The Pelicans went about filling the biggest question mark on the roster by trading for Omer Asik. To quickly review, the Pelicans finished the season 13th in Offensive Rating (104.7) and 26th in Defensive Rating (107.3). Despite the injuries to offensive stalwart Ryan Anderson that the team finished in the top half of the league in Offensive Rating is a minor miracle. If you have been reading this site throughout the past season you know that Anderson makes the offense dramatically better. He is the keystone to a great deal of the playbook and fully weaponizing Tyreke Evans.
The defense, as outlined here, struggled in three major facets. First, they were unable to protect the paint. Teams shot within the restricted area too often, and converted at too high a rate. Due to this, and the infatuation with fouling prevalent throughout the front line rotation, Pelican opponents shot the highest rate of free throws per field goal attempt allowed in the NBA. In the rare case that the Pelicans were able to force a missed shot New Orleans managed to collect just 73.8% of available defensive rebounds, coming it at 21st in the league.
As thoroughly discussed in this post after the trade, Omer Asik is an excellent candidate to fix these problems. He is an excellent rim protector, fouls at a significantly lower rate, and is elite on the defensive glass. Philosophically for the front office Asik protects Anthony Davis from guarding centers often; a point of emphasis long stressed by both Monty Williams and Dell Demps.
In order to acquire Asik sacrifices had to be made. Unfortunately a sign-and-trade for either Al-Farouq Aminu or Jason Smith (to turn the Asik trade into a three team trade) was unable to be manufactured. This resulted in the Pelicans losing both the Mid-Level Exception and the Bi-Annual Exception while gaining the Room Exception. The quality of player expected in return for the Room Exception is naturally lower than that of the MLE. However, do not forget that Anthony Morrow was brought on for a minimum contract last summer.
As it stands the Pelicans have a hole at small forward. Let's explore the players Dell Demps and the New Orleans front office might pursue to fill it.
Small Forward Slim Pickings
I encourage anyone reading this to first take a look at the SB Nation Free Agency Tracker. Let's begin by going through the small forwards ranked in order. LeBron James (signed for 2/$42M), Carmelo Anthony (signed for 5/$120M+), Chandler Parsons (signed for 3/$46M), Luol Deng (nope), Paul Pierce (signed for full MLE), Trevor Ariza (signed for 4/$32M), Marvin Williams (signed for 2/$14M), C.J. Miles (signed for 4/$18M), and P.J. Tucker (signed for 3/$16.5M).
Of these deals just Pierce, Miles, and Tucker could have feasibly signed by the Pelicans just under financial terms. None of those three players fix what was broken in New Orleans last year. Hypothetically New Orleans could have instead invested in fixing the small forward position rather than trading for Omer Asik. Centers are usually much more expensive than wings though. Time to jump down to the unrated small forward free agents.
There are seven names left that might (and that might is a big stretch in some cases) be able to hold down the starting position of small forward this season. I must stress that while this player will nominally be the "starter" they will rarely play high leverage minutes. That is still going to come down the the Finishing Five with Offense/Defense substitutions between Ryan Anderson and Omer Asik when possible. Dell Demps and Monty Williams need to identify someone who can start the first and third quarters, not muck up the spacing, and be serviceable on both ends of the court. Here is the crop of candidates.
- Wesley Johnson
- Richard Jefferson
- Francisco Garcia
- Jordan Hamilton
- Chris Douglas-Roberts
- Darius Miller
- Brandon Rush
Not impressed? Of course not. Let's dive into the (unimpressive) numbers.
Offense is Offensive
Let's start with the good news. Every single one of these players is a better three point shooter than Al Farouq Aminu. Each of them have, at some time in their past, been decent to good behind the arc. Another good aspect of each is due to their limited offensive role they have managed to avoid turning the ball over frequently. Should Dell Demps be able to sign any of these players (ideally two would do) that situation would continue. None of these players are going to be brought in with the expectation of creating their own shot with much frequency whatsoever. Please remember that. Onto the gory details.
No, it is not pretty. And that is fine. Asking Brandon Rush to be the starting small forward day one is not recommended. Taking a flyer on him in the hope he can have some good injury luck and return to his 2012 and prior form is a low risk, medium reward bet if he can be had on a minimum contract.
Wesley Johnson would just be another NBA player if he was a late first round or early second round pick. While he is not remarkable he is absolutely serviceable to the needs of New Orleans. Richard Jefferson is the walking definition of a stop gap, along with Francisco Garcia. Darius Miller suffers because Pelican fans know him and his limitations.
Here Johnson really separates himself from the pack. That he is able to do so within D'Antoni's scheme with the Lakers is remarkable. Johnson was a better overall (0.93 vs. 0.97) and isolation defender (0.83 vs. 0.99) according to Synergy Sports than Al Farouq Aminu, for instance. That was not what I was expecting when I first dove into the numbers.
|Age||MIN||Defense||Isolation||P&R||Spot Up||Off Screen||ST/100|
As for the rest, that is just disgusting. CDR looks promising, but there should be concerns about his ability to start in this league. There is a reason Wesley Johnson has started 210 NBA games while Douglas-Roberts has started just 61. Either would be a decent addition to the roster. Both would be more ideal.
It appears that Dell Demps is hoping to re-sign Darius Miller (which is why the team is still keeping his Early Bird Rights) and likely use the Room Exception to bring in another option on the wing. While this list contains seven likely options we have seen that Demps rarely takes the most obvious path. He may pursue another international prospect, or pull of a trade none of us see coming. If he wants to be mundane, this might be the list he is considering.