2013-14 Season Recaps: Luke Babbitt

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

From Russia with Love?

In the fall of 2012 the Portland Trailblazers declined to exercise the fourth year team option for Luke Babbitt. That option would have guaranteed Babbitt $2.9M for the 2013-14 season. Babbitt had struggled to make the rotation in Portland, averaging just 13.4 minutes per game in his sophomore season while playing in just 40 games. His final season in Rip CIty was just as disappointing as his minutes per game dropped to 11.8 while appearing in 62 games. Despite his performance Babbitt received a third place vote for 6th Man of the Year.  No, seriously.

Babbitt did not catch on with an NBA team last off-season and ultimately signed with BC Nizhny Novgorod based about 260 miles east of Moscow. In total Babbitt played in 9 total games, his team went 8-1 in those games. His minutes slowly increased from under 12 in his first two games to exceeding 18 in five of his last seven games. In his final game with BC Nizhny Novgorod on January 15th Babbitt scored 25 points to pace his team in an 86-75 victory over Crvena Zvezda in EuroCup Last 32 Group Play.

From Edin Bavcic through Tyshawn Taylor to Luke Babbitt

Just four days after Babbitt's last game in Russia Dell Demps traded the rights to Edin Bavcic to the Brooklyn Nets for Tyshawn Taylor and cash. Four days after the trade Taylor was waived by the Pelicans without ever suiting up. As Nets Daily pointed out, the Pelicans made upwards of $600,000 for the draft rights to Edin Bavcic. Taylor cleared waivers and finished his season playing for the Maine Red Claws in the D-League. Bavcic turns 30 years old this June and shows no signs of making it to the NBA. A cheap NBA owner would give his GM orders to stop right there.  Tom Benson did not.

Negotiations for Babbitt were rumored as early as January 29th, six days after waiving Tyshawn Taylor (and thus opening a roster spot). Babbitt was officially announced on February 4th and first suited up (although he did not play) against Atlanta on February 5th. Babbitt's two year contract (the second year is not guaranteed) was for the veteran's minimum, paying him $387,995 this season according to Sham Sports. Dell Demps turned the draft rights of Edin Bavcic into Tyshawn Taylor and at least $600,000. After waiving Tyshawn Taylor he turned the resultant open roster spot and $600,000 into Luke Babbitt for the rest of the season. So, was Luke Babbitt worth the draft rights to a 30 year old journeyman in Europe?

Mini-Anderson

Hypothetically, Babbitt would be a mini Ryan Anderson while RyNo recovered from his herniated disk. Early returns on Babbitt were quite good; Luke helped space the floor by attempting 20 threes (he made 8) in four games before the All-Star Break. After the break Babbitt's minutes slowly declined as the team went on an eight game losing streak. Babbitt continued to hoist away from three (7/19) but Monty was having none of that fancy three point game. After logging minutes in his first eleven games Babbitt would log six DNP-CD's in the next eight games. His disappearance was explained on March 10th.

The Pelicans have 20 games left this season and with an eye towards the future, it would seem that coach Monty Williams would be willing to widen his rotations to get younger players more minutes. But that’s not necessarily the case, he said Sunday. "It’s all feel and circumstance right now. Different guys like Luke (Babbitt) haven’t gotten a chance to play because of the different lineups," Williams said. "He doesn’t understand the wing position and thus we’ve tried to keep him at the four."

There's out Monty, trying to turn an obvious stretch four into a small forward because of the 1990's.

Babbitt's minutes would suddenly reappear in Atlanta. Luke entered the game with just 52 seconds remaining in the third quarter and the Pelicans down five points. Babbitt scored or assisted on eight consecutive points in just 1:08 to give New Orleans the lead. Playing a small-ball lineup of Rivers-Miller-Babbitt-Aminu-Davis New Orleans went on a 17-4 run to blow the game open. The Pelicans would not trail again.

Babbitt then got his first start of the season against the Miami Heat, the second night of a back-to-back for the Pelicans. Babbitt's ability to space the floor (he attempted 8 of the Pelicans 17 three point attempts) was critical to giving both Anthony Davis (30 points) and Tyreke Evans (16 points shooting 50% from the field) room to operate. While Babbitt would not start again until the very end of the season his minutes stayed up for six consecutive games; New Orleans went 5-1.

The Monty Coaster

Once again the Pelicans lost, this time to the Spurs in San Antonio. After the loss Babbitt's minutes again plunged - 5 against Sacramento, 9 against Denver, 11 against Utah, DNP-CD against Portland. No one can pinpoint why Monty suddenly shifts minutes so vociferously, but it was a point of consternation among the fans. Monty Williams, in his post-season press conference, acknowledged those fans (and writers).

It's funny, you never hear anybody criticizing us when we beat Miami or we beat OKC or we beat Brooklyn. It's always when you lose a game everybody wants to criticize your rotation.

What is most hilarious about that quote is the three specific games Monty cites. Babbitt logged 28 minutes against Miami, 17 against Brooklyn, and 26 against Oklahoma City. He attempted 18 three pointers in those three games, making 7.

Unfortunately due to AD's back spasms he was shut down after the Portland game that Babbitt logged his DNP-CD. In the final five games with minutes available Babbitt responded well, averaging 25 MPG, 12.2 PPG, and 5.4 RPG while shooting 50% from behind the arc.  His best game was his second (and last) start of the season against Houston. Babbitt led the rag-tag bunch (Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson, Brian Roberts, and Greg Stiemsma were out due to injury) in scoring; pouring in 24 points (on 18 shots) to go along with 7 rebounds and 2 assists. While the Pelicans ultimately lost 111-104 the fact they could even be competitive (they led by 8 points with just 2:47 remaining) was impressive.

Positive Impact

No played on the roster had a more positive impact when they were on the court this season than Luke Babbitt. The numbers back it up; +7.2 Net Rating on the court and -8.5 Net Rating off the court. To compare, everyone's favorite punching bag, Greg Stiemsma put up a -9.5 Net Rating on the court and a -0.8 Net Rating off. That Stiemsma logged 534 minutes more than Babbitt continues to confound everyone who hears Monty say "I put the guys on the floor that I feel like are going to give us the best chance to win" and then wonder if Monty listens to the things which come out of his mouth.

Babbitt's tiny minute allocation (just 473) means measuring him by many advanced metrics is difficult due to #smallsamplesizetheater. He gave up just 0.72 points per possession defending in isolation according to Synergy Sports, but that covers just 32 possessions. Similar tiny samples (0.64 on P&R Ball Handler in 11 possessions, 0.80 on Post Ups in 20 possessions) abound when trying to dive into the numbers. He posted a career best PER of 12.1, but on the smallest sample of minutes since his rookie season.

Unguaranteed

As mentioned previously, the second year of Babbitt's contract is not guaranteed. If the Pelicans choose to bring him back the cost is $948,163. If the Pelicans wanted to strip their roster down to open up cap space waiving Babbitt will create a grand total of $440,827 of cap room due to cap holds. Monty's up and down usage of Babbitt does not give much insight to if Babbitt will return. It is possible that Babbitt could be used in a trade to help even out salaries.

Chances are the Pelicans will let Babbitt go next season. The front court is already crowded with Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, Alexis Ajinca, and Jeff Withey (also not guaranteed next season) likely coming back. Jason Smith looms as another potential big man to possibly be re-signed. In addition both Monty Williams and Dell Demps have stated a desire to get a big body center to absorb minutes, despite that adventure being misguided.

While Babbitt was a positive on the court, it was obvious that Monty Williams played Babbitt because he "had to" and not by choice in most cases. Babbitt functioned well as a small ball power forward, but has yet to demonstrate the athleticism to legitimately log many minutes at small forward. Luke Babbitt is redundant when Ryan Anderson comes back healthy. But we will miss Babbitt. Or at least, his pump fake.

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