Morant20.311.631.135.7
Zion Williamson16.215.028.630.2

As the minuscule contrasts show, the Pelicans lagged well behind the competition. This area is where one of the biggest leaps can be made in adding to the team’s overall 3-ball attempts. They must adopt the strategy of looking to shoot more 3-pointers when a potent offensive force is not on the floor and living in his sweet spot.

This importance cannot be overstated. One doesn’t need to look any further than recent playoff teams that have gone on deep postseason runs.

All four teams that advanced to their conference finals last season, the Celtics, Heat, Mavericks and Warriors, finished in the top half of the league in 3-point attempts. In the two previous years, three of four teams hit that benchmark.

The long ball isn’t a gimmick. It’s one of the most efficient shots in basketball, allowing for teams to score three points instead of two on a single possession. Progressive franchises have learned to optimize the 3-point shot at every turn. It would behoove the Pelicans to follow suit and the coaching staff, who often echoed a desire for the players to shoot more 3s throughout the season, is very cognizant of the matter.

“It’s definitely something that we know we can get better at,” Willie Green said during his exit interview. “We’ll all get together and continue to talk, Griff and I. We’ll address some of the issues, but like I said, there’s some adjustments, there’s some tweaks. But I’m really confident in the foundation we have here.”

During player exit interviews, the messaging of shooting more 3s was passed along to the roster.

“I just had my exit interview,” Trey Murphy said to JJ Redick on the Old Man and the Three podcast. “So {Willie Green} told me exactly what he wants me to do. He wants me to work on getting to the rim, finishing and shooting 3s. That’s just the way they want us to play. That’s the most efficient way to play.”

The Pelicans do have several things going for them. From the standpoint of catch-and-shoot 3s, the Pelicans ranked solidly in terms of attempts (11th) and percentage (14th). They finished 15th in 3-ball makes during transition plays. They also possess three certifiable individual threats in the regular rotation: CJ McCollum, Trey Murphy and Ingram — though BI must look to increase the number of attempts per game to at least the levels witnessed in his first two seasons in New Orleans.

Shooting more catch-and-shoot 3s should be a goal; however, headway can be made in other situations too. For instance, the Pelicans finished dead last in pull-up 3-point attempts. 12 of the top 18 pull-up 3-point shooting teams made this year’s postseason.

Murphy (39.6%) and McCollum (35.6%) were the most potent Pelicans on pull-up 3s, but they combined to average only 3.5 attempts per game. 22 players across the league exceeded that total individually, with Damian Lillard, Luka Doncic and Stephen Curry leading the charge.

The Pelicans also need to do a better job of utilizing the corner 3 within the flow of the offense. Only the Spurs, Magic and Rockets attempted fewer 3s per game from that part of the floor.

In comparison, six of the top nine teams in terms of volume from the corner 3 are still alive in the second round of the playoffs.

Along with needing to tweak team strategy, there’s a rule that must be written in stone: Murphy, one of the most lethal long distance shooters in the game, is undoubtedly a well that the Pelicans should visit religiously.

When the offense provided looks consistently for Murphy on the perimeter, it reflected incredibly well in the win-loss record. The Pelicans went 20-5 when “Trigga” Trey attempted eight or more 3-pointers in a game last season. We’re not talking about makes, only attempts. Nearly half of the Pelicans’ wins on the season occurred when Murphy was adequately involved!

That’s astounding to read at first glance but readily understandable upon greater reflection.

Murphy finished the season with a true shooting percentage of 65.0%. Only Austin Reeves, Luke Kennard, Kevin Durant, Corey Kispert and Stephen Curry posted higher marks among perimeter-orientated players who received regular playing time.

Highly efficient floor spacers presented with opportunity are a boon to the production levels of NBA offenses.

Much was made of the CJ McCollum-Herb Jones-Brandon Ingram-Zion Williamson-Jonas Valanciunas starting lineup spending only 113 minutes together, but there should be greater interest in watching a specific trio. Ingram, Murphy and Williamson played a grand total of 37 minutes across eight games. During the brief glimpses, the offense was nuclear hot, as evidenced by a 140.8 offensive rating.

Ingram drew a double team on the block. He smartly kicked it back out to the perimeter. Naji Marshall and then Devonte’ Graham missed Williamson for a potential pass over Chicago’s defense, but the ball was moved timely enough into the waiting hands of Murphy who was able to launch a clean catch-and-shoot 3. While the shot missed, Williamson was able to convert the easy putback.

Defenses will get obliterated, especially when McCollum or another shooter are on the floor at the same time. The possibilities seem endless, but first, the players must focus on modifying habits moving forward.

There needs to be written in big bold letters inside the locker room — “Look for Trey Murphy on every possession” — and for the Pelicans in general, to place a greater emphasis on the 3-point shot. If recent developments are any indication though, real change may be on the horizon.

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunesSpotifyStitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.

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11 thoughts on “New Orleans Pelicans Must Change Archaic Approach To 3-Point Shooting

  1. Pelicans also need to do a better job floor spacing. I saw too many offensive sets where players did not move to find open spaces to launch the three. Less dribbling without a purpose, more passing and ball reversals. You are not always going to be able to score out of transition. We need to be more efficient in our set offense.

    1. Couldn’t agree more. Recognition needs improvement. Fingers crossed that most guys include film work during their offseasons.

  2. A lot of this goes back to coaching again. One of the late season post games, trey told the media there weren’t plays run for him unless he was red hot. Now maybe Willie does not actually run plays and just runs basic actions leaving it to his stars to call it, but trey needs to be a center point in some of those actions, as he is one of your best offensive threats.

  3. Another issue was playing too many that just can’t hit 3s especially the wings. So few bench wings can’t hit 3s, and we have one of them. Naji gives great energy but unless he can vastly improve that 3 he can’t be our first wing coming off the bench. Herb gets a pass because he is our defense and has even improved on his 3. But if herb is taking more 3s than trey, something in your scheme is wrong. It is not just about looking for trey, it is about having trey involved in the action and not just “float to the open spot”. Again on the coaching. It is why this iso heroball is not good

    1. Good points but what it all boils down to is how healthy can Zion, BI and CJ stay.

      On another point Oleh it is getting very difficult to log in. It doesn’t remember me and asks me to put in email address, Name and URL every time I log in. Hope you are working on making it easier to log in. But still love the articles

  4. Congratulations to Herb Jones for finishing in top 5 for NBA hustle award. Well deserved. Hopefully this will help him earn other defensive awards.

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