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2014-15 Player Reviews: Alexis Ajinca proves to be an efficient European

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Ajinca was good in his limited minutes this season, but did he do enough to justify Demps handing him what is likely to be a much richer contract this time around?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

When looking through the Per 36 minutes lens, Alexis Ajinca's second season in New Orleans saw him average career-highs across the board. Ajinca was a solid 4th rotational big for the Pelicans. He cut down on the fouls, and even though his minutes per game dropped a bit, he had a much better season. So much so, many feel Dell Demps will be priced out of being able to bring back the Frenchman in 2015-16 thanks to the team's salary cap situation.

Ajinca was a much more consistent performer as witnessed by the increases in his PER, rebounding percentages, assist % and drops in foul rate and turnover %. The decrease in minutes is explained by the presence of Omer Asik. Last season, Ajinca's main competition was Greg Stiemsma, once Jason Smith was lost for the 2013-14 campaign.

Offense

Ajinca was not always regarded as an offensively talented big man. In his first stint in the NBA from 2008-11, he shied away from the rim area and attempted to a great number of shot attempts from midrange, an area he formerly had very little proficiency.

Thanks to the maturation of his body and game while in Europe, he has flashed a nice all-around offensive game as a Pelican. In 2014-15, he had a player efficiency rating of 19.9; this was the 2nd best mark on the entire Pelicans roster (only behind Anthony Davis, the league leader in efficiency).

Ajinca was very efficient when it came to scoring the ball, as shown in this image taken from NBA Savant

Ajinca shot chart from NBA Savant

Ajinca possesses a large variety of moves on offense and has shown this skill set throughout his two years. He uses his length to his advantage on offense. One of his staple moves is the hook shot. With a 7'9 wing span and being 7'2, hook shots are nearly impossible to block. Although he employs this shot from various distances and angles, Ajinca mainly uses it get closer to the rim and then relies on his momentum and size to get a clean look.

Ajinca hook vs heat 1

In this example, Ajinca backs Chis Andersen down, turns over his shoulder and gets an and-1 opportunity from the hook shot.

And finally, Ajinca gets the ball dished to him and he throws up a soft baby hook over the defense.

Baby hook vs Clips

Ajinca's main improvement this year was how much better he shot the ball between 3-10 feet from the previous year. In 2014, he shot 38.8% from 3-10 feet and in 2015 he shot 55.2%. Consequently, it's not surprising to learn he attempted most of his shots from this region.

Ajinca's offense doesn't stop at just hook shots; the big man has a nice stroke on both the post and midrange jumpers. Again, he uses his height to create distance and separation to get his shot off. When he fades back, it's hard to contest that shot and it was money most of the time.

Below is a perfect example. This make was crucial as it helped the Pelicans get back in the game and eventually beat the Raptors during New Orleans infamous Eastern Conference road swing in January.

Fade vs Toronto

On this one, Ajinca gets the ball fed to him in the post and just fades over Chris Anderson.

Fade vs Miami

Here, Ajinca extends his range and raises up and hits the mid range jump shot with ease.

Jumpshot vs Houston

Although the French big man displays fine finesse in a number of moves, he can also be powerful and throw down some mean slams. My favourite one from the past season was this one vs Toronto in his break out game.

Angle 1 vs Raps

Angle 2

Defense

Ajinca isn't a great defender, but he was much improved this season from his previous one. Essentially, he stopped falling for too many pump fakes, reduced his tendency to reach like a guard and started using verticality (stretching his arms straight up when opponents attacked the rim).

Ajinca posted some remarkable advanced numbers on defense. He was 3rd on the team in block % (behind Withey and Davis) and posted the 2nd best defensive rating at 103 behind Anthony Davis. Although defensive rating can heavily rely on the other players you spend time with on the court, it still shows the player was a plus on defense.

A big part of being a good defender is an ability to limit second chance attempts by rebounding the ball well on the defensive end. Ajinca made significant inroads from 2013-14 and had the 2nd best DREB percentage on the team, trailing only Omer Asik. He was 11th in True Rebounding Percentage in the league (A minimum 50 games played and 8 + minutes per game. Asik was 3rd).

That being said, Ajinca still allowed opponents to shoot 52% at the rim according to NBA.com. This isn't bad in comparison to other Pelicans, but it rated well in the lower half among other bigs in the NBA.

Although Ajinca cut down on his fouls, he still produced 5.7 fouls per 36 minutes which was the worst among the active players at the end of the season. On a deeper roster, this was a reason for a lack of playing time. In some games, his propensity to pick up several fouls quickly in the first half earned him a trip back to the bench for the rest of the game.

He is aware he'll have to continue to improve cutting down on the personal fouls if he ever wants to see significant minutes consistently on an NBA court.

Key Moments

  1. A game winner versus the Miami Heat. Alexis Ajinca hit the winning shot for a heavily injured Pelicans squad. This, on top of scoring 24 points and grabbing 9 rebounds.
    Game Winner
  2. In his breakout game of 2014-15, Ajinca came off scoring 16 points vs the Sixers in a loss. He followed that up with 22 points in leading the team to an impressive win in Toronto in the Pelicans very next game.
  3. Several other big games included a 17 & 9 performance in a win over the Clippers and 16 & 9 in a home win over the Raptors (they certainly got a lifetime worth of Ajinca in just two games!)

Should Demps re-sign him?

This is a difficult question because the Pelicans can probably bring Ajinca back, but it would limit their options in the upcoming free agency period. In addition, with the tight salary cap, Dell Demps may end up needing to decide between him and Norris Cole.

Many feel Ajinca is likely to get between 4-5 Million a year in a multiple season contract. I have to ask, is it worth paying that amount for a guy likely to play 10-15 minutes a night?

Personally, I would love to bring Ajinca back -- it's hard to find guys with his size and that talent offensively. We only have to hope he's not interested in landing a significantly larger role on another team. Unless of course, Asik is lured away this upcoming summer...