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New Kids on the Bench

It’s been about two weeks since the Pelicans signed Gal Mekel and Dante Cunningham, so how's their brief stint been?

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

First of all, not to sound pretentious, but I’d like to welcome myself back to The Bird Writes community. School got really demanding coming down the stretch and as much as I wanted to say screw class and shift my priorities to the website, Oleh wasn’t having any of that even saying "please don’t let The Bird Writes be responsible for any failing grades." Well Oleh, I finished this semester with a 3.3; thanks for keeping me on the academic straight and narrow (although I still quit going to sociology).

Since I’ve been gone, Dell Demps has made several roster moves: out went Darius Miller and Patric Young and his hulk like physique; in came Dante Cunningham and Gal Mekel and his abs. Cunningham and Mekel have both been on the roster for 10 days now so have things gone for the two newbies?

Smells Like Team Spirit

Between the two, Cunningham’s had more opportunities coming off the bench, appearing in seven games and averaging 22 minutes. In fact, since he’s been signed, he is getting the second most minutes of all the reserves, trailing only Ryan Anderson. It’s interesting that Cunningham’s gotten so much playing time because statistically he’s not exactly filling up the stat sheet (5 points and 4 rebounds on 53 percent shooting from the floor and 63 percent from the free throw line).

No, Cunningham’s value lies in his intangibles. He’s been exactly as advertised by Canis Hoopus: a high-energy, try hard guy that doesn’t play outside of his abilities. Cunningham is a guy who knows what he does well and he sticks to that. That’s not the worst thing in the world, right? Maybe it’s just me, but in the seven games he’s appeared in, it seems the rest of the Pelicans have played a little harder when he’s been on the court. Cunningham’s effort looks contagious and that’s why he’s valuable.

Hey, Hey What Can I Do?

Gal Mekel on the other hand, has played more infrequently since signing with New Orleans. He has appeared in four of the six possible games, missing the past two, but had been averaging only about 10 minutes of action. Mekel’s had a rough go of things since coming over from Israel, shooting a dismal 15 percent from the floor. He’s not even averaging a made field goal (0.8 FGM). The bright side is that Mekel, in the few chances he’s had, has done an effective job of filling the backup ball handling duties. He is averaging 3.3 assists to 0.5 turnovers which is fairly equitable to Jrue Holiday’s 7 assists to 2 turnovers.

The question with Mekel is why isn’t he getting a few more minutes? Sure, he is yet to show to be a viable scoring threat, but why can’t he be the guy who comes in and manages the offense while Holiday takes a breather? It sounds reasonable, especially since New Orleans’ other backcourt reserves are more of the aggressor scoring types.

For whatever reason, Mekel hasn’t claimed that role yet despite being the best option for the job. Maybe not playing in the Cleveland and Golden State games had to do with Monty Williams not wanting to see Mekel try and matchup with Stephen Curry or Kyrie Irving, or maybe it’s because in those two games, Jrue was playing too well to go that deep into the bench. After all, Jrue did post 46 and 17 in those two games.

Whatever the case, I hope Mekel gets some playing time again because there’s a need for him. Since he's arrived the 2nd unit's offense hasn't nearly looked as stagnant it was earlier in the season.

Dell’s Done Well

Dell Demps has never been an impulsive general manager, and once again, he went out and made moves to improve the roster with several free agents when the opportunity presented itself. Signing Cunningham and Mekel didn’t shift any balance of power in New Orleans’ favor, but the transactions did shore up several weaknesses on the roster. New Orleans needed a versatile defense-first forward to provide a ton of effort off the bench. Dell got one. New Orleans lacked a true backup ball handler. Dell addressed that need too.

The best part is, at least in Cunningham’s case, Dell got production for cheap. The Pelicans’ bench lacked impact players. Demps did what any good general manager should do and mitigated the issue. So far, he’s hit on the mark with both of them.