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Tim Frazier lacks typical NBA resume but the Pelicans are thirsty for his contributions

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Frazier may have just one exceptional skill (passing) but don’t count out the self-made player to build on last season’s improvement.

NBA: Preseason-Dallas Mavericks at New Orleans Pelicans Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

In Jamile’s preview of E’Twaun Moore, he catalogued Moore, Solomon Hill, Langston Galloway and Buddy Hield in the DIY/Indie Rock section of the college town record store that is the Pelicans’ roster. He rightfully labeled them as “Self-Made Players.” Tim Frazier also belongs right behind that same plastic album genre section divider emblazoned in that hand lettered sharpie-marker aesthetic complete with worn sticker residue. I can smell the nag champa and hear the weak vocaled ode to loneliness and an espresso accompanied by an acoustic guitar that is missing a string reflecting its owner’s broken and forced smile already as I browse through these struggling artists’ stories.

More succinctly and with my nostrils away from the glue jar — Frazier is a worker. Tim Frazier is an ultra-rare five-year college player. In his senior year he ruptured an Achilles tendon and was granted a redshirt and eventually a fifth year of eligibility. Despite having a good college career, Frazier would go undrafted. Likely the combination of his stature — 6’-1” and 170 lbs — and his age had him gazing through a telescope through a window across the street at NBA draft boards.

Tim Frazier then had to fight his way into the league through the D-League — where he glowed like a Buku Fest flyer that was bitten by a radioactive spider — earning numerous awards such as D-League MVP and D-League Rookie of the Year while bouncing back-back-back-and-back-and-forth between the Maine Red Claws, the Philadelphia 76ers, the Portland Trailblazers and the Toronto Raptors.

Frazier was never allowed to settle.

On media day Tim praised the D-League for the role it provided in his receiving a real NBA contract with a truly significant role — setting up one of the league’s superstars. He said those days of bouncing back-and-forth created much doubt, but his contract with the Pelicans, “is everything.” That “everything” came not only because of his drive to not abandon his dream, but also because of his ability that stood on the top-pedestal in the D-League dog and pony show to close out the final days of the Pelicans’ 2015-2016 season.

The offense and the ball moved well under Frazier’s command. In 29 minutes per game he averaged 7.5 assists, which was a real feat considering that he was playing alongside piecemealed lineups — like when you were a kid and you didn’t have all of the GI Joe’s you needed to create the scene you daydreamed up so you had to also use your Star Wars toys and maybe even a completely out of place He-Man — post the catastrophic injury bug infestation.

Not only was Frazier good at setting up his teammates, but he also had a little razzle dazzle in his passing. I fell in love with basketball during Jason Williams’ rookie year with the Sacramento Kings, and Tim Frazier often reminds me of White Chocolate. The difference is that Tim is more in control, takes smarter shots, but he doesn’t have Williams’ superbug sick of a handle or 100% of his quickness.

On media day Frazier said that to survive in this league you need to be elite at at least one thing. For Frazier, it’s passing, and he may already be at that level. Jason Williams is not a Hall of Fame player, but his passing will be the legends that ex-high school point guards who tore their ACLs and never had a chance to reach their potential bestow upon those ankle-biting point guards they coach at the playgrounds, elementary schools and community centers for decades. Being the next J-Will would be a merit badge any ball-handler would love to earn. Frazier isn’t the next White Chocolate yet, but he is white chocolate chipped — they are both dinner and a show. Let’s let the tape show you what I mean.

Here are the Top 10 plays of Jason Williams’ career:

And here is a look at what it was like when Williams was in the zone during a game:

In this clip you see Tim Frazier sending curveballs, heat seeking missiles and messages in Molotov cocktail bottles through the hapless Brooklyn defense — which was as good at defending Brooklyn as Defend New Orleans is at preventing our own gentrification — evoking shades of Jason Williams:

Of course, it’s easy to get assists when you are passing to Luke Babbitt. I’m still not sure if that was a joke or not.

Here’s Tim’s Pelican debut, a game he played without practicing with his teammates. Maybe he didn’t know yet that Omer can’t catch a pocket pass and finish, or that Gee can’t hit an open three, or maybe he just has a Midas touch pass — every pass he sends turns into an assist.

When asked about his success in that 16 game run to close out the season, Frazier noted that he wanted to, “let the past be the past” while still remembering that has already proven that he belongs. With Holiday out indefinitely and Tyreke set to return at vague-o-clock on MonThursSunday in Octember, Tim seized the starting point guard role over Langston Galloway. I’ve highlighted how we may need to start planning on life after Tyreke and Jrue this season in their respective player profiles, so it’s promising that we have a player under contract who has shown so much resolve and playmaking ability even if in such a small dose. In his first preseason with the Pelicans, Tim has shown that those sparks of playmaking we’ve seen are more likely to ignite a brush fire than to be stubbed out like a smoked menthol on a park bench.

  • In the first game against an admittedly weak Dallas lineup, Frazier finished with 10 points, 9 assists and 6 rebounds, while shooting 80% from the field and 50% from deep without committing a turnover in over 28 minutes.
  • Frazier followed that up with a solid performance against Jeff Teague and the Pacers, scoring 9 points, dishing 7 assists and grabbing three rebounds while shooting 60% from the floor and 50% from deep in 23 minutes.
  • In Shanghai Frazier scored 7 points, tallied 9 assists and snared 8 rebounds while converting 60% from the floor, though he missed his only three point attempt. His 9 assists and 1 turnover in 24 minutes bode well for Frazier being able to run the offense as the Rockets treated this like a regular season game playing James Harden and Ryan Anderson over 35 minutes each.
  • In Beijing Frazier had a very forgettable game, though he did continue to shoot well from deep converting 50% from long range.
  • In Atlanta Frazier struggled with his own shot, but he still managed to create 6 assists despite playing without Anthony Davis and E’Twaun Moore. However, he was bit by the turnover bug, coughing it up 4 times. Still, he once again demonstrated that despite his size he is able to grab rebounds — collecting 6.
  • In the final tune up in Orlando Frazier had the benefit of playing alongside Anthony Davis once again and it had him flirting with a triple double — 10 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists while also nailing his only attempt from beyond the arc.

Frazier has shown the ability to create for others at every stop his winding career has taken him. It may be this unselfishness combined with the flashy pass that make playing with him fun, but it’s clear that those who have shared a locker room with him adore him. He must be the opposite of the guy with the sarcasm speech impediment.

Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum were often seen on Twitter praising Tim’s play with the Pelicans last season. It was the kind of love fest with an ex-teammate that you really only see in shirtless banana boat photos. Frazier’s likeability and flare for the bedazzled assist made basketball fun for the diehards that stuck with the Pels during the plague season. The fans were having fun because the players were too.

Frazier could be the key to seeing that energetic and engaged Anthony Davis we saw pre-Gentryfication. It may also help keep sometimes loose cannon Lance Stephenson toeing the company line. Also, his work ethic should serve as an inspiration to his teammates. He’s a great rebounder for his size and position. Rebounding is very much an effort stat, and for Frazier to grab 5+ on the regular at his size is a testament to that effort.

Despite his near elite playmaking, improved shooting and intangibles it isn’t all sunshine out of the butthole when it comes to Frazier’s game. Like Jason Williams, he will never be known for his defense. He has trouble staying in front of quick guards, gets overpowered by stronger guards and gets destroyed on screens. Check out this kayak’s impersonation of Tim trying to fight through a screen.

Still, all hope is not lost on that end. First, Frazier should be flanked by E’Twaun Moore, Solomon Hill, Anthony Davis and a currently healthy and effective Omer Asik (though, I have real concerns about this version of Omer’s staying power) — all of which are good defenders to help mask his deficiencies. If Frazier is able to elevate his defensive abilities to just average, he could possibly be that long term answer at the lead guard spot should Jrue leave in free agency, or at least be a fantastic floor general on our second unit.

The other good news is that Steph Curry was once seen as a terrible defender, but he picked up several tricks and tools in the last few years that have him playing very good defense — all which are detailed in this great ESPN piece by Ethan Sherwood Strauss. It includes some praise for current Pelicans’ defensive coordinator Darren Erman’s work with Steph teaching him how to spin under a screen — a technique Tim needs to master:

"Darren Erman taught me that, to be honest with you," Curry said, referencing Golden State's since-fired defensive expert. (Erman and Adams both favor spinning. Erman had long been a friend and admirer of Tom Thibodeau and Adams was Thibodeau's right-hand man in Chicago.)

"If you get hit square on a screen, it's a longer route to fight over instead of spinning under. It's a more efficient move too, because either they're going to hold you and it's a more evident illegal screen, or you're going to get under and off their body pretty quick." Matchups and positioning matter here. Spinning can work if you're far enough away and if your man can't capably shoot quickly over the top of a screen.

While the early season task of going against superpowers like the Warriors and Spurs without Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans isn’t ideal — Tim Frazier setting up a Dr. Manhattan-like superstar Anthony Davis and deadly shooters in E’Twaun Moore and Buddy Hield in the early goings should provide a lot of smiles even if those aren’t the result of winning games. It truly is process over playoffs as we not only need to add to our roster to fix obvious holes, but we also need players like Frazier to expand their games while benefiting from teammates injuries with these extended minutes. Frazier’s development or lack of development on the defensive end will likely dictate whether or not the Pelicans are in the late season playoff discussion.

This 2016-17 Pelicans player preview is a part of the Criterion Collection and comes with this bonus feature of passing porn: