One Team, Three Stats: Jrue Holiday's return sparks Pelicans' turnaround

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann

The New Orleans Pelicans got off to a rough start this season, losing their first eight games while ranking 29th in the league in offensive efficiency. Anthony Davis was putting up big numbers, but his supporting cast wasn’t very supporting.

But things have turned around quickly. The Pelicans are 5-2 since that 0-8 start and are on a three-game winning streak that coincides with the season debut of Jrue Holiday, who missed the first 12 games attending to his wife and newborn daughter.

The Basics – New Orleans Pelicans

Pace: 100.9 (9th)

OffRtg: 100.5 (24th)

DefRtg: 103.2 (15th)

NetRtg: -2.7 (20th)

Pelicans links: Team stats | Player stats | Player shooting | Lineups

Four of their five wins have come against teams that were in the playoffs last season. And with Tuesday’s win in Atlanta, the Pelicans passed the Minnesota Timberwolves to move into 12th place in the West. They can keep climbing when they host the Wolves in the second game of ESPN’s Wednesday double-header (9:30 p.m. ET).

No. 1

The Pelicans have outscored their opponents by 30 points in Jrue Holiday’s 80 minutes on the floor.

That’s a small sample size (three games) within a small sample size (less than 20 percent of the season). But when a team is missing one of its best players 12 games and suddenly starts playing better upon his return, the results are hard to ignore. Holiday hasn’t only given the Pelicans good shooting (52 percent) and solid playmaking (20 assists, seven turnovers), they’ve been better with him on the floor.

Holiday has been coming off the bench. Interestingly, the Pelicans are a plus-27 in 37 minutes (and have been particularly good defensively) with Holiday on the floor with starting point guard Tim Frazier and plus-3 in 43 minutes with Holiday on the floor without Frazier.

Though the Pelicans obviously missed Holiday, the point guard position wasn’t their biggest problem. Frazier has been one of the team’s best shooters and has more assists to Davis than any player in the league has to a single teammate.

So, at least until the other New Orleans guards start to shoot better (see below), expect more of Holiday sharing the backcourt with his fellow point guard.

No. 2

The Pelicans are one of two teams that ranks in the top 10 in percentage of shots that have come from outside the paint and in the bottom 10 in effective field goal percentage on those outside-the-paint shots.

* Effective field goal percentage (eFG%) = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA

The other team is the Dallas Mavericks, who have worse issues. Essentially, both are jump-shooting teams that haven’t shot well.

Buddy Hield (8-for-19 from mid-range, 16-for-66 from 3-point range) has an effective field goal percentage of 37.6 percent from outside the paint, a mark that ranks 143rd among 157 players who have attempted at least 50 shots from the outside. With one more attempt, Terrence Jones (34.7 percent on 49 attempts) would rank even lower. E’Twaun Moore (46.6 percent on 87 attempts) is also below the league average (46.8 percent).

But the biggest problem may be Davis, who has taken the most jump shots on his team, with an effective field goal percentage of 43.4 percent from outside the paint. That’s only a small drop from how effectively he shot from outside the paint last season (43.6 percent), but every year, Davis moves further away from the basket, with the percentage of his shots coming from outside the paint creeping above 50 percent for the first time this season.

Davis is a decent mid-range shooter at 43.3 percent from between the paint and the 3-point line over the last three seasons. But even good mid-range shooting is inefficient. And while Davis is comfortable enough to attempt a couple of threes per game, his mid-range volume is still very high.

It’s especially concerning when you consider the drop-off in the percentage of Davis’ shots that have come from the restricted area. That number is down to just 26 percent, from almost double that in his rookie season. Every year, Davis has seen a pretty dramatic reduction in the best shots on the floor (as a percentage of his total shots).

As a whole, the league takes about 32 percent of its shots from the restricted area. A 6-foot-10 guy who can jump and finish like Davis shouldn’t be well below that mark.

Holiday’s return should help Davis get more dunks and layups, though he’s taken just 13 (21 percent) of his 61 shots in the last three games from the restricted area.

Davis has seen an increase in his free throw rate, from 38 attempts per 100 shots from the field last season to 49 this season. But his shot selection still keeps him from being as efficient a scorer as he should be.

No. 3

The Pelicans have been 5.1 points per 100 possessions better offensively with Davis at center (105.8) than with Davis at power forward (100.7).

Davis has started 10 of his 14 games at the four, alongside Omer Asik. But he has played more minutes at center than at power forward (with either Asik or Alexis Ajinca on the floor). And the Pelicans have been more effective in those minutes.

The Pelicans were a minus-46 with Davis at center before Holiday’s return. Over the last three games, they’re a plus-37 with him at center.

And yes, Davis does get to the basket more when he’s playing center. This season, when Asik or Ajinca have been on the floor, only 21 percent of his shots have come from the restricted area. When Davis has been the center, 29 percent of his shots have come from the restricted area.

Of course, the Pelicans will probably never make Davis a full-time center, believing that some minutes at the four saves him some wear and tear. Considering his injury history, that seems like a valid precaution. He’s missed 69 games in four-plus seasons with a variety of ailments.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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