It’s too soon to claim a solution, but the trend line is clear.
The New Orleans Pelicans are scoring again. In a season filled with handwringing about the dropoff in offensive production, a sudden, surging upward tick has taken place.
Over the past five games, the Pelicans have posted the NBA’s fifth-best offensive rating, scoring 113.6 points per 100 possessions, soaring above its season average (ranked 27th) and fueling a snap of four wins in their past five games. It’s allowed New Orleans to cling to the edges of the playoff chase in the Western Conference, entering Monday 4½ games behind the Denver Nuggets with 12 remaining.
The offensive outburst arose from the ashes, after posting consecutive losses without eclipsing the 90-point barrier. Since then, the Pelicans offense received a jolt, but several players say it’s the result of an ongoing familiarity process, rather than a strategic adjustment.
The result is not only improved shooting, posting the league’s best field-goal percentage over the past five games, but also lets the Pelicans crank up the pace, averaging 20.2 fast break points per game, the NBA’s second-best transition production over that span.
“I think it’s more just gelling with one another,” Solomon Hill said. “We’re playing the way we want to play and implementing our style. Even when we played Miami (in a loss) we put up 112, so we just need to continue to play the way we want to play and always look to push the pace. Guys are understanding that.
“I never thought it would just work overnight, where guys would be in the gym and in Game 10 we would turn it on. Look around the league, like in Houston, it took them a couple of years to really establish their style of play. It just feels good that it’s working out for us.”
The Pelicans hope the torrid scoring continues Tuesday night, when it hosts the Memphis Grizzlies at 7 p.m. in the Smoothie King Center.
The uptick in pace has helped add balanced scoring across the roster as well. In those five games, at least five Pelicans notched double-figures each time. Considering the churn on the Pelicans roster, which has resulted in a series of 10-day contracts and three starting lineups, the balance is even more impressive.
It’s an aspect Anthony Davis said is a critical test of his leadership skills. With so many teammates posting strong stat lines around him, his numbers have dipped from the days of 40- and 50- point outings, but he recognized the strides as al positive and a sacrifice he was willing to make.
“I think he’s done it,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “Obviously, the number of shots he’s taken has been down. I also think it takes a lot of pressure off of him, so he doesn’t feel like he has to do everything, also. And then adding DeMarcus (Cousins) to the mix, he’s a guy who used to be having volume touches and volume shots, so we have to understand he’s not going to get as many and AD isn’t going to get as many.
“But when we get other guys involved in the game, that’s when we will be better as a team.”
Gentry added the complementary scoring threats will also pay dividends for Cousins and Davis in the long term, since scouting reports will adjust, not allowing for as many help defenders to leave role players an open shot.
But Gentry also insisted the Pelicans aren’t doing anything vastly different than what they did before, even though the results have drastically changed.
“When shots go in, it makes all of the difference in the world,” Gentry said. “I feel like Solomon is playing and shooting the ball competently and so are E’Twaun (Moore) and those guys. And when you do that, I think it makes your offense look a lot better.
“I do think we are back to playing at a pretty good pace, so that’s important. So, we’re figuring out ways that we can keep the pace so we’ve done a few things in that area. But you just have to make shots. You have to.”
The Pelicans return home to the Smoothie King Center to face the Memphis Grizzlies at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. Here are three things to know.
1. RARE AIR
Anthony Davis notched the 64th 25-point, 12-rebound performance in Sunday’s win over Minnesota. In his fifth NBA season Davis has already passed multitime NBA All-Stars Alonzo Mourning and Amare Stoudemire in that category.
2. FLYING SOLO
Pelicans forward Solomon Hill is in the midst of a five-game scoring outburst, averaging 15 points per game, more than doubling his season average before the stretch. The production comes thanks to shooting 54.5 percent from the field and making a staggering 52 percent of his 3-pointers.
3. COMING UP CLUTCH
The Grizzlies are 15-6 this season in games when the scoring margin is three points or less in the final minute of regulation or overtime. Two of those wins came against the Pelicans, pulling out overtime wins on Nov. 2 and Nov. 15.