In this blog post I decided to take a look back at the 2016-2017 Pelicans in an attempt to identify team needs going forward.  The focus here will be mostly on the team stats, not individual stats.  All data from bkref.com.

Despite playing in a league where *most* of the teams make the playoffs, the Pelicans have failed to qualify for the post season 2 years in a row and 5 of the last 6.  Let’s dive into the stats and try to figure out where the biggest issues are.

Defense

Defense actually isn’t terrible.  Pelicans defense is tied for 7th best when it comes to opponent field goal percentage at .450.  They’re tied for 9th best at defending the 3 point shot in terms of percentage (.353), and 1 of only 11 teams holding opponents to under 50% in 2 point FG%.   What’s more, the Pelicans led the league (tied with 1 other team) in defensive rebounding at 35.1 per game.  Pelicans were also 4th best in blocks, mostly due to AD, but other players definitely chipped in.  I’m going out on a limb and saying defense isn’t the biggest issue.

Offense

In field goal percentage the Pelicans were tied for 19th best (.450).   They were 21st in 2 point % (.495) and 19th in 3 point % (.350).  So, basically bottom 3rd in shooting percentage.  Offensive rebounding is where they struggled, ranking 29th out of 30 teams with just 8.6 offensive rebounds per game.  When your shooting percentage is poor and you’re not getting enough 2nd chance opportunities…

On the bright side, the Pelicans play a fairly clean game on the offensive end.  They were tied for 26th in turnovers (giveaways), which is good.  Only 4 teams had fewer turnovers.  Ditto for personal fouls with only 4 teams committing fewer personal fouls.

Effective FG%

Effective FG% takes into account the fact a 3 point shot is worth more (if you make it) than a 2 point shot.  So, for example, if a player hits 50% of his 2 point shots 40% of his 3 points shots he’s still better off shooting 3 point shots because he gets 40% of 3 points (= 1.2 points) per shot compared to 50% of 2 points (= 1.0 points) per shot.

In terms of eFG%, the Pelicans were tied for 19th at .504.  Their opponents were at .509, and while that’s better than the Pelicans did, it’s actually still a pretty decent percentage to allow opponents to have, good enough for 12th best anyway.

The Pelicans’ turnover percentage was 4th best at 11.7%, but defensive turnover percentage was 19th at 12.4%.  So, they need to get better at getting takeaways, but the defensive eFG% is better than average.

Offensive rebounding percentage was 2nd worst (2nd only to the openly admittedly tanking Dallas Mavericks) at 18.5%.  But the defensive rebounding percentage was tied for 10th best at 76.8%.

When it comes to drawing fouls, as measured by the free throws per field goal attempted stat, the Pelicans were 25th.  They have to do a better job getting to the foul line.  Defensively, the Pelicans were 4th best at not fouling.  This is impressive for a team that gets so many blocks and that holds the opponents to fairly low shooting percentages.

Summary

To recap, I really think the defense is there.  It could be better, don’t get me wrong, but it’s, statistically speaking, a top 10 defense.  The big issue is on offense.  They need more shooters and they need to do a better job getting to the boards for those offensive 2nd chance opportunities.  They also need to do a better job drawing fouls.

Want to minimize your turnovers?  What team doesn’t?  One way to do this is to call more running plays.  Why?  Because the vast majority of turnovers come on passing plays.  All stats in this post are from the 2016 regular season, courtesy of pfref.com.

Based on my research there were 654 running and passing plays in 2016 that ended in a turnover.  (Special teams turnovers are not included here, only running and passing plays.)  Of those 654 turnover plays, 560 (85.63%) of them were passing plays.  They weren’t all INT’s (244 were fumbles), but the vast majority came in the passing game.  88 of the 244 fumbles (36%) were caused by sacks.

In terms of down (1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th down) the turnovers came fairly evenly divided with 34.7% of them on 1st down, 32.1% on 2nd down, and 29.7% on 3rd down.  (Only 3.5% came on 4th down, but that stands to reason since most of the time teams are either punting or kicking on 4th down.)  But breaking it down in terms of yards to go (e.g. 1st and 10 yards to go), the discrepancy is quite large.  11.2% came on 1-3 yards to go, 15.6% on 4-6 yards to go, 58.1% on 7-10 yards to go, and 15.1% on 11+ yards to go.  (Keep in mind 7-10 yards to go situations happen more often than other yards to go situations since every new 1st down begins with 10 yards to go.)

The Saints had 23 turnovers (not counting special teams), 21 of which (91.3%) came in the passing game and only 2 of which (8.7%) came in the running game.  Is it fair to say, based on this, the Saints could have had fewer turnovers by running the ball more?  Yes, that would be a fair statement, but there would be the cost of some lost offensive production.  Of the Saints 55 TD’s scored on running or passing plays, 38 (69.09%) TD’s came on passing plays while only 17 (30.91%) TD’s came on running plays.  Of the 372 first downs, 266 (71.51%) came on passing plays and only 106 (28.49%) came on running plays.

Would it be worth the trade off in offensive production for the Saints to run the ball more often if it also meant having fewer turnovers?  I think so.  Roughly 70% of offensive production comes via the passing game, but 91% of turnovers come in the passing game.  Seems to me it would be worth some offensive production if it meant fewer turnovers.  It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) run/pass play selection is often dependent upon the scoreboard.  If you’re ahead you’re more likely to run, but if you’re behind you’re more likely to pass.  While it’s all well and good to sit here and ponder the benefits of a more balanced run/pass approach, the defense has to do its part to make that possible.

Who is the only player on the Pelicans current roster who, while he was on the floor, the Pelicans had a net positive points scored versus points allowed margin during *away* games?  If you said Anthony Davis, guess again.  If you said Jrue Holiday, guess again.  If you said DeMarcus Cousins, guess again.  All stats courtesy of bkref.com.

The answer to the lead off question  is Jordan (Instant Grits) Crawford, who joined the team late and only played in 10 away games (19 games total).  It bodes well for the Pelicans that he will be back again next season.

When we talk about net points margins we’re talking about the team’s net points while the player was on the floor.  It doesn’t mean the player scored any points or that he made any stops, it just means the team scored this many points subtracted by that many points scored by the opponents.  Turns out Instant Grits was the only current player to score a positive (+2) net points advantage during away games.  (The only other player was Hollis Thompson, who appeared in 5 games.)

For *home* games it was a different story.   There were 8 Pelicans with positive net points margins in home games.  These were AD, Hill, Holiday, Moore, Cousins, Hollis Thompson, Jordan Crawford, and Jarrett Jack.

In the following table we have all the players net points numbers for all games (both home and away), but restricted only to those players who played 200+ minutes on the season:

Rk Player Net PTS
1 Anthony Davis 49
2 Jrue Holiday 35
3 Jordan Crawford 15
4 DeMarcus Cousins 5
5 Solomon Hill 2
6 Dante Cunningham -48
7 Terrence Jones -53
8 Alexis Ajinca -60
9 Omer Asik -60
10 Tyreke Evans -73
11 Langston Galloway -73
12 Tim Frazier -84
13 E’Twaun Moore -110
14 Donatas Motiejunas -120
15 Buddy Hield -153

Jrue Holiday has just been signed to a contract extension.  Was it a good signing?  By the above numbers, the answer would be, I think, yes.  He had the 2nd highest net points margin (+35) on the team, just behind AD (+49).  The Pelicans are a much more effective team with Holiday on the floor, as opposed to Tim Frazier (-84) or E’Twaun Moore (-110) or Buddy Hield (-153).  (Bear in mind Cousins and Crawford weren’t with the team the whole year, and these are total net points for the entire season we’re comparing.)

To correct for the number of minutes played we can break down these numbers by “per 48 minutes played”.  Why 48 minutes?  That’s the length of the game, assuming no OT periods.  Here is the per 48 minutes table, similar to the above:

Rk Player Net PTS
1 Jordan Crawford 2
2 Anthony Davis 0.8
3 Jrue Holiday 0.6
4 DeMarcus Cousins 0.3
5 Solomon Hill 0.2
6 Dante Cunningham -1.3
7 Tim Frazier -2.6
8 Terrence Jones -2.6
9 Langston Galloway -3.1
10 E’Twaun Moore -3.2
11 Alexis Ajinca -4.5
12 Omer Asik -5.2
13 Buddy Hield -6.2
14 Tyreke Evans -7.2
15 Donatas Motiejunas -11.4

I should reiterate (so I will) these numbers are not based on what the player did himself, but rather they are based upon what the team did while the player was on the floor.   If a player happens to be in a part of the rotation that includes mostly backups, his net points margin will probably suffer, for example, if he always comes in while AD and Holiday are on the bench.

As a team, the Pelicans scored 8556 points while allowing 8728 points for a net of -172 points.  AD’s +49 margin lead the Pelicans, but was only 123rd in the league.  All of the top 6 players in this stat played for the same team (Golden State), so clearly it is heavily weighted in favor of players who played on winning teams.   If we break it down by total net points margins 5 of the top 6 were on the Warriors team.  The only 2 non-Golden State players in the top 7 were Chris Paul and LeBron James.  Steph Curry was #1 with a whopping +1016 net points margin in games when he was on the court.

Today we’ll be slicing and dicing the Saints’ win/loss record from 2006-2016.  What was the Saints’ record against playoff teams?  What was their record on grass?  We’ll cover these and more in this installment.   All stats courtesy of pfref.com.

Let’s start off with the overall regular season record.   Saints are 101-75 (.574) since 2006, which is the 7th best winning percentage in the league over those 11 seasons, and one of only eight teams with 100+ wins.  Top team was NE, followed by GB, IND, PIT, DEN, and BAL.

Next up, we’ll look at home games.  Saints’ home record is 55-33 (.625) 10th best in the league.  Best home team is NE at 75-13 (.852).  Now, road games.  Saints’ road record is 46-24 (.523), good enough for 9th best, and one of only nine teams with a winning road record over these 11 seasons.  New England is #1 with a staggering 63-25 (.716) road record.  Geez, Louise.  Nobody else is over 58%.

What about when the opponent was a playoff team that year?  In this case the record was 25-37 (.403).  That’s not great, but compared to the rest of the league, not too bad, actually.  This, like the overall record, is the 7th best record in the league.  Only one team had a winning record against playoff teams.  Can you guess who it was?  I’ll bet you can.  NE was 35-20 (.636) against playoff teams.  Wow.

What about against teams with winning records?  It’s more or less the same situation as against playoff teams.  Saints winning percentage was 40%, 7th best.  NE was #1 again, with a 62.7% record against winning teams.  (I believe this to be against teams that ended the season with winning records as opposed to having a winning record at the time the game was played.)

What about when playing on grass?  It should, of course, be noted here that playing on grass infers the game is a road game.   Thus, to compare the Saints’ record on grass against teams that play home games on grass isn’t really fair.  For that reason, I’ll set the criteria here to pull up only the results for road games on grass for all teams.  Saints’ record on the road on grass is 28-26 (.519), which is 10th best in the league.   #1 is, of course, New England at 28-14 (.667).

What about in domed stadiums?  Similar to above, comparing the Saints to other teams who only play in domes in road games would be unfair to the rest of the league, so this time we’ll only be considering road games in domes.  Saints record in road games against dome teams is 10-8 (.556), good enough for 10th best.  Best team surprisingly isn’t New England this time.  It’s Indy, with a 6-1 (.857) record on the road in domes.  The Jets are 2nd best (another surprise), followed by NE and (biggest surprise yet) the Browns at 5-2 (.714).

What about prime time games (after 7:00 — local time presumably)?  Saints have really excelled in these games, with a 26-14 (.650) record, good enough for 3rd best.  Best was Seattle at 23-7-1 (.758), followed by, wait for it…, New England at 33-13 (.717).

What about division games?  Saints are a strong 38-28 (.576) in division games, 8th best in the league.  (None of the teams ahead of the Saints are in the NFC South.)  The top teams are the usual suspects: NE, GB, IND, PIT, BAL, SEA, DEN, and the Saints.

What about non-conference games?  Saints are 23-21 (.523) against the AFC, 15th best in the NFL against the opposite conference.  New England has owned the NFC: 35-9 (.795).

What about against non-playoff (i.e, bad) teams?  Saints are 70-35 (.667) against non-playoff teams.  This is 13th best in the league.  Best team is no surprise: NE is 93-17 (.845) against non-playoff opponents.  25 of the 32 NFL teams have winning records against non-playoff opponents.  The 7 exceptions are RAMS, OAK, WAS, TB, JAX, CLE, and MIA.

Now let’s just look at games 1 through 4.  (Yeah, I’m dreading this one, too.)  Saints are 22-22 (.500) in games 1 through 4 (not weeks 1 through 4, *games* 1 through 4).  This is 18th best in the league.  It’s not good, but it’s not as bad as I thought it would be.  Saints have really struggled in recent years out of the gate.

Now for games 5 through 8 (2nd quarter of the season).  Here the Saints are 2nd best in the league at 31-13 (.705).  Only NE is better at 34-10 (.773).  Why do the Saints struggle out of the gate, and then turn it around over the next 4 games?  Beats me.  All I know is these slow starts have killed the team in recent years.

Following the same theme, games 9 through 12 is next.  Saints are 24-20 (.545), which is tied for 9th best with 3 other teams.  Best team is, well, I don’t even have to tell you this one.

Closing out the season in games 13 through 16, the Saints are 24-20 (.545), good enough for 10th best (tied with 4 other teams).  New England is 37-7 (.841) closing out the season strongly.  This is very impressive considering they probably “rested starters” more than a few games in those final games.

Just one more before I wrap this up.  This time we’ll be looking at game time temperatures of 32 degrees F or below.  In other words, below freezing.  Saints are only 1-3 (.250) in such games, but of course, they’re all road games and with such a small sample size, it’s hard to draw any firm conclusions.  Best cold weather teams: New England, Green Bay, and Pittsburgh, no surprises there.NFL win loss 2006-2016

 

 

How important is it to be the first team to crack the scoreboard in a game?  That’s what we’ll be trying to find out in this installment.  All stats courtesy of pfref.com.

Going back to 1950 and including all the following seasons up to and including 2016, including both regular season and playoffs, the team that scores first wins 65.10% (8769-4668-141 = .651) of the time.  In fact, just going back to 1967, *all 32* current franchises have a career winning record when scoring first.  (There were a couple short-lived franchises that had losing records, one going 0-1, the other 0-3, back in the early 1950’s.  These were the Dallas Texans and evidently one incarnation of the Baltimore Colts.)

Even just looking at away games, the team that scores first still wins the game most of the time (58.52%).  Road teams scoring first have a record of 3481-2458-68 (.585) since 1950.  When the home team scores first, as you might imagine, the winning percentage is even better: 5254-2193-73 (.735).

In division games, the team that scores first wins 64.93% of the time, which is pretty much inline with the overall percentage of 65.10% for all games.

So, you definitely want to always try to score first.  But you also don’t want to ever give up the lead.  Teams that scored first, but then trailed at any point in the game after that only won about 35.2% of the time: 2514-4668-94 (.352).  This a complete reversal of the positive impact of scoring first in the game.

 

The Saints had way too many kicks blocked in 2016, which got me wondering how they ranked against the rest of the league during the Sean Payton era (2006-2016).  So, I looked it up on pfref.com.

In games where teams had a field goal blocked their record was 116-121-1, just slightly below .500.  The average distance of the blocked kicks (238 of them) was 40.71 yards.  David Akers had the most blocked (13) and he did it in only 11 games.  It took the 2nd place guy (Graham Gano) 12 games to get his 12 blocks.  The Great Dane only had 2 kicks blocked in his Hall of Fame career.  Wil Lutz already has 2.

Saints have had 8 kicks blocked during the Sean Payton era, but that’s not the worst.  4 different teams had 12 kicks blocked each (CHI, MIA, SF, GB), and 4 more had 11 blocked each (SEA, CLE, MIN, ATL).  Saints were tied for 16th, so they were just middle of the pack when it comes to getting field goals blocked.  Teams with the fewest field goals blocked: DEN, NE, BUF, and TEN.

Saints blocked 5 field goals of their own (23rd out of 32).  The team with the most blocks: ARI with 21, followed by CHI with 16, and SEA with 13.  Worst at getting blocks: KC with just 1.  A few teams only had 3: IND, SD, JAX, and NYJ.

The important stat is the net number of field goals blocked (the amount your team blocked minus the amount your team had blocked = the net).  So, if you blocked 10 field goals, but had 12 of your own field goals blocked, that would give you a net of -2, for example.)  Saints were -3 in net field goals blocked (not good, for those scoring at home).  Here is the complete list, sorted by net:

TEAM HAD BLOCKED BLOCKED NET
ARI 4 21 17
NE 2 10 8
OAK 4 11 7
DAL 4 9 5
BUF 3 8 5
CHI 12 16 4
NYG 6 10 4
TEN 3 7 4
DET 8 11 3
BAL 4 7 3
DEN 1 4 3
SEA 11 13 2
CIN 6 7 1
PHI 6 6 0
PIT 4 4 0
CLE 11 10 -1
TB 7 6 -1
MIN 11 9 -2
CAR 10 8 -2
HOU 9 7 -2
RAMS 8 6 -2
WAS 9 6 -3
NO 8 5 -3
IND 6 3 -3
MIA 12 8 -4
SF 12 8 -4
SD 7 3 -4
JAX 9 3 -6
ATL 11 4 -7
NYJ 10 3 -7
KC 8 1 -7
GB 12 4 -8

And here’s a handy dandy little chart:

NFL net blocked field goals 2006-2016

In this game I’ll be listing a stat.  Your job is to guess if the teams that put up that had winning records or losing records in those games.  All stats from 1970-2016, regular season only, courtesy of pfref.com.

  1.  28 games where a team scored exactly 5 TD’s, but also had exactly 5 turnovers (giveaways).  Did these teams win more or lose more of those 28 games?
  2.  7 games where a team made 6+ field goals, but allowed 25+ points.  Win or lose?
  3.  55 games where a team punted 11+ times, but also held opponent to 20 or fewer points.  Win or lose?
  4.  46 games where a team had 6+ turnovers (giveaways), but held opponent to 14 or fewer points.  Win or lose?
  5.  29 games where a team completed 40+ passes.  Win or lose?
  6.  50 games where a team had 50+ sack yards lost (not good), but also scored 25+ points.  Win or lose?
  7.   Threw 4+ INT’s, but scored 30+ points.  Win or lose?
  8.   5 games where a team scored 2 safeties, but had 150 or fewer passing yards.  Win or lose?
  9.  35 games where a team punted 11+ times, but held opponent to 14 or fewer points.  Win or lose?
  10.  37 games where a team out gained the opponent in rushing yards by 75+ yards, but was out gained in passing yards by 250+ yards.   Win or lose?

I’ll post the answers below.  I didn’t play along this time.

Answers:

  1.  They won more, but not by much.  Record was 15-13.
  2.  Winners, but again not by much.  Record was 4-3.
  3.  Losers.  Record was 21-29-5.
  4.  Losers, but not by much: 22-23-1.
  5.  Losers.  Record was 11-18.
  6.  Winners.  Record was 28-22.
  7.  Losers.  Record was 20-27.
  8.  Winners.  Record was 5-0.
  9.   Winners.  Record was 18-12-5.
  10.  Winners, but not by much.  Record was 20-18.

 

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