The small forward position has been a bit of a bugaboo for the Pelicans over the last couple of years. It was Tyreke Evans, who ran with Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon at points where all three were healthy. But Evans' best role is more of a creating ball-handler who can attack the basket
With that, the position bounced around. Guys like Dante Cunningham and Darius Miller were guys who saw minutes at the position, Luke Babbitt could space the floor, and thus, saw some starts at the three. As New Orleans constructed its roster with trades and free agent signings, it seemed like the small forward position was often forgotten.
But then came a trade. Boston, Memphis and New Orleans got together and made a three-team deal, highlighted by Jeff Green's move from Boston to Bluff City. Other pieces were moved around - Austin Rivers to Boston, Russ Smith to Memphis - but there was another small forward moved that day: Quincy Pondexter.
Now, after a great half season with the Pelicans (9.0 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 59.2 TS%), Pondexter returns to New Orleans, looking to solidify the small forward position.
Well, after he recovers from injury first. Pondexter underwent left knee surgery and was expected to miss the start of the regular season. Pondexter is slated to return in November, but whether that's late November or early November remains to be seen.
Once he comes back, he's going to give New Orleans some delightful things on the offensive end.
With guys like Anthony Davis and Tyreke Evans on the floor, New Orleans' ancillary options need to be able to thrive without dominating the ball. Pondexter and his career 13.9 usage rate fits in perfectly. Pondexter is a smart player who knows to slide into the corner for threes, an underrated value for a team looking to have Evans at point guard.
His ability to space the floor shined last season after the trade, as Pondexter shot 41% from the beyond the arc once he moved to New Orleans.
Here's Pondexter taking and making some silly shots.
A lineup of Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Quincy Pondexter, Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis intrigues me. Evans is one of the league's most prolific slashers and could run pick and pops with Anthony Davis, who's one of the league's best shooters from 18 feet out. Then, if that fails, you have Gordon, Pondexter and Anderson, all capable of stretching the floor and terrorizing defenses.
His ability to thrive offensively without dominating the ball after moving to New Orleans stood out last season. He finished with a PPP of 1.12 on spot-up plays, 1.15 as a cutter and 1.53 when coming off of screens. When Alvin Gentry was hired, one guy I looked at was Jared Dudley as a Pondexter comp. At one point, Dudley led shooting guards in True Shooting Percentage (TS%). Not having a point guard will hurt, but at full strength, Pondexter is going to be a very nice piece for New Orleans' offense.
With Alvin Gentry coming in, I'm curious if Pondexter can play some small ball power forward. Last year in Golden State, Harrison Barnes played some four and looked good doing it. Pondexter isn't as big as Barnes is and doesn't rebound nearly as well as Barnes, but I look at it as a wrinkle for New Orleans. Something like Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Pondexter and Davis would be intriguing for small stretches.
Defensively, Pondexter is best described as an average defender. His wingspan (seven feet) allows him to defend smaller guards, but his foot speed hurts him in that aspect. His -0.54 DRPM suggest that he's isn't great, but he isn't a shutdown defender. To me, he's a secondary wing defender - not in the league of Klay Thompson or Jimmy Butler (or even DeMar DeRozan), but still provides some defensive value.
With all of his defensive success, it didn't mesh in his first half-season with New Orleans. The two-man lineup numbers with Eric Gordon (103.3 defensive efficiency rating), Evans (104.9) and Davis (103.1) were confusing. The only notable player he thrived within a two-man lineup with was Omer Asik, sporting a 100.9 rating when sharing the court. The five-man lineup data involving Pondexter, much like the two-man data, is too small for a strong opinion.
Despite the two-man information, Pondexter defends well from everywhere, allowing 30.6% from beyond the arc last season and just 29.9% after being traded to New Orleans, per NBASavant. There are things to like there with Pondexter defensively and under Darren Erman's defensive scheme, I think Pondexter is going to have a good defensive season.
Once he returns to the floor for the 2015-16 season, I expect him to take over the starting small forward position and provide value for New Orleans on both ends of the floor. One thing I would look for is Pondexter and Jrue Holiday together during Jrue's limited minutes.
If New Orleans gets back to a respectable point in terms of health, something that might not happen until 2016, I think Pondexter will have to wear several hats and could be stretched out in terms of his offensive role. However, I think when the team begins to get healthy and Evans returns, I think Pondexter will provide the Pelicans with a small forward starter, who can provide value defensively, as well as offer a changeup in terms of offensive versatility for New Orleans.