2017-18 Pelicans season preview: Backcourt stats to watch

Want to know how the New Orleans Pelicans are faring this season? Here are some of the key statistics to monitor throughout the 2017-18 regular season among the team’s guards:

PROJECTED STARTERS

Rajon Rondo

Team assists. Unfortunately for the veteran point guard, the official start to his 12th NBA season will be delayed by injury, but in one-plus preseason games, Rondo quickly demonstrated how his vision and pass-first approach can benefit an offense. When he was sidelined – including Friday’s preseason finale, in which the Pelicans mustered just 14 assists on 38 baskets – the team’s ball movement decreased. Among active NBA players, Rondo ranks fifth with 6,075 career assists; New Orleans must hope his mindset and passing emphasis bleeds into the rest of the roster. Alvin Gentry often says that the Pelicans’ goal from night to night is to register 30 assists, which they reached five times last season, scoring 123-plus points in three of those games.

Jrue Holiday

Assist-to-turnover ratio. For a second straight season, Holiday will be shifting between starting at point guard (while Rondo is sidelined) and shooting guard (when Rondo returns). This stat was a fairly accurate barometer of Holiday’s play last season, regardless of which backcourt spot he filled. For example, during New Orleans’ 8-3 stretch in March, Holiday dished out 79 assists and only had 13 turnovers (6.1 ratio). He struggled initially at point guard following the DeMarcus Cousins acquisition, with 49 assists and 35 turnovers (1.4 ratio) over an eight-game span. With Rondo out of action early in the regular season, Holiday and the team’s other guards will need to incorporate Cousins and Anthony Davis as much as possible, while minimizing mistakes with the ball.

PROJECTED RESERVES

E’Twaun Moore

Three-point percentage. By nearly every statistical measure, the Purdue product is New Orleans’ most proven threat from beyond the arc, shooting 36.9 percent during his six-year NBA career. Last season, he started slow out of the gate but wound up at 37.0 percent. Perimeter shooting is commonly listed as the Pelicans’ biggest weakness by impartial observers, but if Moore can deliver a stellar season on long-range shots, it could go a long way toward opening up space for the All-Star tandem of Davis and Cousins. Moore likely will begin the season as a starter in place of Rondo.

Ian Clark

Minutes. Clark’s role was expected to be larger than what he filled in Golden State last season (14.8 minutes per game) regardless, but with Rondo unavailable early in the season, that will likely expand further. The fifth-year pro noted this summer that he’s eager to potentially show more of what he can do outside the comfort zone of Golden State and being surrounded by a handful of All-Star players. He figures to immediately have that chance, as the team’s most critical early-season backcourt reserve, backing up Holiday and Moore.

Jordan Crawford

Shooting percentage. A career 41.1 percent shooter from the field over five NBA seasons, Crawford made a big jump during his 19 games with the Pelicans last season, at 48.2. He’s shot 31.4 percent overall on three-pointers in the NBA, but connected on 38.9 percent in ’16-17. Can Crawford sustain that excellent efficiency over a much longer stretch of the schedule? If so, he’ll continue to be extremely valuable as an instant-offense sub. The Xavier (Ohio) product scored 15-plus points in fewer than 30 minutes of action seven times last season.

Frank Jackson

Games played. As the No. 31 pick of the draft, the Duke product is essentially a Pelicans first-round pick. Unfortunately for the teenager – he won’t turn 20 until the middle of the NBA playoffs next spring – his pro debut won’t occur until winter at the earliest due to right foot surgery. Jackson’s timeline to return is 3-4 months following the September surgery, meaning he’ll watch a big chunk of the regular season from the sideline. It’s unclear what his role might be once he’s cleared for basketball activity.

Charles Cooke

Three-point percentage. The 6-foot-5 wing was a potential draftee in June, but slipped through the two-round event and signed a two-way contract with the Pelicans. Cooke piqued interest from New Orleans partly based on his steady improvement as a shooter throughout his college career, at just 29.8 percent on treys as a sophomore, but 39.9 and 39.8 percent, respectively, during his final two years at Dayton.

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