Pelicans guards Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Josh Hart high-five

2019-20 Pelicans season preview: Backcourt stats to watch

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

Want to know how the New Orleans Pelicans are faring this season? Here are some of the key statistics to monitor throughout the 2019-20 regular season among the team’s guards (Up Sunday: frontcourt stats to watch)

PROJECTED STARTERS

Lonzo Ball

Three-point percentage. Ball has made gradual progress beyond the arc since his NBA debut in ‘17, shooting 31 percent as a rookie, then 33 percent in his second season. Now in Year 3, if the UCLA product can add a couple more percentage points, he will be at the league average, which was 35.5 in 2018-19 (via Basketball Reference). That will force defenses to stay more attached to him on the perimeter, creating more space for teammates. Ball has reshaped his shooting stroke, bringing the ball up from closer to the middle of his body instead of the left side.

Jrue Holiday

On-off net rating. The Pelicans were 14 points per 100 possessions better when him on the court last season than off of it, after that differential was 13 in ’17-18, both ranking Holiday in the 97th percentile of that stat. His elite numbers in this category actually indicate two things: One, Holiday’s obvious value to the team. Two, the Pelicans’ need for improved backcourt depth, so they don’t falter as much when the two-time NBA All-Defense selection is resting in-game. New Orleans has plenty of good reason to believe there will not be as much of a drop-off now, based on having arguably the most guard options as at any point this decade.

PROJECTED RESERVES

Nickeil Alexander-Walker

Minutes per game. This is pretty straightforward: How large is the rookie’s role going to be? With multiple guards vying for a spot in the rotation during training camp and preseason, it was difficult to know the exact answer, but the Virginia Tech product kept making a stronger case for himself. After a stellar summer league in which he earned first-team honors – and probably would’ve had a shot at MVP if the Pelicans had won one or two more tournament games – he’s been impressive this month. Alexander-Walker shot 38.3 from three-point range in college and has shown no difficulty adjusting to the deeper NBA line.

Josh Hart

Defensive on-off rating. Hart has mentioned that one of his goals ultimately is to be selected to one of the NBA All-Defense teams; with the Lakers last season, Los Angeles was five points per 100 possessions better with him on the court than off it. Although Hart is only in his third NBA season, he seems to be further along at that end of the floor than many young players, which could help him earn minutes on a team that is trying to improve significantly from 22nd in efficiency (112.0 points allowed per 100 possessions) in ’18-19.

Frank Jackson

Three-point percentage. Jackson’s athleticism and ability to get to the basket mean that he’s not as reliant on perimeter shooting as some guards, but the skill still figures to be an important element to his success in the NBA. Jackson shot just 31.4 percent from distance in ’18-19, a number that he is trying to increase in his second season in uniform. The recent signs are promising, with him shooting well in Las Vegas summer league, as well as during the preseason. He sank 24 three-pointers in March last season, after not making more than 10 in any previous month.

JJ Redick

Shooting efficiency. For the vast majority of his 13-year NBA career, Redick has ranked at least in the 90th percentile among all players in points per shot. He consistently is one of the league’s best foul shooters (making 90 percent-plus of his free throw attempts six separate seasons), as well as an elite three-point marksman (over 40 percent four of the last five seasons, with the only exception being 39.7 last season). Redick has gradually reduced the long twos he attempts, while simultaneously launching more treys; over the last four seasons, respectively, he’s fired 5.6 per game, 6.0, 6.6 and a career-high 8.0 in ’18-19.

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