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Alonzo Gee may turn out to be a very important signing for the New Orleans Pelicans

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Gee could turn out to be quite an underappreciated signing by New Orleans, especially if he emerges as the opening day starter at small forward.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

So far the only newcomer to the New Orleans next season is Alonzo Gee. Last week, Dell Demps added the oft-traded swingman on a cap-friendly two-year deal. Although his playing time has decreased the last several years, don't dismiss his chances and say gee whiz.

After spending four years at Alabama, he bounced around the NBA during his rookie season with stops in Minnesota, San Antonio and Washington. After another go around with the Wizards the following season, he was signed by the Cavaliers in December of 2010 and would go on to stay in Cleveland for over the next four years.

His most influential season came in 2012-13 where he started all 82 games. He was a favorite of Byron Scott for one reason only -- defense. He was entrusted to hound opponents' best perimeter players, say from Chris Paul to Kevin Durant. In fact, Scott believed Gee was one of the league's best defenders overall.

He's not the only coach to have raved about him on that end of the floor either. During his short stint with the Denver Nuggets last year, Brian Shaw had plenty of good things to say.

"What he's doing, the intangible things he's bringing, the defensive ability," Shaw said. "He absolutely shut down (Thunder guard) Sebastian Telfair when he was on the point guard. When he was on the twos and threes, he forced them out a lot further in their offense. He caused turnovers without going for steals, just from having body pressure on guys.

His size (6'6'', 220 lbs) and reach (6'10'') make him a natural small forward, but his speed and strength give him the potential to cover nearly anyone on the floor, from point guards to the smaller power forwards in the league. For a team that's likely to switch on a lot of assignments, Alvin Gentry and his staff would probably like to utilize him on the defensive end of the floor. Tyreke Evans and Quincy Pondexter are passable, but it's no secret they've struggled against the larger 3's.

Since Gentry's hiring, he has almost exclusively talked about improving the defense. Sorry Dante Cunningham, but Gee instantly becomes the Pelicans best option against the majority of small forwards. Don't think for a minute Gentry has forgotten how influential Andre Iguodala, the 2015 Finals MVP, was against LeBron James.

Gee will not be the next coming of Iggy, thanks to a lack of vision and ball-handling, but there is an outside chance he could still blossom into a Bruce Bowen type of performer. Two years ago, Coach Mike Brown had this same notion.

Bruce Bowen was never considered an offensive threat with the San Antonio Spurs, but he carved out a brilliant career by becoming a smothering defender and a terrific 3-point shooter from the corner.

Cavs coach Mike Brown was part of the Spurs’ organization when Bowen’s game was evolving. Now he believes Alonzo Gee could become the same type of player.

Gee has the defensive part down but what of his long range shooting? A quick scan of his career stats would make one believe it's not in the cards. Gee sports a career 33.2 three-point FG% and he's only eclipsed 34% in meaningful minutes with the Cavaliers in 2010-11 (34.7%) and the Nuggets in 2014-15 (41.7%).

However, what if we were to just examine his corner three statistics, the shot Brown had wanted him to exclusively pour all of his energy into prior the 2013-14 season?

Above the Break 3PA Above the Break 3FG% Corner 3PA Corner 3FG%
2011-12 81 34.6% 56 28.6%
2012-13 90 32.2% 127 30.7%
2013-14 16 25% 41 36.6%
2014-15 6 16.7% 29 41.4%

Gee used to prefer shooting the three ball away from the corners. As you can see, he has progressively morphed into an exclusive corner three point shooter. Even better is the fact that his proficiency has improved every season, especially after he dedicated a summer towards this particular shot. The only problem is he has not gotten the same chances he did earlier in his career when he was on worse teams.

Bruce Bowen wasn't always an effective three point shooter; he didn't blossom from the perimeter until his age 30 season, his first year in San Antonio. Alonzo Gee will be 28 next season, and despite the smallish sample sizes of the last two seasons, there appears a decent chance the corner three can be a weapon.

The only question remains is whether Gee can leapfrog Evans, Pondexter and Dante Cunningham and you know what? I think he can.

  • Tyreke Evans is losing weight faster than 'B' celebrities we've had to endure on Dancing With the Stars over the years. Moreover, Gentry sees him as a point guard first. So, if girth is out the window, so are his chances at starting at small forward.
  • He’s on a special diet and has lost 12 pounds. The style of play we’re going to have probably suits him better than any player on our team — getting up and down the court, being able to drive the basketball, finding guys for the easy basket. Those are gong to be things that raise his game to another level. He’ll be primarily a point guard but we’ll also play him at the two and at small forward.
  • Quincy Pondexter started 28 games last year at the 3, but he showed a tendency of struggling against larger competition. As I wrote back in May (and 90% of you agreed with me), the Pelicans had a hole at shooting forward.
  • First, look at the shooting percentages of opposing point guards and shooting guards when they had Q-Pon chasing them around. (Listed below are the top 10 opponents in terms of field goal attempts by a PG or SG.)

    PLAYER FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE
    Stephen Curry 42.1%
    Jamal Crawford 21.1%
    James Harden 33.3%
    DeMar DeRozan 37.5%
    Klay Thompson 50%
    Kobe Bryant 35.7%
    Andrew Wiggins 33.3%
    Dwyane Wade 50.0%
    Chris Paul 36.6%
    J.J. Redick 33.3%

    Now, have a look at how opposing shooting forwards fared against Q-Pon. (Listed below are the top 10 opponents in terms of field goal attempts by a SF.)

    PLAYER FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE
    Danilo Gallinari 45.4%
    Harrison Barnes 60.0%
    Luol Deng 60.0%
    Jeff Green 71.4%
    Marcus Morris 14.3%
    LeBron James 66.7%
    Kawhi Leonard 33.3%
    Jimmy Butler 66.7%
    Rudy Gay 33.3%
    Trevor Ariza 60.0%

  • The main issue with Dante Cunningham is the fact that he has never displayed the ability to shoot the long ball. In 8 seasons, he has attempted 38 three-point attempts. Although he did an admirable job containing a number of opposing small forwards, issues arose when he was switched onto smaller perimeter players.

Unless Cunningham develops a consistent outside shot, I expect the battle for the majority of small forward minutes will be between Pondexter and Gee. It will come down to whether Q-Pon shows improvement in guarding players of larger stature versus Gee's ability to knock down the corner three. Although Pondexter should remain the favorite, I wouldn't be surprised if Gee were to usurp him.

The Pelicans were interested in Al-Farouq Aminu during free agency, had expressed interest in drafting (and keeping) Branden Dawson and have now decided to add an uber athlete as their first free agent signing. For instance, Gee's steal percentage dwarfs Pondexter's, and while Q-Pon is no slouch in the hops department, he is not nearly as explosive nor as long as Zo.

In case you missed it, have a look at the picture of Alonzo Gee at the start of this article. He's an absolute beast, even among the most physical of NBA specimens, and his situation reminds me of another player who emerged from the shadows under Alvin Gentry: P.J. Tucker. We all know how that experiment has turned out.

Of course, training camp and the exhibition season should be the final determining factor, but for right now, I'm of mind the unheralded Gee might make for New Orleans best option to start games alongside Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Anthony Davis and Omer Asik. His defense is known for being of the lockdown variety, his athleticism, finishing ability and steals potential would serve the Pelicans well in an uptempo setting and his corner three point shot shows potential.

Gregg Popovich once said Bruce Bowen can't dribble and can't pass, yet the 5-time All-Defensive First Team NBA player logged over 18,000 minutes for the Spurs after turning 30. So please don't be steadfast in the belief that the Alonzo Gee signing doesn't move the needle. (And yes, I can send some of my great tasting Kool-Aid if need be.)