Pelicans

How Lonzo’s Aggressiveness Affects New Orleans

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Lonzo Ball may be the fourth-best Pelican currently, but his growth and confidence will determine their playoff push. New Orleans’ next eight games are tough. Their schedule is as follows:

3/11 @ Sacramento
3/13 @ Utah
3/14 @ LA Clippers
3/16 vs. Atlanta
3/18 vs. San Antonio
3/21 @ Memphis
3/22 vs. Sacramento
3/24 vs. Memphis

Atlanta seems like their only “guaranteed” win; however, their poor home showing against Minnesota last Tuesday may prove otherwise.

The Pelicans need Lonzo to be the player he has been in 2020. Lonzo’s performances have improved drastically (thanks to Zion more than anything), with his confidence now sky-high. The eye test reiterates this. Lonzo is comfortable being aggressive – a feat the league has barely seen. The biggest knock on him during his tenure with the Lakers was his unwillingness to score. The league was enamored with his Magic-esque passing to the point where he inadvertently pigeonholed himself into solely being a facilitator.

At the start of the season, players and staff begged Lonzo to be aggressive. It may have taken a lot longer than anticipated, but Lonzo got the message, and the results are telling. The Pelicans are a highly-effective and lethal team when Lonzo shoots. Per Basketball Reference, the Pelicans are +21 when Lonzo is on the court and scores 20 or more points. Similarly, the Pelicans are +13 when Lonzo shoots more than 15 shots per game.

The next step for Lonzo is to start taking advantage of lackluster defensive point guards. The next eight games feature matchups against defensive liabilities like Trae Young and Ja Morant. Due to his lack of aggression, teams place their worst defender on Lonzo and regularly send help using the player guarding Lonzo.

Increasing his aggressiveness and taking advantage of defensive liabilities would increase his gravity freeing up more space for Zion and Ingram. Per NBA Advanced Stats, Lonzo is only guarded very tightly (0-2 feet) 4.7% of the time when he shoots as opposed to 32.9% when he is wide open (6+ feet). These are very telling as Lonzo has to want to shoot contested shots to alleviate the attention paid to Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson.

As well, the added attention – if Lonzo were to shoot a higher rate of contested shots –  would result in greater passing lanes allowing Lonzo’s greatest skill to flourish. Whilst Gentry’s system implores players to seek open shots, taking contested shots (especially at the rim) ensures defenses will collapse the paint, freeing up kick-outs. Throughout his career, Lonzo’s unwillingness to do so prevents teams from collapsing into the paint as they predict the kick-out to the corners.

Lonzo’s game against the Lakers highlights the potential for this. The above three-minute clip shows all the positive qualities Lonzo aggression brings. Caldwell-Pope stuck tight to him on many possessions throughout the game and the extra feet given to the other Pelicans players opened the court up in ways it has not been opened before. As well, his relentless paint penetration freed up space for Ingram and Holiday to shoot wide open, uncontested three-pointers.

Overall, the Pelicans are entering a stretch that is going to shape the playoffs. They will need Lonzo to be aggressive so they can further unlock their already potent offense. The signs are promising for the rest of the season and looking forward. If the Pelicans are able to hone in Lonzo and keep his aggressive streak going, the Pelicans could walk away with at least six wins.

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About Vance Abreu

An Australian trying to make it big in Toronto, Canada. Weekly articles about the Pelicans journey to a NBA championship

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