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The Early Returns on Luke Babbitt

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Dell Demps might have done it again, plucking a productive player from overseas. And this ride might end up being sweeter than the ones the fanbase experienced with Gustavo Ayon and Brian Roberts.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

On February 4, 2014, Dell Demps signed Luke Babbitt to a minimum salary for the rest of the year ($387,995) and a non-guaranteed team option of $981,084 for the 2014-15 season. The move was obvious as New Orleans best shooting bigs were out indefinitely -- Ryan Anderson's herniated disc has a very good chance on keeping him sidelined for the remainder of the schedule and Jason Smith recently underwent season-ending knee surgery. Consequently, with an offense heavily reliant on frontcourt perimeter shooting, Demps went hard after what he calculated was his best option.

In 18 games for BC Nizhny Novgorod, Babbitt had made 35 of 61 three-point shots (57.4%). Although he's classified as a combo forward, he is nearly the same height and weight as Anderson. Lastly, receiving an opportunity to escape from the frigid and obscure confines of half way around the world, one could be certain he would give it his all to prove he belongs back in the NBA.

Yes, Luke Babbitt has appeared in only 4 games. A mere 85 minutes. But sample sizes be damned! Within his first 64 seconds in uniform, it became immediately apparent what his presence might offer the ballclub. And true to form, he has continued to hoist the deep ball to the tune of 5 attempts in just a hair over 21 minutes a game. Some may scream "chucker," but if you take the time and view all of his 20 attempts, they've largely been good shots. Nothing too off-balanced nor highly-contested. When a player is a set shooter, he has to be more selective on when to attempt a shot.

Babbitt has made 8-20 bombs in approximately one week's worth of work. To better gleam his effectiveness, let's examine some other numbers:

  • +/- total = +40 (that's only 4 games and 2 were losses)
  • Offensive rating = 125.0
  • Defensive rating = 99.1
And the obligatory Anderson/Babbitt comparison:

3FG% 3PA/36 REB/36 TOV/36 PTS/36 WS/48 PER
Ryan Anderson 40.9% 7.4 6.4 0.9 19.7 .148 19.1
Luke Babbitt 40.0% 8.5 7.6 0.8 12.7 .115 13.6

A number of advanced numbers favor Ryan Anderson for one simple fact. Usage. Babbitt averages about 4.5 less shots a game and has yet to step to the free throw line. However, the other numbers appear to be a carbon copy: similar proficiency on a high number of attempts beyond the arc, middling amount of rebounds and understanding the importance of not trying to do too much.

At this point, Babbitt has done more than enough to justify his signing. But as Ron Popeil would holler, "but wait, there's more!" Babbitt has shown some interesting potential to give in other areas where Anderson isn't particularly adept:

Ryan Anderson 11.2% 0.3 0.8
Luke Babbitt 19.4% 2.1 1.7

The defensive rebounding percentage particularly stands out -- it's higher than Jeff Withey, Jason Smith and Greg Stiemsma. Babbitt has displayed a good nose for the ball, good technique (watch him boxout opponents during free throws) and fills open rebounding lanes well.

While the block numbers appear unsustainable, as Babbitt isn't remotely a top-notch athlete, he has shown a particular grit on the floor. Have a look at this video clip; he's extremely active and times his help defense well. In this clip, he stayed right with DeMar DeRozan, timed his jump perfectly and ended up with the block on a league high-flyer.

Although Babbitt doesn't appear to have the ability to draw fouls like Anderson, he is a very decisive decision-maker on the offensive floor. As I noted in the recent Bucks recap:

Although Anthony Morrow is a better shooter, Babbitt has quickly become our best perimeter reserve threat. When he receives the ball, he shoots if open, throws a nice ball fake to get the defense off-kilter or quickly moves the ball to an open teammate. His decisiveness has been his most appealing attribute...

On a team loaded with players possessing the ability to break down their man, Babbitt has been refreshing. In his short time span, he's been doing what we've urged from Smith, or at times, Anderson, when he's become too trigger happy. Shoot it if you're open, especially if you're behind the arc, throw a ball fake if you're being overplayed and lastly, move the ball quickly to a teammate if you've got nothing.

Luke Babbitt has been a Pelican for less than a fortnight, but in closely analyzing his minutes, he appears quite valuable. Offensively, he gives the team a floor spacer in the Ryan Anderson mold and with a team so overly reliant on bigs shooting outside the lane, that's huge. Defensively, he's not been the liability everyone assumed -- he's constantly active, communicating with teammates and helping at opportune moments.

Babbitt has shown his athleticism will never guarantee him a job in the NBA, but his intelligence, savvy and motor might. Next time, an opponent is shooting free throws, watch him on the front end of 2. He can't stand still -- he's edgy and raring to go. Monty has got to love that. More importantly, the package that appears to be Luke Babbitt, should give Monty the freedom to avoid lineups that continue to underwhelm. For instance, surrounding Tyreke Evans with Aminu or 2 typical frontcourt players.

So, the early returns on Luke Babbitt?

Two enthusiastic thumbs up!