Dell Demps and the New Orleans Pelicans roster construction has been a hot topic for years now. Instead of going down the rabbit hole of the draft day trades and the Omer Asik trade, the recent moves made allowed New Orleans to maintain their playoff chances, even if they didn’t realize it at the time of their respective deals.
With very few assets on the table, Dell Demps turned Austin Rivers, Russ Smith and John Salmons into Quincy Pondexter, Norris Cole and a second round pick. Both seemed to fall out of favor in their previous situations. Pondexter, after evolving into this likable role player in Memphis, lost a season to injury and the Grizzlies made moves to shore up his rotation spot.
As for Norris Cole, he wasn't playing well and the Heat found themselves in a position to add one of the six best point guards in the league in Goran Dragic. With Mario Chalmers in the fold and Shabazz Napier drafted this last summer, the Heat had the ability to move on from Cole. The Pelicans jumped into the trade between Miami and Phoenix to make it a three-team deal, plucking Cole out of Miami and taking a chance on a new home helping him change his fortunes.
Let’s talk about both players, shall we? (Stats as of 3/11/15)
2014-2015 MEM — 30 g, 18.0 mpg 4.5 points, 1.9 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 45.2 TS%, 13.4 USG%
2014-2015 NOP — 28 G, 27.5 mpg, 8.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 56.5 TS%, 13.5 USG%
I’ll admit, I didn’t think much of the addition of Pondexter when it first happened. I thought it was a good buy-low move that offered another athletic wing to the bench, but nothing too drastic. Now, I’m wondering if the Pelicans should start Pondexter and move Evans to the bench for next season.
While that move is overselling Pondexter’s play, Quincy has been everything the Pelicans have wanted when they jumped into the three-team deal to acquire him. His usage rate has barely moved since the trade, but Pondexter’s three-ball has come back (jumping from 23.3% to 38.9% since the trade) and he’s been doing a good job moving the ball as well.
Thanks to the NBA.com’s new Play Type data, we have a bit more information to go on with Pondexter. So far, he’s doing a good job on cuts, providing a 1.28 PPP and 60% shooting on cut plays this season. He also should see a bit more time as a ball handler, as he’s currently provided 1.04 PPP and 56.3% shooting on the floor as a ball handler in a small sample. The ability to provide offense as a cutter and doing some things in the pick and roll is valuable to a team with a satellite like Anthony Davis.
However, the defensive issues still persist. Pondexter is merely a body on the defensive side of the ball, offering a solid, but not great, presence on the perimeter. Since his arrival the Pelicans are slightly better on the defensive end, but not by much. Per Basketball-reference.com, the Pelicans are half a point better with him on the bench, a huge increase from his Memphis days, where the Grizzlies were 5.1 points better with him off the floor.
He allows 47.2% (0.93 PPP) to opposing ball handlers and a 42.9% (1.17 PPP, which is below average) on spot-up shots. As a one-on-one defender, Pondexter is good in isolation, allowing 0.95 PPP and 45% from the floor. I won’t continue to drown you in stats. Pondexter is a smart, heady player with the wingspan and motor to be a solid defender and from the players the Pelicans were throwing out there to Pondexter is a solid upgrade.
This is probably Demps’ best move in a minute. For nothing, he brought in a wing that can factor into the future plans for a fair price. I’m even willing to give him a bit of a mulligan for his defense. As the team goes through changes in an attempt to fix the defense this off season, I’d like to think a full season of Q-Pon will help that turnaround.
2014-2015 MIA — 47 g, 24.4 mpg, 6.3 points, 2.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 45.2 TS%, 15.9 USG%
2014-2015 NOP — 11 g, 27.0 mpg, 10.6 points, 2.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 51.0 TS%, 20.9 USG%
I was much higher on this move than I was the Quincy Pondexter move. Cole isn’t a great point guard, but the Pelicans were digging at the bottom of the barrel for any lead guard to come in and take some minutes. Toney Douglas, Nate Wolters, Jimmer Fredette, Gal Mekel and even Russ Smith got a cup of coffee. None of them proved to be valuable players moving forward, leading to New Orleans jumping into a three-way trade with Miami and Phoenix to snag Cole.
Similar to Pondexter, Cole landed in New Orleans and got hot, hitting 34% of his threes after hitting just 26% of them as a member of the Heat. Via NBA.com, Cole is hitting on 40% of his catch and shoot threes since arriving to New Orleans, and that’s exactly what his role should be. While being just six-foot-one, Cole’s best attribute is not running a team, but shooting from beyond the arc.
In a small sample, Cole’s advanced numbers have improved as well. He’s allowing just 0.87 PPP and 38.8% from the floor to ball handlers in the pick and roll and a 1.03 PPP on spot-up plays. Same for his defensive numbers: all point to solid production but not conclusive to long term success.
He earned a bit of reputation for being a solid defender, but in reality, he’s not that great of a defender. Before leaving Miami, the Heat were five points better defensively with Cole on the bench. In his first 11 games as a Pelican, Cole has played hard and it resulted in good defensive numbers. NBA.com’s defensive metrics has Cole with a 38.4 DFG% (defended field goal percentage), a nice decline from the 41.4% he allowed as a member of the Heat.
All in all, I think the best combination with Cole is Tyreke Evans. Evans is one of the league’s best at attacking the rim, while Cole, for the interim, has been solid from beyond the arc. Their weaknesses gel with their strengths – Evans is a poor shooter, while Cole is a bad, well, point guard. Evans gets to handle the ball and operate the offense, while Cole can provide the shooting Evans lacks.
In just 133 minutes so far this year, the two-man combination of Evans and Cole has an offensive efficiency of 116.7 and a defensive efficiency of 99.4. Another one of my little lineup quirks I’d like to see more of next season. First? You guessed it – Anthony Davis and Alexis Ajinca. The duo has just a 107.5 offensive efficiency, but a defensive efficiency rating of 96.5.
In closing, I believe Dell Demps did a good job acquiring Pondexter and Cole and what could just a good acquisition turned into a great one when you consider that the Pelicans have the rights to bring both back next season. Pondexter is under contract, while Cole is going to be a restricted free agent, with the Pelicans able to match a any deal offered to Cole next season.
For the complaining and recent criticism Dell Demps had to endure, the early returns on the Cole and Pondexter trades have helped the Pelicans add to their rotation and keep New Orleans in the playoff race while Davis, Anderson and Holiday have missed playing time in the second half of the season.