New Orleans Pelicans’ Attack Ramps Up; Long-Range Shooting Spike May Be Here to Stay

NEW ORLEANS – In the span of four days, the New Orleans Pelicans scored the second-most and fourth-most points in franchise history. The gaudy point totals were buoyed by laser-like precision from the perimeter.

Trey Murphy had his season coming-out party in the nation’s capital last Wednesday, tallying 27 points and six 3-pointers against the Washington Wizards. As a team, the Pelicans knocked down 16 threes in a 142-122 victory.

The Pelicans proceeded to set a new franchise record for made 3-pointers in a game on Sunday, connecting on 22 treys in a 146-110 win over the San Antonio Spurs. Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum combined to nail 11-of-14 shots from 3-point range.

As loyal followers know, these two games were atypical of the Pelicans. Their long range attack has been a weaker facet of the offense since Willie Green took the helm in New Orleans.

The coaching staff lacked personnel in 2021-22 (32.1 3PTA — 24th; 33.2 3PT% — 27th) and then wasn’t able to push the right buttons in 2022-23 (30.1 3PTA — 29th; 36.4 3PT% — 14th). There’s been more positive variance this season, especially of late.

Team Record3-point makes3-point attempts3PT%
10/25 – 11/44-211.3 (24)34.8 (14)32.5% (23)
11/5 – 11/285-710.9 (25)29.1 (27)37.5% (8)
11/29 – 12/187-211.8 (25)30.9 (27)38.1% (13)
11/29 – 12/18 (No @CHI & @LAL)7-013.0 (17)31.7 (26)41.0% (2)
12/13 – 12/183-015.7 (7)34.3 (16)45.6% (3)

Jordan Hawkins, Matt Ryan and McCollum combined to average more than 20 three-point attempts in the first six games of the season, but only Hawkins, Ryan and Valanciunas converted more than 33.3% of their outside shots on the entire team. A lack of touch had obviously followed the team out of preseason.

The Pelicans lost McCollum for the following 12 games due to a small pneumothorax in his right lung. While their number of 3-point attempts dropped dramatically, they shot the ball at a much higher clip. In fact, the deep ball has gone in at an above average rate since McCollum’s injury against the Atlanta Hawks on November 4.

As the Pelicans reintegrated key contributors, say Naji Marshall, Jose Alvarado, Trey Murphy and McCollum, back into the rotation from injury, steady improvement in both the team’s 3-point frequency and conversion rates ensued.

All four players have been available since the calendar flipped to December, aside Alvarado missing the Dec. 1 matchup against the Spurs and McCollum and Murphy sitting out the next day in Chicago.

Removing that game against the Bulls — McCollum and Murphy lead the squad in three-point attempts per game — and the contest in Las Vegas — the entire Pelicans team was clearly in a funk against the Los Angeles Lakers (not only Zion Williamson!), gives a more nuanced perspective of a potential baseline for when the group is whole.

That is, until one looks more closely at the last three games.

Five minutes into last week’s game against the Wizards, New Orleans Bally Sports analyst Antonio Daniels surmised correctly, “Go back inside. Go back inside.”

The Pelicans had failed to connect on their first six attempts from 3-point range. They trailed the Wizards by a wide 21-6 margin. The Pelicans needed to jumpstart the offense, so pivoting to Valanciunas made perfect sense. He possessed the mismatch advantage against Daniel Gafford, and ultimately, has been one of the most reliable performers all season.

For a team that had previously struggled immensely on the road, entering Wednesday’s action with a 4-7 away record — and advanced stats pointing to greater struggles, the Pelicans were in danger of giving real hope to an opponent on a five-game slide and sporting one of the worst overall records in the league.

Ingram and Valanciunas soon steadied the ship, however, by pounding the lane, nearly eliminating the entire deficit by the end of the first quarter. The biggest haymaker thrown by the Pelicans, though, landed in the second. McCollum, Marshall, Ingram, Murphy and Valanciunas combined to make 9-of-11 from 3-point range, propelling the Pelicans to a record-setting 47-point second quarter.

“It’s just an emphasis,” Murphy said after the win against the Wizards. “Coach Borrego came in and said we need to get a lot of threes up. It just helps our offense. We got up 34. We still didn’t even make our goal. We normally want to get up 40 threes. But it was still a very productive night when you make 16 of 34. There’s not really much you can do as an opposing team.”

If getting up 40 three-pointers has been the goal from day one, the Pelicans have missed the mark every time but twice thus far this season.

They eclipsed 40 or more attempts from three-point range just once in their first 26 games, launching 42 attempts against the Thunder on Nov. 1. They reached that plateau finally again on Sunday, putting up 42 outside shots against the Spurs.

To the surprise of many, leading that charge was Ingram, who connected on all three of his 3-point attempts in the first quarter. It appeared to set a tone for the rest of his teammates.

Considering it took the Pelicans 47 days to attempt 40+ three-pointers for a second time on the season, it’s easy to be skeptical of any sudden long-range proclivity. These processes do not occur overnight. More important to the discussion, though, is the number of players currently shooting the long perimeter jumper with confidence.

If Ingram seeks to stretch opposing defenses on a more consistent basis, Green will be blessed with a cadre of shooters throughout his entire rotation. The Pelicans have 10 players who are averaging more than one 3-point attempt per game. Outside of Valanciunas and Dyson Daniels, note how well each player has shot the ball since the middle of November — since that famed team meeting.

Player3PA 3P%3PA since 11/143P% since 11/14
Matt Ryan5.247.1%4.757.1%
Naji Marshall4.345.1%2.944.0%
Jose Alvarado3.443.2%3.443.2%
CJ McCollum7.442.3%6.846.3%
Trey Murphy6.740.4%6.740.4%
Jonas Valanciunas2.037.0%1.832.3%
Jordan Hawkins6.235.6%5.236.1%
Herbert Jones3.332.9%3.335.7%
Brandon Ingram4.332.4%4.137.7%
Dyson Daniels2.724.7%2.618.2%

A number of players fluctuate hot and cold so the Pelicans could be riding a nice wave at the moment with the vast majority shooting well. That said, Murphy and McCollum have proven to be highly reliable from the three-point line. Moderate expectations can be had of Ryan and Hawkins too despite their lack of NBA experience. Herb Jones’ shot and mindset are in a better place than was witnessed his first two seasons, so his progress appears real to some degree, and Ingram and Valanciunas are trending towards typical career norms. The only obvious question marks lie with Alvarado, Daniels and Marshall.

While Daniels has yet to find a comfort zone in his short career — hey, he’s 20 years old, Alvarado and Marshall may be in the process of making significant strides with their jumpers. They are both converting at well above career 3-point shooting percentages this season.

Alvarado, who is sporting a 43.2 3-point percentage through 13 games, had never surpassed a 36.4 3PT% for any month during his first two seasons once he entered the regular rotation. While the 6’0 point guard is more likely to be remembered for his Grand Theft Alvarado moments, he put an extraordinary amount of time into his jumper this past summer.

“Let’s keep it going, but I work on it a lot,” Alvarado said after Monday’s practice. “Especially with the injury I had over the summer time, all I could really do is shoot jump shots. So they better go in, with the amount of shots took during the summer.”

Alvarado also admitted that he has greater confidence in his jumper, something Marshall’s echoed multiple times this season.

While Alvarado missed all of training camp with an ankle injury, there were observable differences in Marshall’s shooting form back in October.

Marshall, who is shooting 45.1 percent from distance through 18 games, has been the biggest pleasant surprise. In his previous two seasons, he made 87 of 323 of his three-point attempts (26.9 3PT%).

“It’s a credit to the work that they’re putting in and credit to the work they’re putting in with assistant coaches,” Willie Green said. “We’re trying to do a better job of having clarity on shots that we like and shots that make us a better offensive team.

“The credit goes to them. They’re working at it. Naji with Corey Brewer and Jose with Brandon Dumas. They’re in the gym. They’re watching film. We look at their shot charts and we just want to continue to improve.”

While Marshall has the additional incentive of playing for a new contract next summer, he and Alvarado deserve praise for dedicating themselves to their craft. In the same breath, the Pelicans organization should be recognized for providing an environment conducive to development.

Although some regression should be expected from the two reserves, especially with two-thirds of the season remaining, enough distinctions exist from previous years to say that we are witnessing growth. It remains to be seen the exact amount.

These Pelicans will likely never resemble the Boston Celtics, the Dallas Mavericks, the Sacramento Kings or Golden State Warriors — the four teams averaging the most 3-point tries per game in the league, but expectations should be rising that the shot from distance can be a major weapon for this group.

“They preach it all the time: get to the corner, drive and kick, try to get sprays, hold the screen,” McCollum said Sunday. “Guys having confidence to take them and make them is really important for us. It’ll make the game easier for everybody else if we continue to take threes. With the way the analytics are going, it’s important that we try and get up 40 threes a night.”

McCollum, as usual, is spot on in his assessment. While a team with Ingram and Williamson should always seek to attack the lane first, there are enough possessions to go around to bend opponents from the three-point line. Making one’s fair share of threes has proven to be determinative across the league, including here in New Orleans.

The Pelicans have a sparkling 15-5 record when they’ve made nine or more three-pointers in a game. They’re 1-6 when they’ve failed to reach that magic number.

Although this team’s identity must remain on the defensive side of the ball, and the offense should seek to prioritize pace and ball and man movement, hoisting more outside jumpers than previously, especially on a roster loaded with capable to great marksmen, is a pathway for the Pelicans to enjoy even greater success this season.

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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