Back in May, Andrew Crawford broke down the unheralded He Tianju and his game. It had been announced the Chinese sharpshooter would be auditioning for a role during the upcoming NBA Summer League schedule, yet he sat absolutely on no one's radar. However, it did appear he possessed an NBA-ready skill: perimeter shooting.
But what He does have in his favor is the ability to knock down three-point shots at a prodigious rate. In years past, He was respected for his accuracy from beyond the arc, yet this season he took things up to the next level. Taking an average of 5.3 shots a game from deep, the forward made 42% of them, but he also showed a real court-savvy for playing off-the-ball and drifting into the perfect spot to receive the pass. This year, he also started in the CBA All-Star game and finished the season within a hair of a famed 50-40-90 season.
The rest of his game, though, from ball handling to penetrating abilities to defense, are just several of the reasons many considered him an obscure selection to be given an opportunity to play in the NBA. Some were downright surprised, and it might have led to fans questioning the Pelicans motives.
With reports that He has his own Chinese camera crew following him around during the July proceedings, some may be inclined to believe the Pelicans are trying to appease to the large Chinese fan base around the world (and their pocketbooks). Let's clear this up right away, it's difficult for NBA teams to profit from the popularity of international players.
Well, for starters, it’s harder for individual teams to profit from international marketing than you might imagine. When a Houston Rockets jersey bearing the name of Jeremy Lin is sold in China — or in a retail outlet in suburban Houston or anywhere else in the U.S., for that matter, outside of a team-owned store — that money does not flow directly to the Rockets. It’s split among the NBA’s 30 teams. The Rockets also can’t, say, cut their own television deals in China. The NBA handles those negotiations, and divvies up the money among its franchises. "It’s not easy for a single team to make a fortune off a guy in China," says Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, who has traveled to China frequently and closely studied the country.
If a low ceiling type of player doesn't have the potential to turn heads nor help the bottom line of the organization, what could be the real purpose of his invitation? I believe it has to be because Dell Demps feels there is a good chance another NBA team will sign Luke Babbitt to more money than the Pelicans will have available to spend.
In Babbitt's two years in New Orleans, he has proven to be an incredibly proficient deep perimeter threat. Although he failed to qualify for the 2015 three point percentage statistic, it's likely no general manager in the league missed the fact he shot 51.3% from long range.
For a team that is going to push the pace and shoot a lot more three-pointers, losing a weapon of Babbitt's caliber is problematic, especially if Demps is considering on utilizing Ryan Anderson as a trade piece. Thus, the Pelicans need a back-up plan.
A year after the Oklahoma City Thunder whisked Anthony Morrow away with a multi-year 10 million dollar contract, Luke Babbitt may be next in line to follow suit. The importance of 3-point specialists continues to grow. It's why Steve Novak has remained in the league since 2006 or why Ray Allen was continually pestered despite having both feet out the door.
He Tianju may not be Plan B, but his Hail Mary chances come at relative no cost in a setting like the NBA Summer League. If he happens to shine, great, the Pelicans are likely looking at their next minimum contract. If not, Dell Demps will look elsewhere.
Therefore, if you're in need of another story to follow besides Seth Curry in the coming days, look for how well Tianju shoots from beyond the three point line. Although we should pay attention to the whole package, it will be his perimeter shooting that has the potential of earning him a spot on next season's roster.