The New Orleans Pelicans are in the process of building an identity.
But there are two sides to the story.
In the past few weeks, the Pelicans have grown from a middling offensive team into of the NBA’s most potent scoring attacks. Led by a resurgent Jrue Holiday and recovered Rajon Rondo — adding to the All-Star caliber numbers posted by DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis — the Pelicans have leapt in the NBA's scoring charts.
In fact, as they their game against the Milwaukee Bucks at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Smoothie King Center, the Pelicans have generated the league’s second-best offensive rating in December.
The 114.7 points per 100 possessions in their past seven games ranks only behind Houston. New Orleans has climbed from No. 16 to No. 7 in the NBA’s offensive efficiency rankings in less than a month.
All of the factors accompanying the scoring renaissance are in place, as well. This month, the Pelicans lead the NBA in effective field-goal percentage while posting the second best true-shooting percentage and assist ratio.
Holiday, who is often considered the third option on offense, is averaging 24.3 points in his last 10 games, converting better than 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point territory.
The numbers are dizzying. Suffice it to say, the ball is moving and the shots are falling.
“We’ve just been clicking,” Holiday said.
Yet New Orleans owns just a 14-14 record and 3-4 mark in December. All those points still haven’t tilted the scoreboard in their favor.
It’s because as the Pelicans cranked up offensively, their defense has staggered, shrinking under the weight of nightly shootouts.
The Pelicans own the NBA’s worst defensive rating this month, allowing 113.9 points per 100 possessions in their past seven games. No contest illustrated the team’s firepower backfiring on it better than Monday’s 130-123 loss to the Houston Rockets.
Although losing a high-scoring road affair to the league’s hottest team — especially without Anthony Davis (strained left adductor) — is nothing to panic over, it’s merely the nadir of an extensive trend.
New Orleans has surrendered at least 114 points in its past nine games, all but nullifying the team’s offensive outburst.
“We have a lot of guys that can do a lot of things with talent,” guard E’Twaun Moore said after Monday’s loss. “When we get things together on the defensive end, we’re going to be hard to beat. We were just down guys, so we were just trying to play hard. Things got a little tough for us in the fourth quarter and the game got real fast. We need to keep working and hopefully we can pull off those games down the line.”
It’s a deep decline from last season, when the Pelicans posted their best defensive season since 2010-11, finishing in the top 10 in efficiency — an achievement coach Alvin Gentry often publicly pointed to as a signal of progress.
It’s not clear exactly whether the defensive slippage is because of breakdowns or if the team’s lingering health problems are creating issues.
Not only has Davis missed four of the past six games, the Pelicans announced Tuesday that Tony Allen will miss at least the next three weeks with a proximal fibula fracture.
Starting small forward Solomon Hill has been out since August while recovering from a torn hamstring.
“The only thing that hurt us is that we had a few breakdowns defensively,” Gentry said Monday. “But for the most part, I thought we did a good job. We had some mismatches and cross matches in transition. ... But I couldn’t be happier with the effort that we played with.”
For now, that’s the Pelicans’ identity.
A team powerful enough to score with anyone and hang tough with the best opponents the NBA can offer, but still a breakdown or two from closing out critical victories.
“We just need to keep our composure and fight,” Holiday said. “That really brings a team closer together.”