The New Orleans Pelicans dropped to 9-9 on the season following a 114-112 road loss to the Utah Jazz and have only themselves to blame. Forget injuries. The Pelicans are wasting easy opportunities to put more points on the board and it is costing them some pivotal Western Conference wins. More worrisome for the franchise is that these trends have been prevalent all season.

Zion Williamson Leaving Free Money At Free Throw Line

Zion Williamson shooting a free throw looking frustrated

The free throw issues aren't single-game anomalies or coaching issues. Willie Green's coaching staff is doing a good enough job of putting players in positions to succeed. It's up to the guys on the court to finish the job, especially at the charity stripe. The Pelicans are 9th in free throws attempted and 13th in free throws made per game. Unfortunately, New Orleans has the 4th worst free throw percentage in the NBA.

Green, a 76.5% free throw shooter in his playing years, can't go out there and shoot for Zion Williamson (61.8%) and Brandon Ingram (76.1%). In fact, only three key contributors are converting more than 80% of their free throw attempts, and Jordan Hawkins (86.1%) will soon be losing minutes to CJ McCollum (74.2%). Herb Jones (85.7%) and Naji Marshall (81.8%) are making free throws but both lack the volume to make a huge difference over a full season.

The Pelicans are 17th in total points scored despite being one of only four teams with 18 games played. Jose Alvarado (33.3%), Dyson Daniels (62.5%), Larry Nance Jr. (50%), and Jonas Valanciunas (79%) have done little from the free throw line to help boost that total.

There is no game-planning to get around the problem. No team wants to avoid free throws and complaining to the refs won't do much good either. Why ask for a whistle if you're not making the shots? Simply put, New Orleans needs more from the Big Three at the free-throw line.

Pelicans Not Playing Horseshoes and Hand Grenades

Close just is not good enough for a team looking to avoid the NBA Play-In Tournament rounds. Willie Green has led skeleton crew squads to the postseason every year, but expectations are higher this season. The Pelicans will have to refine their fundamentals to meet those lofty goals though. Cashing in free throws and coming away with rebounds is just the start.

A closer look at the schedule shows how and where those free-throw and rebounding issues are haunting the Pelicans.

  • New Orleans was outrebounded 64-39, gave up 21 offensive boards, and shot just 61% from the line in a home loss to the Golden State Warriors, (Oct. 30)
  • The Atlanta Hawks won with 10 more offensive rebounds and 10 more three-pointers (Nov. 4).
  • The Denver Nuggets won the rebounding battle handily and made more free throws (17) than the Pelicans attempted (15) on November 6.
  • New Orleans missed just one free throw in Minnesota but failed to clear the glass after missing 20 three-pointers (8/28). The Timberwolves grabbed rebounds and ran out with 20 fast break points. The Pelicans scored just two transition points off rebounds. (Nov. 8)
  • Houston earned a three-point win (104-101) after the Pelicans missed 9 free throws and 17 three-pointers. The Rockets made the most of their nine offensive rebounds to finish with more points in the paint (44-40). The 18 turnovers committed by New Orleans did not help their cause. (Nov. 10)
  • The Pelicans missed 9 free throws and 19 three-pointers in a 12-point home loss to Dallas. New Orleans had 13 offensive rebounds negated by 18 turnovers. The Pelicans had just 13 fast-break points off rebounds, while the Mavericks had 30 fast-break points and committed just 6 turnovers. (Nov. 12)
  • A five-point loss in Utah was marred by seven missed free throws, 25 missed three-pointers, and a -10 rebounding advantage. (Nov. 25)
  • The Pelicans missed eight free throws in a two-point loss to the Jazz. (Nov. 27)

As the saying goes “Styles make fights.” Well, that last loss was tough. The Pelicans, led by Zion Williamson, won the points in the paint battle 68-38. However, Utah won the three-point war 17-7, another 30-point swing. The Jazz missed five free throws; the Pelicans missed eight. Free throws were quite literally the difference between a win and a loss.

New Orleans has a cupcake schedule through December. Simply making free throws and securing rebounds are ‘first practice in first-grade' fundamentals. If the Pelicans want to shoot up the standings, Willie Green's locker room is going to have to clean up some mistakes.