I took a small break from twitter this week, but I did take a small peak at it on Thursday during the Pelicans-Warriors game. It wasn’t the best showing by the Pelicans in their first game on TNT since 2010. Anthony Davis came out and did Anthony Davis things on both sides of the ball, and that helped solidify his early season MVP candidacy. However, there wasn't much of anything to note as the Warriors blew the Pelicans out. That Golden State team is pretty good, pretty, pretty good.
As twitter is one to do during these blowouts, we started to talk about the losing team. It was an interesting exercise, as people took the time to question the Pelicans’ roster, the problems with the roster, the structure of their front office and its stability, and their future. A large portion of it was interesting, and some mimicked my thoughts on the current state of the franchise. Then, I saw this on our site’s twitter account:
Pop quiz - Who thinks Nerlens Noel or Elfrid Payton possibly makes a difference in this game?— The Bird Writes (@thebirdwrites) December 5, 2014
The result was a couple retweets, a couple favorites, and some interesting chatter about the Jrue Holiday trade. We're in the second season since the trade, and the compensation is now fully acquired from Philadelphia. Some see it as the moment the Pelicans went down the wrong direction. I stand in the middle for a handful of reasons, but ultimately, I don't look at this trade as the one that led the franchise down a terrible path. On the other hand, if I was a GM, I wouldn't have made the trade.
So, I wanted to talk about the trade again, and why I think both sides aren't wrong here.
Making The Trade
David was right about the Pelicans and not winning with Nerlens Noel and Elfrid Payton right away. Payton has traits in his game that teams love; he’s a six-foot-four, pass-first point guard with long arms and defensive upside. That said, he is almost non-existent for Orlando offensively when he isn’t creating shots, simply because he can’t shoot. He'll be a monster once he figures out his comfort spaces on the floor and gets full reigns in Orlando, but that might not fully happen until next season.
The same goes for Noel, who missed last season recovering from an ACL injury. This season, Noel is averaging points and rebounds, while allowing just 47.5% shooting to opponents at the rim. On a rookie contract, that’s not bad. In fact, that's pretty good. On a bad 76ers team, the Sixers are five points worst with him on the floor, via 82games.com. Still, coming off an ACL injury, you just don't know how the explosiveness would return. In retrospect, it would've been the perfect place for Noel because you had Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, and Robin Lopez ahead of him.
-- Rim Protection Numbers. Custom Filters: Opponent's FGA > 5.0, Blocks per game > 1.2, and Min Per Game > 27.0 --
The Pelicans, right or wrong, decided to forgo the rebuilding process. One of the reason was that they missed the playoffs the previous three seasons, the other was because of the arrival of Anthony Davis. The idea was to build a team with "young veterans" in effort to enter the playoff conversation. Coming off his best season to date, Holiday made sense. He was entering his fifth season in the league, he was just coming off an all-star appearance and he was only 23 years old. The Pelicans thought they were getting a young building block at the point guard position, and truth be told, the jury is still out on that.
Holiday is still an interesting player, too. Holiday is still just 24 years old and based on the recent point guard development curve, I think there's still time for him to become the player New Orleans thought they traded for. Right now, Jrue is currently shooting just 30% on three-pointers, but he's a 37.1% shooter for his career from three. Combine that with his ability to finish when driving to the basket (50.6% on 138 drives this season), and that alone should produce a really good player. The problem is that he takes way too many mid-range jumpers, which is a product of Monty Williams' offense.
He's also not bad at creating for others, currently averaging 6.5 assists. Currently, there are two things that are stifling that process a bit. The first is that New Orleans has one three-point shooter on the team in Ryan Anderson. Even in his Philadelphia tenure, Holiday had a couple shooters he can move the ball to on the perimeter. The second is Tyreke Evans. Evans needs the ball to score, which often ends up with him deciding what happens on possessions a ton. I often imagine how the Pelicans would look if Holiday had the ball more to initiate the offense.
Speaking of Evans, the trade that was more questionable to me was the three-team trade involving, well, Tyreke Evans. Evans is a decent basketball player, nearly unstoppable when driving to the basket, but $43 million over four years is a tough contract to look at on paper. Then, Dell Demps decided to trade both Robin Lopez and Greivis Vasquez to acquire him. I would much rather have both Vasquez and Lopez over Evans right now. Vasquez is a good backup point guard, while Lopez is a starter for Portland.
The Evans deal also locked New Orleans in with four players making upwards of $8 million per year, including Eric Gordon, who made $14.2 million last season. The combination of Evans, Gordon, Holiday, and Anderson made $42 million dollars last season and $43.8 million this year. The addition of Evans to that group is more of a problem to me because the price tag and his weaknesses as a player, specifically his inability to space the floor.
Not Making The Trade
If the Pelicans don't make the trade for Holiday, then they don't do the Tyreke Evans trade, and they wouldn't need to do the Omer Asik trade (more on that later in the week). The Pelicans are entering the third year of a "rebuilding" process, analyzing how well Davis has been, and how the young players and cap flexibility will be used. Instead, we're talking about this core for the Pelicans and whether or not they already lost Anthony Davis.
In trading for Holiday, the Pelicans gave up the right to add two young players into their core for a price that's less than what Holiday currently costs. For a small market team, cap and draft pick flexibility matter more because you aren't bringing in star players with cap space. It opens up avenues to acquire players in trade, while adding young players to develop with draft picks. San Antonio is the best case scenario, but something more realistic is Portland, who used draft picks to acquire their best players, and had the cap space during the right offseasons to add and shape out the roster.
In the Holiday trade, they took a long-term contract and gave up two first round picks. Even if Nerlens Noel isn't your cup of tea, the Pelicans also decided not to take a chance on Ben McLemore, Steven Adams, or Giannis Antetokounmpo either. McLemore would've given New Orleans another floor spacer at a valuable position. Adams would've been the tough and rugged big man needed next to Davis, and Antetokounmpo's game is just so fun to watch at the moment, having him and his "mystery box" game for this Pelicans team would've been incredible to watch.
When you consider positional value, position scarcity, price, and potential value: would you rather have the next two seasons of Holiday or the next the next six or seven of Antetokounmpo, Adams, or McLemore right now? Is it close? Then consider the additional first round draft pick the Pelicans gave up in the Holiday trade. That's another seven or eight seasons of control for, at the time, the next four Holiday seasons. How about this: Would you trade Jrue Holiday right now for two lottery picks?
Another reason the Holiday trade looks bad now is that the position is stacked, and Jrue hasn't taken the step forward we imagined yet. During the 2012 season, we had question marks about some of the young point guards like John Wall and Eric Bledsoe that have since been answered, guys like Jeff Teague, Goran Dragic, Mike Conley, and Kyle Lowry took huge step forwards, and this lower level market, led by younger guys like Patrick Beverley, Kemba Walker, Isaiah Thomas, and Brandon Knight have solidified the backend of the position.
In closing, I wouldn't make the trade again, but I don't think it crippled the franchise. Again, I think the Evans sign-and-trade was the one that hampered the roster and team trajectory much more, as it took most of the flexibility the Pelicans had post-Holiday trade. I also don't believe Holiday to be done improving as a player. His game is interesting, and I find him to be someone who can thrive a bit more in an up-tempo system with shooters around him. If the Pelicans decide to move on from Monty Williams next offseason, the Pels will need to look for someone who can help unlock Holiday's potential.
I also don't think the Pelicans are "dead in the water" either. This team does scream "average," though, and that's a problem. Anthony Davis becomes extension eligible next offseason, Ryan Anderson is a solid trade chip, and after they give up their first round pick to Houston this season for Asik, they will have all of their first round picks. The salary cap going up should only help them, as well. As long as Davis and Asik are in tow, I think the Pelicans will be fine and the retooling process shouldn't be too difficult.
Ok, I’m done beating this dead horse. Go Pels.