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What Should The Pelicans Do With That Open Roster Spot?

The Pelicans opened up another roster spot by letting Gal Mekel go. What should Dell Demps do?

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, the New Orleans Pelicans waived point guard Gal Mekel from the roster. Mekel was one of the two players brought in last month after New Orleans waived Patric Young and Darius Miller. In his four games with the Pelicans, Mekel averaged 1.5 points per game and 3.3 assists per game on 15.0% shooting. With the release of Mekel, the Pelicans have opened a roster spot.

So here we are again, the Pelicans sitting with an open roster spot with a handful of options to fill it. The last time the Pelicans had open roster spots to fill, they did it pretty quickly. Dante Cunninham’s name was attached to New Orleans soon after the openings and signed just days later. As for Gal Mekel, the move was a bit of a surprise. New Orleans quickly signed him, Mekel got his VISA, and was a Pelican within three or four days of the rumors of his name being mentioned for New Orleans.

While the Mekel signing failed, the addition of Cunningham has been a solid one. In ten games for the Pelicans, Cunningham is currently averaging 6.2 points and 3.6 rebounds on 55.1% shooting. He was known for his mid-range shooting, and is currently shooting 53.3% from 15-19 feet and 52.9% from 20-24 feet, via His ability to play both forward positions gives New Orleans another frontcourt player, and more importantly, another option off the bench for a team once relying too much on their starting lineup.

I have no clue who will fill that final spot, but I know it should be another backcourt player. Austin Rivers and Jimmer Fredette have been below average on both sides of the ball, and plenty of times, not enjoyable to watch. Among two-man pairings this season, the combination of Jimmer Fredette and Austin Rivers have a 111.4 defensive rating, 49.0 assist percentage, and a 44.8 rebounding percentage when on the floor, via They can't stop anybody on the perimeter, they can't create for their teammates, and because of their lack of size and athleticism, neither factor much on the glass for the Pelicans. The roster is begging for an upgrade at the guard position.

Here are two directions the Pelicans can go:

A Trade

We’ve talked about this last month when Dell Demps opened up the original two roster spots. The Pelicans could look to open up the position for a lopsided trade.The Pelicans have received interest in Tyreke Evans, but the team is hesitant in moving him at the moment. In all trade talks, Ryan Anderson seems to be the most likely candidate up for talks because of his contract situation and talent. Trading Anderson at the moment seems like a long-term move, but it would also appear odd if this front office felt "safe" considering a playoff drought that spans back to the Hornets era in New Orleans. Davis and Holiday aren’t going anywhere, Eric Gordon’s contract prevents him from going anywhere and Omer Asik just got here.

Holding on to the eighth seed in the Western Conference at the moment, it would just appear strange if the Pelicans up and made a move. Fine, here's the crappy trade that I like for the Pelicans:

Let's just move on.

Sign A D-League Wing

This is where I want to see New Orleans go for a possible addition. The D-League is full of young, interesting players that could help an NBA roster if they get on the right team. The Pelicans could use another wing player, and there are a ton of wings between six-foot-four and six-foot-seven who can possibly defend and hit a three pointer at a reasonable clip. After cutting Miller and elevating John Salmons in Gordon's absence, Salmons has had a steady mixture of DNP-CD's and 32% shooting. Let's find someone else.

A couple of guys I like for New Orleans:

Brady Heslip

If there’s one thing this team could use, it’s another floor spacer. The Pelicans currently sit 20th in the league in three-point percentage at 34.0%. Brady Heslip would certainly give New Orleans another shooter.  Since his arrival to the D-League, Heslip has shot the lights out, shooting 49.0% from the field and a blistering 51.4% from three on 13.8 attempts per game. He also has some ability to create for himself, which is always a plus.

On a team full of drivers, having someone to kick the ball out and creating open threes for a 50% three-point shooter would be nice.

The problem? He’s a six-foot-two shooting guard and he isn’t athletic enough to overcome it on the defensive end. He isn’t a helpless defender, but place him up against the best shooting guards in the league, and they will feast on him, even in small spurts. Along with defensive issues, he seems to be someone who just shoots. He currently averages just one rebound per game and two assists. Even the 1.3 steals per game seems dubious with Reno’s hectic pace. As someone who saw Steve Novak thrive in New York by just finding an open spot on the floor, usually the corner, and launching threes, I would like to see if Heslip can do the same.

Elliot Williams

I like this guy. I liked him when he had a cup of coffee with Philadelphia. I think Williams can stick as a backup wing for a NBA team. He has the size (legit six-foot-five with a wingspan between 6-11 and 7-1) and he’s steadily improved in his NBADL stint, averaging 22.3 points, 7.4 assists, and 4.2 rebounds in 12 games for the Santa Cruz Warriors. He’s also a fine defensive player, too. The Warriors have registered a 99.7 defensive rating, via, during his 12-game run.

With pluses come minuses. Williams is currently shooting 40% from three on nearly five attempts per game for Santa Cruz, but that's only 60 threes. During his NBA runs, Williams registered a 29.6% mark from three in 152 NBA attempts. Is the shooting a mirage, or has Williams developed his shot, to the point where he can become a decent three-point shooter? Along with the shooting concerns, he makes some poor decisions with the basketball, averaging 3.2 turnovers per game. His usage rate sits at 25.4% and he's a primary ball-handler for his team. Moving off of the ball should allow him to cut those numbers down.

For me, I would sign Williams and see what happens. Austin Rivers has improved over the last three years, but he’s still someone who can enter a game and have zero impact offensively and is often a negative defensive player. He'll have moments, but for the most part, he's a below average basketball player, who's one skill (driving to the basket) is fine. He struggles as a shooter, and while not a distributor, he needs the ball in his hands to create offense. The same goes for Jimmer, who is currently shooting close to 27% from the floor.

At least with Williams, you can hope on him becoming a defensive upgrade and hope he can hit 35% of his threes. Do I expect a combination of  Williams and Rivers to obliterate the league? No, but it's a defensive upgrade and most importantly, it's a different look for the Pelicans. If Williams cannot come in and stick with New Orleans, then the Pelicans can just move on from him with ease. And again, it doesn't cost much for the Pelicans to try this.

Final Thought

This is the fun in having an open roster spot. I have no clue what the Pelicans are going to do here. Last time, they filled them up quickly, getting Cunningham and Mekel into the fold. This time, I'm curious to see where the Pelicans go with this roster spot. The backup wings and point guard position are two that could be upgraded with the right player. The Pelicans are also rumored to be interested in re-signing Mekel later in the season, but I don't see it. Sitting in the eighth spot in the West, the Pelicans opened up space to make a move, now let's see what they get.