While the trade deadline came and went without New Orleans making a play for the future or moving one of their expiring pieces, we left the deadline with two major talking points. The first is that Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis are the present and future of the Pelicans. The second is that in the midst of not trading Ryan Anderson, Pelicans general manager Dell Demps and company did find time to lock up a player for the foreseeable future, who might come in handy during the looming free agency period.
As the last trades rolled through in dribs and drabs before the deadline on Thursday, the Pelicans completed a deal with undrafted rookie Bryce Dejean-Jones, locking him up for the remainder of this season and the next two years for cheap -- if they so choose to keep him around. After numerous (pre-existing) injuries effectively weakened New Orleans' wing depth, Dejean-Jones was added from the D-League to provide a warm body for the shooting guard position. In return, Dejean-Jones showed enough promise, making his re-signing a top priority for the Pelicans.
While the move looks like another cheap signing on the surface, it gives New Orleans a cushion on the roster as the franchise heads into free agency. Dejean-Jones, along with Quincy Pondexter, give New Orleans two long-limbed defenders, who can also stretch the floor. That prototype - the "3-and-D" wing - is all the rage in the league right now and the Pelicans now have two guys who can provide similar functions on the floor under contract for under $5 million, just as the salary cap is about to explode.
When you take a quick examination of this past trade deadline, you see that zero "3-and-D" guys were moved. The reason? It's so tough to find a solid 3-and-D wing in today's NBA, and thus, the established ones have more value than actual on-court production.
A fine example is Philadelphia's Robert Covington - a player who is shooting just 37.9% from the floor but provides good defense at various positions and good floor spacing. That alone is worth a mid first round pick to some. Throw in a simple contract (Covington is locked up for the next two years at $2 million) and Covington is worth his weight in gold as a trade chip for Philadelphia.
So, to have two guys who imitate or fill that role for under $5 million over the next two years as the cap jumps to a projected $92 million is a good look for the franchise. And yet, I'd argue that the Pelicans need another wing player who can do those things.
With $22 million in cap space heading into the offseason, New Orleans will have to get a starting swingman, who can do some of the same things Pondexter and Dejean-Jones can provide, just a little bit more at a starter's level. Nicolas Batum would be a godsend for New Orleans, but I think he's getting the max, which leaves them in the pool of Kent Bazemore, Allen Crabbe, Evan Fournier and Courtney Lee. Not a bad group, as all four fit what the Pelicans need at the shooting guard slot.
**Small note. I don't think Fournier and Crabbe fit the mold as defenders, but both are young wings who can knock down the three. They are just 23 years old apiece, so the hope is that as they continue to get older and get more minutes, that they get closer and closer to average on the defensive metrics provided. Hat tip to Nylon Calculus and Vice Sports' Ian Levy for this charting 3-and-D-ness among players in the league.
I would also double down and draft one too. The Pelicans might not be able to get their ideal candidate with their first round pick, but with two second round picks in their arsenal, New Orleans could package both in an attempt to move back into round one to grab someone like Michigan's Caris LaVert or Baylor's Taurean Prince -- two players projected in the 21 to 30 range of the draft. Another option for the Pels would be stay put and draft someone like Florida's Devin Robinson or North Carolina's Justin Jackson -- two players who have physical tools, but need more time to develop into NBA role players.
While the Pelicans should receive some credit for this move, there is some downside to it. Pondexter is making just $3.6 million next season, but he's coming off a year where he didn't play a single game and had another knee surgery. This, after missing a ton of time in Memphis with another foot injury. Between Pondexter and Tyreke Evans, that's five knee surgeries between two wing players in the rotation. The Pelicans, like they have done with Jrue Holiday this season, would be wise to carefully manage Q-Pon's minutes next season.
As for Dejean-Jones, he's still rather unproven in his stint in New Orleans, though, I imagine he'll get time to prove himself soon enough. He's currently knocking down 39.3% of his threes, but it's on a small sample size. He's only playing 19.9 minutes per game and his defensive numbers aren't great - a -0.7 defensive box plus minus, 49.3% defensive field goal percentage (6.4 above the league average) and -1.21 DRPM in his first stint.
That said, he's 23, the Pelicans just locked him up until his age-26 season, and he has a nice six-foot-eight wingspan with some girth. Can he be an elite defender? I'm not certain. I do, however, think he could be a fine one, which combined with some floor spacing, gives you a potential gem for the next two years.
The Pelicans have been criticized for some of their moves in previous offseasons, and were torched at the deadline for their lack of trades. We can't change that now. However, I think the Pelicans locking up Dejean-Jones for the foreseeable future and combing his play with Pondexter's play at some point down the line gave them a nice pillow to land on in the event a star swingman isn't nabbed in free agency.
It's a step in the right direction.