So on Friday, the Pelicans jumped into the trade involving Memphis and Boston and turned it into a three-team deal. The original parameters remained intact -- Jeff Green was headed to Memphis, strengthening their rotation and finals aspirations, while Boston was going to receive Tayshaun Prince’s expiring contract and a future first round pick with protections on it to decrease the chance of them getting it-- but the Pelicans jumped in and got back a potential rotation piece.
The arrival of New Orleans in trade discussions saw Austin Rivers leave for Boston (and perhaps the Los Angeles Clippers) and Russ Smith to Memphis, with a 2015 second round pick from Memphis and forward Quincy Pondexter heading back to the Crescent city. A shrewd move, turning a player the Pelicans declined to keep for cheap next season for someone who once had a solid season, drew the love of basketball twitter, and signed for a pretty inexpensive contract soon after.
This is the kind of deal you make in New Orleans’ position: give up little and take a chance on a player who might need a change of scenery. It reminds me of the Courtney Lee trade for Memphis. Lee was one of the last pieces brought on for the Celtics last run with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo. The Celtics blew it up and Lee became expandable. Memphis, a team struggling to produce offense at the time, swapped two second round picks and Jerryd Bayless for Lee.
One of the biggest weaknesses on the Pelicans this season is wing play. Rivers was improving, but unspectacular, while Jimmer continues to be hot and cold. John Salmons, who the team opted to keep over Rivers in this deal continues to rack up the "DNP-CD" on a nightly basis. Pondexter is another body that can attempt to help shore up those problems. While Pondexter’s three-and-D role is in question for now, some of his other skills are valuable. For starters, he doesn’t turn the ball over much, sporting a turnover rate of 6.3% this season and 9.9% for his career. That's valuable for a low-usage wing, such as Pondexter.
He also fits this offense, really offense, due to his play. During his high points in Memphis, Pondexter was a smart glue player. He was someone who can come in and hit a couple shots and help defend on the wing. He isn’t someone who breaks out of the offense and jacks up shots, nor is he someone who completely blew multiple defensive assignments. He won’t wow you with his play, but he won’t find himself out of Monty’s rotation (I think) neither.
Another similarity to the Lee deal, Pondexter comes in absurdly cheap at a point before the money for his prototype will jump. Pondexter won’t make over four million dollars per season during the duration of his deal, giving you a cheap building block. The rim protector is one of the most expensive players to acquire in free agency. The second might be the effective wing players. Guys like Danny Green, Jimmy Butler, and K.J. McDaniels are all pending free agents, and all three could receive upwards of $40 million over four years.
Pondexter is a few steps behind all three, but still, if a player like Pondexter were to hit the market, a few teams would be looking to acquire him for more than the $10 million over the next three years he will receive in New Orleans. Especially if he shows he still has something left in the tank.
The final piece to this successful deal puzzle for me is the notion of helping the defense. Pondexter enters a New Orleans rotation that ranked in the bottom half of the league defensively, and more importantly, last in the league in field goal attempts allowed at the rim. Omer Asik and Anthony Davis are both capable defenders around the rim, but New Orleans allows close to 34 shot attempts (33.4) per game. Something needed to be done. Pondexter's arrival won't spur New Orleans into the upper half of the league defensively, but he'll help shore up some of those reserve minutes.
Here's the problem, however, we're working with just that 51-game sample size from now two seasons ago. Quincy Pondexter has yet to show anything resembling his 2012-2013 campaign. At this present time, he isn’t a "3 and D" player. Pondexter is currently hitting 23.3% of his threes this season, and going back to last season, Quincy is hitting just 26% (28/107) of his three point attempts. He’s actually been solid from two-point range this season, hitting 50% of his twos.
His catch and shoot numbers aren’t promising neither, and on a roster with two fantastic slashers in Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, and an overall menace in Anthony Davis, I always thought that someone who can move from corner to corner and hit threes was perfect for New Orleans. This season, Pondexter is shooting just 23.3% on catch and shoot threes. Last season, he fared slightly better, shooting 31.0% on the same catch and shoot situations.
As for the defense, there’s no metric that supports him being a solid defensive player at the moment, but none that say he's awful neither. The Grizzlies were slightly better (+1.6) on the defensive end with him off the floor, via 82games.com. ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus statistic ranks Pondexter 50th among shooting guards defensively with a -0.77 rating, which placed him fourth among Grizzlies shooting guards.
NBA.com’s defensive numbers are also a bit telling. Pondexter is allowing opponents to shoot 39.2% on three pointers and 49.5% on twos, both slightly below average. Before his injury last season, Pondexter was allowing opponents to shoot just 30.8% from three, which was above average and 49.0% on twos. At this moment in time, the idea that Pondexter will drop into New Orleans and offer a capable shooter/defender is a bit much at this moment in time. He'll be an upgrade over the Rivers/Salmons/Babbitt trio, but hoping he instantly reverts back to his 2012-2013 Memphis form is probably wishful thinking.
For the criticism I offered, I still think this was an excellent move for New Orleans. The Pelicans get a cheap, useful player for their rotation, and with other, more expensive moves on the horizon (retaining Omer Asik, signing Anthony Davis to a max contract), the Pelicans got someone who could be a serviceable 7th or 8th man. You're also getting the right type of player to buy low on. Pondexter is young (turning 27 in two months), he's under contract for the next three seasons, and if he can find the same magic that made him good in 2012, that's a pretty solid player, especially moving into the next salary cap, where contracts will reach astronomical rates.
Good job, Dell Demps.