The New Orleans Pelicans have branded themselves with an offensive identity.
In a league endlessly gravitating outwardly, to the 3-point line and beyond, the Pelicans have stepped in closer. Instead of shooting over the top, they’re attacking from within, bullying opponents underneath the basket.
The Pelicans lead the NBA in points in the paint, scoring 58.3 per game. And it’s not by a small margin.
The No. 2-ranked Lakers average 2.7 fewer interior points than the Pelicans. It’s the largest separation between any two consecutively-ranked teams in the league and illustrates just how much better New Orleans is in the paint than the rest of the NBA.
“We play to our strengths,” Solomon Hill said. “Look at the guys we have on our roster. We have to stick to our guns. We have guys who can lead the league in free-throw attempts. And you see nights where we get like 60 or 70 points inside and get to the line a lot and it makes us really hard to defend.”
Jrue Holiday’s eyes lit up at the sound of it.
Even during the Pelicans’ current 10-game trend of alternating wins and losses to tether themselves to a .500 record, they’ve managed to maintain their dominance inside.
Wednesday’s 118-114 win over the then first-place Oklahoma City Thunder served as a prime example. Not only did the Pelicans attempt 30 free throws and saddle forward Jerami Grant with four first-half fouls, they also racked up a 74-48 advantage in the paint.
“I thought the points in the paint and the offensive rebounding and them on the glass really impacted the game,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said.
And they’ve made a habit of it, even against some of the NBA’s best.
The Pelicans outscored two of the league’s six stingiest interior defenses — Memphis and Boston — over the previous two weeks, maintaining their identity regardless of the opponent.
Now, they’ll aim to keep that edge at 6 p.m. Sunday night, facing the Miami Heat inside the Smoothie King Center with a chance to notch consecutive wins for the first time since Nov. 19.
“Our whole goal is to get the ball into the paint,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “Once we get it there, we know they’ll collapse on us and then we can think about pitching out for open shots, but if we can get it there and finish, then those are obviously higher percentage shots.”
It’s also partially responsible for New Orleans attempting the sixth-fewest 3-pointers per game this season, launching just 28.4, and converting at the 20th best rate (34.8 percent).
In fact, the Pelicans beat the Thunder despite making just 4-of-18 3-point attempts, proving, when necessary, they can rely entirely on their inside strengths to win.
And it all stands to reason.
The Pelicans are a matchup problem for nearly any other NBA roster. Not only is Davis one of the NBA's most dominant interior presences, he’s been joined this season by Julius Randle, who routinely takes advantage of isolation situations to score in the post.
The New Orleans Pelicans finally have a chance to catch their breath.
And the backcourt often joins in as well.
By inserting Tim Frazier into the starting lineup and moving Jrue Holiday off of the ball, the Pelicans regained the strength of their best cutter. And as opposing defenses try to deny Davis and Randle the ball down low, Holiday is rarely covered on his moves toward the basket, allowing ample opportunities for him to score from close range.
In total, it makes the Pelicans the league’s best team in the paint. And that’s an identity they plan to build off of.
“I mean, I’m getting in the paint,” Holiday said. “AD is already in the paint and so is Ju. So, to be able to stop that is pretty tough.”