Brandon Ingram grabs a loose ball at San Antonio

2019-20 Pelicans season preview: Frontcourt 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 forwards and centers:

PROJECTED STARTERS

Brandon Ingram

Points per shot. Now in his fourth NBA season, the Duke product has made dramatic strides in offensive efficiency, starting at just the 10th percentile as a rookie, but moving up to the 63rd percentile in ’18-19 (he was in the 43rd percentile in his second campaign). Part of his additional efficiency improvement could come from shot selection – he averaged about four mid-range shots (attempts outside the paint but inside the three-point line) last season and ideally will reduce or not exceed that number in ’19-20.

Zion Williamson

Free throw percentage. Based on preseason at least, it seems fairly certain that Williamson will be a productive scorer and rebounder at this level once his regular season begins, but if there’s an underrated way for him to become even more dangerous, it might come 15 feet from the hoop. During his freshman season at Duke, the No. 1 overall draft pick shot 64 percent, making it less costly for opponents to foul him when he attacked the basket. Via Basketball Reference, the NBA overall shot 76.6 percent at the charity stripe in ’18-19; if Williamson can move near 75 or even into the low 70s percentage-wise, it will benefit him greatly.

Derrick Favors

Opponent field goal percentage at the rim. Last season, the center averaged 1.4 blocks in just 23.2 minutes per game, but another notable stat was that Utah’s opponents shot nine percentage points worse than expected at the rim when Favors was the primary defender. The Georgia Tech product may also have an expanded role offensively after his shot attempts gradually decreased in Utah, but his biggest impact may come at the other end of the hardwood for the Pelicans.

PROJECTED RESERVES

Jaxson Hayes

Defensive rebounding percentage. The 7-footer from Texas has shown good hands and athleticism during summer league and his brief stints in preseason, but he still needs to add weight in order to hold his ground in the paint. Just 19, Hayes ranked fourth on the Longhorns last season in rebounds per minute among players who appeared in at least 20 games. As a relatively new player in the sport, he’s fairly raw in some aspects of the game and probably will benefit from improved technique and seasoning.

Nicolo Melli

Three-point percentage. Melli shot at least 40 percent from beyond the three-point arc three of the past four years in Euroleague, which uses a line that is 22 feet, two inches from the basket. Melli will try to bring similar accuracy in his rookie season in the NBA, which uses a 23-9 distance (except in the corners, where the distance is 22-0). For what it’s worth, in preseason he shot 8/25.

E’Twaun Moore

Two-point shooting percentage. It may seem counterintuitive to be focused on how Moore performs inside the arc when he’s been so excellent from three-point range the last two seasons (42.5 and 43.2 percent, respectively), but that category was led to his career-best campaign of ’17-18. Moore shot a scorching 55.6 percent on twos that season, the seventh consecutive year that he improved in that stat. In Year 8, Moore shot 50.6 on twos, which is still very good for a mostly-perimeter player, but represented the first time his rate had not increased.

Jahlil Okafor

Rebounding percentage. The center set a career high in this category last season, collecting 15.4 percent of all available rebounds while he was on the court. Okafor has benefited from improving his conditioning, which helps him grab more contested rebounds, adding to the value he has always brought as an effective scorer in the paint. On a per-minute basis, he pulled down 10.7 boards per 36 minutes, after posting 8.4, 7.6 and 8.7 in that department in his first three NBA seasons, respectively.

Kenrich Williams

Offensive rebounding percentage. As a rookie, the TCU product used his all-out hustle and relentlessness to finish in the 85th percentile at his position in the stat, notching 2.4 per 100 possessions and 1.8 per 36 minutes. One area where Williams will try to improve upon is his finishing at the rim, where he was below average at his position in ’18-19. He shot 58.2 percent from 0-3 feet, according to Basketball Reference (by comparison, guard Jrue Holiday shot 65.5 percent there; Moore shot 65.2 percent).

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