The New Orleans Pelicans Are Building a Great Defensive Team

With the signing of Tony Allen, the Pelicans are even further setting up to become the league's best defense, as well as one of the only defensive minded teams around. Will this work out?

Since Chris Paul was traded, New Orleans has struggled to put out a half decent offense. While they weren't terrible with Monty Williams at the helm (8th in offensive rating for the 2014-2015 season), they struggled to do anything against good teams because they played at one of the slowest paces in the league. But they continued to tool up offensively rather than building around the defensive prowess of Anthony Davis. That was, until last offseason. 

Signing Defensive Minded Players

Last offseason started off with a bang for the Pelicans when they signed postseason stand out Solomon Hill to a 4yr/$48 million deal. Many people thought this move was an overpay, and lots still do, but that's only because they didn't watch enough of Solomon Hill last season to see his true impact. Opponents only shot 43% from the field against Solomon, and only 32% from deep. These numbers are even more impressive when you realize that on a nightly basis he had the job of being the primary defender against guys like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Lebron James, and James Harden. But Solomon Hill will most likely be out for the majority of the 2017-2018 season, so he won't affect the Pelicans defense much in the upcoming season. 

Rajon Rondo is another example of the Pelicans choosing someone for their defensive abilities rather than their offensive ones. Rondo isn't quite the defender he was in the past (no where near it), but the Pelicans front office is hoping that with a renewed chance at winning Rondo will begin to actually try on defense again. This is a gamble on their part, but if worse comes to worst they'll at least have an average defender who can feed their elite big men the ball. 

And now we come to the most recent defensive stud the Pelicans have signed, Tony Allen. The 35-year-old has made six straight All-Defensive teams while playing for one of the only remaining 'Defense First' teams in the NBA, the Memphis Grizzlies. This also means he knows how to play in a defense with a Defensive Player of the Year caliber player behind him, as well as a low-vertical, average defending big man behind him. Tony Allen will be huge for replacing the gap that is now there with Solomon Hill going down, and it only bolsters the team's already very good defense that much more to have an All-Defense level player coming off the bench. 

Darren Erman

As I detailed in this article, Darren Erman is probably the best defensive coach in the NBA, assistant or otherwise. His system allows for any player, good or bad, to be plugged in and still uphold. It will struggle with less effective players and obviously strive with more effective players, which means the Pelicans could be looking at a seriously deadly defense under Darren Erman. 

Last season the Pelicans had the 9th best defensive rating in the league while starting Buddy Hield, Dante Cunningham, and Tim Frazier 35+ games. Of course they still started a top-5 overall defender in Anthony Davis 75 games, statistically the best defender at the point guard position in the NBA in Jrue Holiday 61 games, and an elite defender in Solomon Hill 71 games, but even those don't cover up all mistakes of three of the worst defenders to start in the NBA last season.

Now with a (hopefully) rejuvenated Rondo and Tony Allen starting a bunch of games, the Pelicans should be able to leap into the upper echelon of defensive teams rather than having a roller coaster defense throughout the season. 

This could be Anthony Davis's year to win his first Defensive Player of the Year award. If the Pelicans finish with a top-3 defense and end up in the playoffs, the narrative could be on AD's side. 

The one real remaining question mark for this team is obviously their offense. Can Rondo feeding the two best bigs in the NBA make a competent offense? Will Finch's offense running through Boogie make it passable? Will the lack of shooting make them falter? Even a below average offense could bring this team far. A defense as strong as this one is looking to be could carry them to the playoffs even with a struggling offense. But if their offense remains bottom-5 in the league because of the lack of shooting, then even holding opponents to 80 points per game couldn't save them. 

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