Even the most avid NBA fans cannot accurately chart the progression of all the newcomers league-wide. Thus, when tuning into the 2016-17 season, I found there was plenty to learn about New Orleans Pelicans point guard Tim Frazier.
It began with wondering who the 26-year-old was, and it is now evolving into a matter of, “Can this guy eventually be an All-Star?”
The signs certainly have been there at the outset: 15.3 points, 9.3 assists and 1.5 steals. Frazier’s brilliance has basically kept New Orleans competitive, and though the Pels creep past last night’s loss to Milwaukee at a putrid 0-4 pace, there are plenty of signs for hope. Anthony Davis has been the overshadowing dominance that all have dreamed him capable, but in his shadow has come the understated brilliance of Frazier.
NBA comparisons seem to be the best way we can gauge new and obscure talents. Okay, maybe not, but fans love them, and there is a really good one for Frazier: Tony Parker.
The similarities between their styles, strengths and overall game give the comparison a degree of depth and validity. But there is more: If Frazier can hone his strengths and learn from the development of Parker, he could find his true calling.
Frazier is a playmaker with an uncanny ability to breakdown defenders thanks to his shiftiness and quickness. He effectively uses a Parker-esque floater in traffic, and in general is surprisingly efficient in the land of trees inside the paint. Parker historically has been one of the best finishers at the 1-position, and Frazier has shown more than enough flashes to indicate he is of the same mold.
Sure, that is pretty high praise. The San Antonio Spurs have been a dominant basketball factory for two decades, and Parker started his journey much younger than Frazier as well as accomplished more than most can hope to mimic. Frazier took a few years to get his foothold after getting a semi-late start already, so his career will be “cut short” by this fact. But for the meantime, he could be the player to really open up some options for Pelicans GM Dell Demps.
Let’s face it: This is a Pelicans team with more than a few holes, and there are a multitude of issues that could be addressed via trade. While a four-game sample is not quite sufficient to crown Frazier as the sure-fire answer at the point, each passing game only solidifies the fact that New Orleans may have stumbled across a nice diamond in the rough. Frazier has not been without mistakes, but he is not playing like a rookie or a guy who has tallied only 1,100 minutes in his entire NBA career.
To be clear, Frazier has appeared in just 66 career games, so in terms of total playing time, he is really towards the end of a rookie season, theoretically. But in that short span, he has gone from a guy who was a sheer liability shooting the ball to someone defenses must now take seriously.
Frazier is knocking down his looks from just about everywhere, but he is most effective when getting into the paint. He is shooting 63 percent in the restricted area this season, with 56 percent of his shots there. What has made it possible is that defenders are beginning to respect both his mid-range shot and his triple.
Frazier has shot 4 of 9 from three this season, and though that is hardly anything to call an actual sample size, it shows that he has the confidence to take—and hit—them.
Flash back to Parker: He exhibited the same problems as Frazier when he entered the Association. As lightning-quick as the future Hall of Famer was, he had trouble breaking down defenses with his defender sagging gratuitously and daring him to shoot from the perimeter. But Parker kept at it, and while he will never be considered an elite shooter, he is a very good one.
When we can make that statement about Frazier without any “buts,” we will know he has fully arrived as an NBA point guard.
There were signs of this, of course, prior to this season. Frazier closed the last campaign really strongly with 13.1 points and 7.5 assists per game in his final 16 contests for the Pelicans. And for the first time in his brief career, he displayed an ability to knock down the three ball. Frazier connected on 41.9 percent over that stretch of games, and it appears he has carried the momentum into this season.
Though he is a career 32.9 percent three-point shooter, the reality seems he could finish this season around the 36 to 38 percent mark—if only because the last 20 games in a Pelicans uniform indicate just that. Being able to hit his ‘J’ is what will set up his penetration and make the pick and rolls with Anthony Davis that much more difficult to defend.
And that has been New Orleans’ bread and butter thus far: the Davis-Frazier pick and roll combo. There is no reason to expect otherwise, given the fact that opposing teams have almost no answers for Davis — and the fact that opposing guards are having so much trouble staying in front of Frazier.
The San Antonio Spurs recognized Patty Mills had no chance early in this past Saturday’s matchup, and they sought to get Jonathon Simmons and Kawhi Leonard on Frazier as frequently as possible (which was not exclusive, because hiding a guy like Mills on defense is not necessarily easy given his size).
Expect that to become a theme, too, as teams find Frazier just too much for a lot of point guards to handle. Teams have gone to playing 2s and 3s on the point more in recent years, and if teams feel they can rattle Frazier with some length and strength, they will.
But that is not really any reason to fret.
He has found ways to adapt thus far, and some of the incremental improvements he can make are likely to come it seems. Frazier has a 4.15 assist-to-turnover ratio and is nearly averaging a double-double. What more could any reasonable person ask?
The questions will eventually pop up as to whether this makes Jrue Holiday trade bait. It is obviously too early to address that, and the pair may function well together in many circumstances so it is not as though Holiday’s return is going to render Frazier simply riding the pine. Not after this start.
There is ample evidence to believe Frazier has what it takes to be a high-quality starting point guard, possibly even make an All-Star game one day. The Pelicans may be reeling at 0-4 and the signs of frustration are beginning to mount, but these losses have revealed sparkling performances by a guy I had truthfully never heard of prior to this season.
Sure, that is an admission of slight ignorance on this writer’s part, but Frazier has risen from obscurity to brilliance so quickly that his name is now beginning to circulate more league-wide — I see you Stephen A. Smith.
For the Pelicans, he is the brightest sign outside of Davis’ destruction of the Association. While 0-4 is hardly the way to start a season, Frazier cannot absorb much of that blame. He has been stellar.
We see ya, Tim. Now see Tony. There is a lesson for you in his rise and development as a player.