While we anxiously sit on our hands waiting for the troops to return from the medical tent, and we watch as Steph Curry and the Warriors litter courts with shell casings decimating every team in their wake, let’s look at the individual awards we can give our team.
The Greg Stiemsma Award
This award is reserved for the player the coaching staff continually overplays despite horrendous efforts and quality play from the reserve whose minutes he’s stealing. It’s early yet — and I have confidence his play will come around — but I’m sorry Jrue Holiday, this one goes to you. Jrue looks lost on the court these days. His once vaunted defense is a shell of itself. The only thing he’s stealing are Ish Smith’s minutes. He’s shooting below 40% from the field and barely scratching 30% from deep. His assist numbers are not indicative of a point guard that isn’t named, Austin Rivers. Bill Simmons or someone else at (the now dead) Grantland once declared Jrue, "Darren Collison with a better agent." I believe both players are better than they are playing at the moment, but the numbers are eerily similar. The good news is that Jrue is coming off of consecutive lost seasons and surely is rusty mentally and physically. I have faith that he will bounce back, but until then he needs to be removed from the starting lineup.
His backup, Ish Smith is currently posting a +/- of +2.3 as a starter, while Holiday posts a -4.1. Consider that Holiday is always starting the game and the third quarter with Anthony Davis at his disposal and these numbers seem even worse. Jrue isn’t creating and that is causing us to stumble out of the gates and out of the half. It’s time we shift him to the off-guard spot once Tyreke Evans returns and pair him with Ish on the second unit. Jrue, I’m holding out hope that you will return to form soon, but until then I hope to see much less of you on the court. I’m still hoping to give you the, "Comeback Player of the Year" award at the end of the season with some vastly improved play. Don’t let me down.
The Aaron Gray Rouse’s Hornet for a Day Award
This award goes back to when I was posting Hornets’ viewing guides on my own Facebook page. Here’s what I wrote about Aaron:
"Aaron Gray is known as, "Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Roethlisberger" because he looks like Ben Roethlisberger and moves like a Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robot. I think he won that Rouse's Hornet for a day contract competition, and the team somehow forgot to terminate it the day after. That is the only explanation as to how he is still in the NBA.
I just did some research and learned that he has since retired from the NBA (I guess Kobe’s announcement usurped Gray’s), but there is no word on if he retired from Rouse’s Supermarket or not.
Anyway, this award goes to the player who seems to have won a fan contest and no one noticed his time on the court was supposed to be up. Unfortunately these two negative awards go to two guys who are starters. Omer Asik collects this stinker like a defensive rebound — the one thing he’s still doing adequately. He’s posting a horrendous 84 offensive rating while posting a 104 defensive rating for a net production of negative 20 points while he’s on the floor. He’s been unplayable. The good news is that the staff realizes this and only allows him to play 14.5 minutes a game, which is probably 5-7 minutes too many, but about 20 less than Monty would have used him. The bad news is that he signed a terrible contract for the team this past offseason. He’s making nearly ten-million dollars a year on a multi-year contract. It’s immoveable, unless the 76ers want to try him at point guard. If only he could still defend the way he cashes checks.
Omer, it’s too bad that Jimmer got cut before I started typing this, or you would have at least had some competition here.
The One(s) That Got Away Award
If we hadn’t spent the nearly 15-million dollars on our center position (and saved in a few other areas) this offseason we may have been able to bring in some solid help. This award goes to the signings that should’ve been.
Davis gives us everything Asik lacks — efficiency around the rim (62%FG), and a 99.8 offensive rating while posting a 98 defensive rating. He gives Portland great athleticism and has solid size at 6’-10" 240 lbs. Asik overshadows Davis in defensive rebounds, but Davis kills Asik on the offensive boards — and better yet, he can actually put them back in the rim when he gets one. Overall Ed Davis gives the Blazers a 17.8% rebounding rate while Omer Asik is giving the Pels a 16.6% rating. Ed Davis is also three years younger without the concerning back injuries. I’ve always wondered why teams overlooked Davis who has historically produced high efficiency numbers and played solid defense — even on a team with two turnstalls at the guard spot. I thought he was a much better fit than Asik or Ajinca for a system built for pace. We could have offered him a starting role and a chance to play with a superstar on a team taking a step forward. Instead, he signed with a Portland team that has intriguingly replaced four members of its starting five in what the media predicted would be a rebuilding era (I happen to think they are much better off than most) for under seven-million dollars a year. He currently has a 17.3 PER, while our $10 million man is posting a 2.5. I want to cry just thinking about it.
Aside from jaw-dropping dunks in transition and in traffic, McDaniels has very little offensive game to speak of. He should just be, "K McDaniels." However, despite this flaw, I love this kid. And he is a kid. At 22, he has plenty of time to develop a jumper. What he does bring is size on the wing (he can switch between the 2 and the 3) at 6’-6" and 205 lbs, crazy athleticism, shutdown defense and a highlight reel of chase down blocks, like this one:
Aside from the highlight play, he provides consistent defense, allowing his opponents to shoot only 25% while he’s in their face. While he can’t shoot and the sample size is small, he’s posting a 104.5 offensive rating and producing a stifling 83.9 defensive rating for a net of +20.6 points. The potential and the sample size is well worth the three-million a year the Rockets gave him this offseason. Why they aren’t using him more is puzzling, but maybe there is a move that could bring him to New Orleans afterall. Still, you have to wonder why he wasn’t sniffed around to begin with. He’s probably a fast food version of Andre Iguodala waiting for his chance, and he could possibly be the guy to take hold of the three spot for years if he improves his shooting. At worst he’s Alonzo Gee with a better highlight reel.
Bryant was a Hornet for minutes before they expertly turned him into Vlade Divac. RIP Kobe’s career, you will be missed. I’ve rarely cheered for you, but I always admired your ability to play the game.
The Dell Demps Dumpster Dive of Gold Award
Now that we have gotten a few rounds of depression out of the way, let’s look at what’s gone right in this painful start to the year. Every season Dell seems to make some seemingly minor move or moves to the end of the rotation that become important role-players or assets. Quincy Pondexter was once turned into Greivis Vasquez. Vasquez become a solid backup point and serviceable starting point guard until he was then flipped in a move that brought the Pelicans our second best player — Tyreke Evans. Dell also brought in Gustavo Ayon who had a few moments as a reserve, but was better used in a deal with Orlando for Ryan Anderson. Meanwhile, Pondexter was coached up and developed by the Grizzlies becoming a solid 3 and D guy and locker room all-star, for which we gave up the marginal Austin Rivers and the D-Leaguer, Russ Smith (we also got a 2nd round pick in this deal) to aid us in the post-All-Star break run to the playoffs. Moving Rivers and Smith also made room for Norris Cole who also was a key contributor to that run. Dell gets panned for his top of the rotation moves, but these seemingly meaningless tweaks always seem to pay off in one form or other.
By the time it took me to explain the history of this award, the recipient used his incredible speed to fly up the red carpet, rip it from my hands, give his acceptance speech and then toss it up high for Anthony Davis to dunk it in the trash where all of these early meaningless awards belong. For those of you reading at home, the award winner is Ish Smith. He’s filling the boxscore like he’s Tyreke Evans. If Monty Williams were still here, I’d probably be giving him the, "Tyreke Evans" award because Ish and Evans would both be on the bench behind less effective players. While Gentry and staff haven’t figured out that they should give the starting role to Ish yet, they at least know to give him the most minutes and to have him on the court when the game is on the line. I understand that it will be easier to tell Holiday he’s not a starter anymore when Tyreke comes back, but Ish should have stolen that job from Holiday weeks ago. Smith not only kind of looks like Bubbles from, "The Wire," his season could be one of the best stories of the year — like season four of, "The Wire." He’s always been an afterthought, a bottom of the rotation guy. A guy who collects more DNPs than buckets. His scoring is still suspect, but you see him getting more confident and more aggressive each game. His speed is on par with John Wall’s, if he isn’t faster. It’s very close. He sees the court very well, looks off his target before passing and has these very college-like wild passes from inside the paint that are not only effective, but are also unique. His ability to get under to the rim and his vision have him among the league leaders in assists despite only starting three games. He has a slightly less flashy Jason Williams (check out some career highlights here: https://youtu.be/AUz18ewZlPo) feel to him, which I really like. He doesn’t have the handle, or the over-the-top razzle-dazzle, but the speed and unconventional passing styles are very similar.
The best thing about Ish is that his, "making everyone else better" numbers are very good. He’s averaging just over 8 assists per game (Jrue Holiday has averaged 8 assists only once in his career) with a 40.4% assist percentage as compared to Jrue’s 36.6%). Even though Ish was called up off of the curb minutes before the season started, he has not killed us in the turnover department. He’s averaging 2 turnovers a game for a 3.94 assist to turnover ratio, both of which outshine Holiday in more minutes played. Ish also is close to averaging a double/double while having nearly 8% points less of a usage percentage than Holiday. He chases down loose balls, tips passes and elevates for tough rebounds regularly.
Ish Smith is not an All-Star, but he’s proven to be a very good player in this system. Once Tyreke Evans returns to the fold, I would hope and predict that he settles in as the starting one alongside Eric Gordon — solidifying the second unit with Smith at the one and Holiday at the two. This rotation allows you to keep two dynamic penetrators who can give you double digit points and assists (and sometimes rebounds) on the court at all times with two off-guards that have catch-and-shoot potential and can also provide secondary playmaking.
The other thing that has made the Ish signing so great is that it has now made Norris Cole a tradeable asset. With Evans, Smith, Holiday, Gordon, Gee, Pondexter and Douglas all able to play the guard spot Cole can be used to add help at the the three or big man depth or even a draft pick from a team trying to make a playoff run with an injury at the point. Good work Dell, now try to trade your way out of Omer.
The Ghost of Jamal Mashburn Award
This award unfortunately goes to no one. The New Orleans professional basketball team has not been able to field a well-rounded three since Mashburn’s knee said, "nope." So that this spot doesn’t go unfilled, let’s stroll down memory lane:
The Most Anticipated Return Award
This easily goes to Tyreke Evans. I thought all offseason that no player fit this system better than Tyreke Evans. I believe that Ish Smith’s emergence has shown that I’m probably right about that. I’ve gushed on and on about Evans throughout my tenure here, so I won’t go any further. However, when you have a 16pt, 7ast and 5rb guy returning to your team in a new system tailor-made for his style of play you can’t help but drool uncontrollably.
The Comeback Player of the Year Award
Again — this one is a no-brainer — Ryan Anderson has been a true bright spot during these dark days. With Anthony Davis’ early season struggles ne could argue he could be in the race with his recent stellar play, but Ryan was BAD for much of last season. This year he’s playing more in the post, he’s hitting that Jordan spin move jumper, his stepback is deadly, but perhaps more importantly he’s rebounding and playing defense allowing for the extremely potent Davis/Anderson frontline combo to work. They are posting an offensive rating of 111.6 while maintaining a defensive rating of 99.3 — clearly winning basketball. I’m very happy that Anderson was able to prove me wrong. It also gives me hope that Holiday will at some point return to form.
The Early Season Turning Point Award
When you are 4-13 it is hard to say that you’ve turned things around, but there was a clear shift in play and a three game winning streak to point to. Many of you (and it’s hard to argue) will point to AD’s block and save against Aldridge and the Spurs, but I think we started to see the team click, play with better effort and the defensive schemes begin to become effective in the loss to Oklahoma City one game earlier. Aside from the win against Dallas (which was followed by dismal losses), this was the first time we looked like an NBA team. That effort and confidence was clearly carried over into the win against the Spurs and the two wins against Phoenix.
The Best Dressed Award
The Pelicans bench has not been known for sporting great looks. Our former head coach was in need of a, "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" reboot. They probably would have had to spend a whole season with Monty, but they may have salvaged him at some point. Alvin Gentry is killing it in the tie game, and his overall look is solid too. Unfortunately, we are accustomed to seeing our key players in custom made suits — so much so that I once crudely Photoshopped myself in an, "official Eric Gordon uniform," which was a tailored suit with the number 10 and Gordon’s name embroidered across the back. While these looks don’t provide much on-court lineup flexibility, they do provide a LAX runway of choices. Tyreke brings it every night, but I have to go with Norris Cole. I’d rather see both of them in basketball shorts, but I admire their injured-fashion-show choices.
The Guy I Want to Hang Out With Award
Last year this would have went to Luke Babbitt. I thought we could go to some shows and maybe go record shopping together or something, but the haircut has kind of killed the appeal. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still do all those things with him, it just isn’t as exciting a prospect as it was last season. Right now, I’m giving the award to a guy that sits in our section. I think he’s a half season ticket holder because he isn’t at every game, but he is missed when he’s not there. He sits on the opposite side of the row from me and a couple of aisles down. He’s mid 50’s or maybe you’d have to cut him in half to count the rings due to years of hard living, but he’s very young at heart. He’s most often accompanied by a child who is as young as his heart. She’s just old enough to get embarrassed by his dancing and outbursts, but she shouldn’t be. He’s top notch in both departments. He makes rare appearances on Dance Cam, but he often finds his way onto the Pelivision screen during other crowd-dancing scenes with his weird shake and his hybrid, "roll ‘em and roll ‘em and put them in the pan" move combined with a, "throw them bows" twist. I love when and how he yells. I love when he cheers. I love his scruffy beard and Westbank bar shirts. I wish I sat closer so I could high-five him on the reg. He’s everything every team should want in a fan. He’s a working man, a local, he’s passionate and he’s introducing the next generation to the game.
The Villain Award
I don’t think this will ever not go to that ONE peanut guy. Nothing kills in-game momentum like a, "Get your almonds, cashews and pecans still nice and warm! Guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Look at that beautiful smile!" His ability to create a scoring drought, a defensive collapse, an Anthony Davis head slamming against the floor scary injury or a costly turnover while he camps out in our section like it was Yellowstone park is a true talent. It would be admirable if it wasn’t so infuriatingly real. I have a peanut man allergy. It’s fatal. I have seriously contemplated giving him $50 to avoid our section before big games.
The Good-Time Feeling After a Win Award
This goes to coach Gentry. He’s been dealt a tough hand to start the season and officiating hasn’t done him any favors, but in the three wins we’ve mustered at the Smoothie King Center Travis and I left feeling fantastic. After the Suns game we discussed how different it felt after a Monty Williams win. After most Monty wins you often weren’t satisfied. You were still frustrated. It’s like eating mediocre pizza. It’s cheese, tomato sauce and bread so it’s good, but you know there are much better versions out there. I usually felt like we won in-spite of our coach, but these wins feel like we one because we had a system that makes sense. A guy who knows how to manage the flow of a game, and a reason to believe we will continually build on each win.
And finally, the Early Season MVP
With a 25.7 PER while posting 25pts, 10.5rb, 2.4blk and 1stl per game after a terrible start to the season and two games that were cut short by injury there really isn’t any discussion. Especially when you look at the past few full games he’s played. After a very dismal start Anthony Davis has risen back into the realm of the league’s best players. Now we need to win more games and avoid Chris Paul cheapshots to boost his rating even higher.