After the Pelicans saw four players appear in ESPN's "Bottom 100" level of the #NBARank, the Pelicans had two players come up in Friday's installment. This time, two contributors who are destined for important roles for the 2015-16 season, have made the list. Let's chop it up.
#249: Norris Cole
I'm not going to lie, I'm still a bit shocked that New Orleans landed Cole for almost nothing right before last year's trade deadline. As Miami made their move to pull Goran Dragic out of Phoenix, the Pelicans grabbed Cole in a 3-team deal and all they gave up is John Salmons, who wasn't contributing anyway.
Cole came to New Orleans in large part of the team's need for another point guard. After Jrue Holiday was sidelined in January, the Pelicans were stuck with Tyreke Evans and a buffet of bad point guards. Cole came in and quelled some of those woes, giving them a consistent reserve who provided energy and space the floor. He rewarded New Orleans with 9.9 points, 3.2 assists and 1.8 rebounds in 28 games last season.
The good news? Cole did well to hold the backup position down, helped New Orleans get to the playoffs and even provided the team with another floor spacer, shooting 37.8% on 2.6 attempts from downtown.
The bad? Cole finished with a -3.10 RPM and -0.81 WAR last season. He allowed 41.4% overall and 45.4% on two-pointers on NBA's defensive stats. Good defensive numbers, but I wouldn't classify him as a good defender. He's probably somewhere closer to average.
After a long wait this off-season, the Pelicans and Cole finally reached an agreement, with him signing his qualifying offer. It's good for both sides. The Pelicans have cheap yet solid production at the backup point guard position and provide another shooter to put on the floor around Tyreke Evans and Anthony Davis. For Cole, there's motivation to perform in a contract season with a sizable cap increase looming.
#214: Quincy Pondexter
Lost amid Memphis' rotation changes, Pondexter found himself on the outside looking in after missing most of 2013-14 with a stress fracture in his foot. The Pelicans plucked him in a three-team trade headlining Jeff Green and had to only relinquish Austin Rivers to Boston and Russ Smith to Memphis. The Pelicans found themselves with a nice return -- 9.0 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 45 games -- leading some to wonder whether he ended up being the best player in the deal.
Overall, Pondexter's counting stats were good, but the numbers didn't support definite improvement in New Orleans. His -1.64 RPM ranked him 43rd among small forwards and a 0.77 WAR ranked 35th. Defensively, he has the size to be a solid defender and has looked decent in the past. In 40 games, Pondexter held opponents to 45.0% overall and 50.3% on two-pointers. If he can slightly improve on this end, he'd make for an excellent 3-and-D player, combining defensive work with 40% three-point shooting.
Regardless, the Pelicans bought low on Pondexter and have found themselves with a nice rotation player for a below-average price, as he is under contract for the next three seasons for just a shade under $11.0 million. Entering his age-27 season, he is projected to be a nice piece for the Pelicans under the coaching change, and could perhaps fill a role similar to that of Jared Dudley.
Being on the mend at the start of the season could initially hurt the team, but if he can build on his second go-round in New Orleans once he returns to the lineup, Pondexter should rank as one of the bigger bargains in the NBA.
Personally, I think both players are solid contributors. Pondexter came back stronger than many expected, despite some of the advanced stats. The same goes for Cole, although his defensive numbers were better.
With their reveal, the Pelicans are left with just seven players on the board. We should expect to see Omer Asik, Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, and of course, Anthony Davis at some point, but let's probably not hold our breaths for Kendrick Perkins at this point.
Do you agree with ESPN's ranking of Cole and Pondexter? Too low or too high? Who do you think has the better season next year?