The panic-inducing strobe light at the end of the tunnel is finally here. A season that felt like 40 years in the desert will maybe give fans a lottery pick superstar of an oasis. Hopefully, the days of looking at a Pelicans’ injury report with the same disturbed grimace you had on your face the first time someone forced you to watch, "2 Girls, 1 Cup" is over.
But, before we treat this season like the somewhat acquaintance you pretend not to see at the bar to avoid small talk — let’s take it out back and shoot it in the face properly like an aging dog in a disturbing and emotionally scarring children’s story. If you want, go back to the days of optimism and see how wrong and sometimes right I was about what we had coming to us in my season preview.
The Roster that Signed a Thousand Faces
AKA: "I’ve Signed a Million Faces and Injured Them All" (sung to the tune of ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’)
Twenty-one players have logged regular season minutes (and another wore a suit the entire season) for this team this year (along with a staggering 42 different starting lineups). It’s a good thing we don’t have a bunch of retired numbers hanging from the rafters (or perhaps gallows would be better phrasing). Some say it takes a village to raise a child — apparently, it takes a village to represent them in professional basketball too. Let’s rehash all of their seasons and speculate on their futures.
The Holiday naysayers have always pointed to Jrue being an All-Star guard in a year where the East saw several big injuries at the guard position and they’ve pointed to the cost it took to acquire him while throwing barbs at Dell Demps. I’ve always liked Holiday, but his Pelicans’ era injury history has been really disturbing. The silver lining of this terrible season could be that there were no new silver linings inserted into Jrue’s tibia this year. The staff had Holiday on a minutes restriction throughout the season — although it was kind of like the, "I swear I’m only eating one more cookie" kind of restriction that seemed to be bent often — which enabled Jrue to finally make it through a season without a detrimental lower leg injury, playing 65 games. Of course, we are the Pelicans, so he did miss the last broken leg of the season with an orbital fracture, but if optimism is your thing it improved our lottery odds.
Now that long term injury fears have at least been stiff-armed, let’s look at his season on the court. He opened the season as the starter after being held out of the Golden State opener, but looked absolutely lost in the early stages. He was being outplayed by the afterthought post preseason free agent find Ish Smith. Smith made his teammates fly up court and initiate offense early — things actually flowed. Jrue looked hesitant and understandably rusty — still Gentry stuck with Holiday as starter. Once Tyreke Evans returned, Holiday was relegated to bench duty, Ish’s minutes were severely cut and then was traded away. I wasn’t concerned with Holiday being able to return to his All-Star level play, just that until he did I realized he was costing us games. Evans went for 20 points, 10 assists and 5 rebounds with only 1 turnover in his return to the court; Holiday had 12 points and 4 assists with only 2 turnovers in that game. Both were efficient shooting well over 50%, yet they barely shared the court together. As Holiday was getting more comfortable and rounding into form, Evans’ knee was falling apart. Holiday posted his first double digit assist box score on January 13th when Tyreke had to leave the game after only seven minutes of play. Evans was clearly broken, but two days later Alvin Gentry had him starting over a rejuvenated Holiday. Despite Holiday and Evans teetering between being the second best player on the roster, they could not find themselves on the court together. Even with the plan of super-subbing staggering could have been a thing. Still, Gentry treated them like DeNiro and Pacino in the Godfather instead of letting them play off of each other like Michael Mann treated that dynamic duo in Heat — they would log just 267 total minutes of shared court time (11.6 per game) before Tyreke was shut down for good.
Obviously Jrue would take control of the starting point guard spot with his increasingly solid play and all would be unicorns, rainbows and massage chairs, right? Nope. Alvin Gentry kept Holiday on the bench, elevating the banana in the tailpipe — Norris Cole — over Jrue making the team's starting unit completely unwatchable. It was so horrendous that it almost made you laugh. Joseph created the Norris Cole dumpster fire graphic and when Cole went down and Gentry started Toney Douglas over Holiday David gave birth to the, "Who Wants to Start an NBA Game Over Jrue Holiday" contest.
When Jrue shaved his head, I joked that he was trying to look more like Toney Douglas so he could get in the game sooner.
Still, slow start and relegation be damned — Holiday’s season ended with an orbital fracture, but once the dust settled, his inspired play had cemented him as the second best Pelican on the roster. It’s true, I love Evans, but I’ve also converted to Jruedaism. Once he began to trust his leg you saw the transformation in his perimeter defense. He’s truly a lockdown guard who can also be the secondary scorer and primary playmaker on your roster. In the first piece I wrote for this site I said if Holiday can give us, "17PPG, 7APG, 4RPG, with a 37-39% 3pt avg, 1.8-2SPG and limit his TOPG to 2 or below he will be playing his role perfectly." Despite coming off of two lost seasons and playing with a lot of bad lineups Holiday was able to give us 16.8 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds, 1.4 steals with 2.6 turnovers with a 19.7 PER, which is pretty close to meeting that perfection.
His main flaw this year was his three point shooting, which was pretty average — 33.6%. He was shooting pretty well just before the All-Star break, but his percentage dropped from respectability with a severe late season slump (19.6% in February) from deep. However, the slump can probably be contributed to fatigue (playing 60+ games for the first time since 2012-2013).
Alvin Gentry has recently stated that Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday are the core of this team. With his leg issues seemingly behind him I agree that Holiday is the second most important building block, but let's not forget another leading candidate...
It’s pretty clear that I’m the biggest Evans supporter on this site and perhaps in the city. Oleh was drinking the vodka spiked Kool-Aid with me for a stretch at least. (I’m not sure if he’s still on board or not.) It was a very disappointing season for me in terms of what happened to Evans, but also in how he was treated in the media, on blogs and around message forums.
I had really high expectations for him coming into the season. I felt like he had really put this team on his back down the stretch in 2014-2015 — carrying the Pelicans into the playoffs. I thought that momentum combined with a coach that viewed him as a point guard and wanted him to push in transition would have Tyreke in at least a few All-Star snub mentions. Unfortunately, a knee that bugged him in the offseason flared up again in training camp, cut his preseason short and limited him to just 25 games (and three surgeries) — many of which (if not all) he played on a knee that wasn’t good to go.
Before I dissect his on court performance, let me take a moment to address the weird hostility Evans seems to draw out of the fanbase and media covering this team. First, I’ve heard people complain that Evans was out at a club after getting beat by the Warriors in game three last postseason, "acting like he didn’t care." Have you ever have a bad day at work? You ever get into a fight with your partner and felt the need to go out with your friends to blow off steam? People handle situations differently. Sure, he could have sat around and wallowed over a blown opportunity. He could have hit the gym and worked on his game (and who knows if he did this before going out). Or you know what, he had made it through an 82 game schedule, was playing on an injured knee, was going against a team of destiny in a seven game series already down three games. He had been doing most of the heavy lifting over the last two months of the year. He was likely broken down physically and drained mentally. So what if he needed to go out and get his mind off of the loss. If you watch him play, and play through injury then you can’t say he’s not serious about the game or focused. Also, it isn’t like he’s playing the next day. There aren’t back-to-backs in the playoffs.
I find this gripe ludacris, but not as ridiculous as what I heard on the radio from The Sports Hangover’s Dino Hanson. He was complaining about Tyreke liking pictures of women on Instagram during the Sacramento game while he was in the locker room getting his knee checked after it had finally just given out. Have you ever checked your social media apps while you were on the clock at work or in school? I bet even a few lawyers, doctors and politicians have taken a moment during business hours to scroll through their timeline. This guy has been playing on a bum knee for weeks showing great heart, making himself available when so many of his teammates are also dealing with injuries. He was in the locker room — not on the sideline — probably sitting on an examining table getting poked and prodded (and misdiagnosed). Why can’t he sit there and look at his phone while he’s getting checked out by the team trainers? Why does this matter? You saw him trying to power through a serious injury that ended up requiring three surgeries. I can hear Allen Iverson saying, "Instagram? Instagram? We talking about Instagram? Not a game, but Instagram?" It just seems petty and fueled by jealousy. I should also mention that he referred to Norris Cole as, "his guy" in this same rant though, so...
After our terrible injury luck, early in the season it seemed that Tyreke Evans was taking a lot of blame for our disappointing season — all the while posting an 18 PER with another 15+ PTS/PG, 5+ REB/PG and 6+ AST/PG (even more than Holiday ended up averaging) on a knee so full of fluid that it looked like Bruce Davison as Senator Kelly freshly mutated and climbing out of the water in the first X-Men film — bursting into a sagging ooze. I watched time and again as Evans posted a double-double and lead the team in +/- and fans and bloggers alike framed him like he was Steven Avery for every loss. They said he didn’t fit the coach’s system or style of play while not questioning if that system or style fit the players.
To close out the 2014-2015 season, we saw an equation that most teams (Golden State could because of their ability to switch everything) could not solve — the Evans/Davis high screen and roll. Alvin Gentry traded this dominant weapon for Anthony Davis post-ups and threes from Dante Cunningham and AD. Gentry only seemed to commit to the pick and roll in the two games against Detroit. I find this very interesting because Detroit has two skilled defenders in Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Andre Drummond to defend this action. In the first meeting in New Orleans, the Pelicans lead the entire game and Evans had 22 points and 10 assists while shooting over 56% from the field and 66% from three. Anthony Davis went for 32 points and shot nearly 57% from the floor. When the Pels met the Pistons in Detroit, Evans had already been shut down for the year; however, Gentry stuck to the first match up’s game plan. Holiday played Tyreke’s role and the pick and roll enabled Anthony Davis to go for a historic performance — 59 points on nearly 71% shooting. Holiday also ended up just one assist short of a double-double for the season sweep.
Why blame the players for not fitting a system that has no track record of working with our talent when a clear formula for success has been thrown out like old soggy crawfish paper? In Oleh’s review of Jrue Holiday’s season he posted a chart showing how Anthony Davis fared alongside our top three point guards, which was intended to show Jrue’s worth, but I think also showed Evans’ value:
Evans is often denounced for holding the ball too long, or not creating. The above chart shows the top three Pelicans’ point guards effect on Anthony Davis. Holiday clearly got AD more points per possession and per shot, but Evans not only assisted on a higher percentage of AD’s shots, but Davis also had a higher usage rate with Evans on the court. All of these numbers would be higher if Gentry would have cut down on Davis post ups and focused more on pick and rolls and dive cuts from Davis. I’m not trying to play Evans against Holiday (strangely both players had identical offensive and defensive ratings per 100 possessions) — in fact, I want these three players to actually play together as I believe Dell Demps had always intended.
In my season preview I predicted, "We may not see Tyreke at 100% this entire season, so what could have been may have to wait another year. Until he returns, those visions of triple doubles, most improved player awards and chart-topping All Star Snub lists will dance in my head. However, these things are coming."
I still believe these things are possible if his knee can hold up, and if the coaching staff adjusts their system to fit what he and Anthony Davis do best. With Ryan Anderson becoming a free agent, the Pels top three players under contract are without question Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans. All three guys thrive in the pick-and-roll. Also, with Evans’ improved three point stroke (38.8%) he’s gained an asset that allows for him to not only be the ball handler in the pick-and-roll, but now he can also let Jrue run the show while he sets up behind the arc for a kick out if the defense stops the initial action. Health has been the issue in preventing these three from logging any amount of quality minutes together in their New Orleans’ tenure. That uncontrollable factor combined with Alvin Gentry’s lineups and system may cost Dell Demps his job. Look, Demps has made mistakes, but in January Oleh wrote another piece that focused on who should be a part of the Pelicans’ core and the facts are undeniable, check out these three man line ups:
Now think about how that Net Rating is higher than every big three outside of Golden State while the offense didn’t even play to that core’s strength — the pick and roll. You may think this is a lot to write about a guy who only played 25 games last year, but it is easy to forget how good and important a player is when you haven’t seen him play in a while. I was guilty of this with Jrue Holiday. I forgot that he is really good at basketball. That’s why I brought up Dell Demps. He’s made some bad decisions, but he did assemble three players that can post those numbers when they actually get to play together — injuries and bad coaching have have limited this trio’s minutes — regardless of what he gave up to get them. This makes me excited about next year. If Tyreke’s knee can hold up — and that’s a big if — we can finally move on from the banality of the Eric Gordon era with a potent Holiday/Evans backcourt that hopefully trades every Anthony Davis post up for an Evans or Holiday pick and roll with Anthony Davis. Whether you love him or hate hate him — as Tyreke goes, so have the Pelicans.
I realize that after this season I may be alone on Tyreke Island but I'm not going to cry about it like Tom Hanks in that two-hour FedEx commercial. I'm just going to lay back on the white sand, look up at the palm trees and eat mangoes washed down with fresh coconut milk and enjoy the death of small talk. All that being said, if a trade involving Tyreke or a signing that requires Evans being stretched presents itself that clearly improves this team, I will climb on the Jrue life raft and enjoy my Holiday away from Evans Island, but I’ll keep some sand in a bottle under my pillow — and we’ll always have the 4/14/14 game against OKC.
I used to think that Monty Williams misused Anthony Davis — enter Alvin Gentry. In January I wrote a piece detailing the ways that Davis was being misused under Gentry, but in David’s Anthony Davis end of the year review he provided the numeric evidence to back my eyeball test in this succient little chart:
For the most part we see drops in points per possession on every type of touch Davis gathered under Gentry. Even though the numbers show Anthony Davis fared much better in every situation where he was facing the basket (P&R, cuts and transition), Gentry still insisted on a heavy dose of Davis post ups with his back to the rim — often a deep one at an awkward angle making his ensuing shot and the entry pass to set it up more difficult. While AD’s body is better suited for banging these days, he’s still relatively thin and has not demonstrated any level of comfort with his back to the rim.
Another thing that this chart does not account for is that much of these P&R possessions were actually pick and pops under Gentry. Davis was seemingly encouraged to take the deep mid-range jumper over driving to the hoop after the pick, which accounts for the drop in PPP (though 1.06 isn’t bad — it just isn’t elite). I understand that the staff wanted to work on expanding Davis’ game by working on his post game and adding the three to his arsenal — from which he shot only 32.4% on 110 attempts (he took 14 in the previous season), but these things should not be major parts of the game plan until he starts proving they are being mastered.
Aside from the increase in the inefficient Davis post up, the most shocking developments were the drastic declines in Davis’ cuts and the further repression of AD’s touches in transition. This is a coach who preached pace and movement, yet the amount of times his athletic superstar ran to the rim off of the ball or around screens, or was found in transition were lower than the stuck in quicksand pace and frozen in carbonite motionless offense that Monty Williams had installed — it’s no wonder that at times Davis looked completely disengaged.
Davis is a freak, so even while being misused, he still produced an incredible stat line — 25.1 PER with 24.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 2 blocks per game earning him another All-Star appearance. However, Alvin Gentry had Anthony playing away from the basket often positioned where a guard should be spaced, which not only led to his first sub 50% shooting percentage of his career but also a dip in his offensive rebound stats. Gentry basically took away the Kobe (or Tyreke) assist from our offense.
It was disheartening seeing Anthony fall from the top 5 players debate to the top 15 to the, "will he make an All NBA Team" debate as he was still the same player with the same skill set. It was also troubling that a guy who was considered a top five player last year couldn’t carry a team to more wins. AD is often compared to Tim Duncan — and rightfully so — but maybe this is our David Robinson injury year. The year the Spurs lost their centerpiece and tanked their way into Duncan. If all of these injuries and poor offensive choices lead to us drafting the missing piece or trading that earned lottery draft pick for a player like Jimmy Butler that will then usher in an era of consistently great basketball — all of this suffering was worth it. Until then, we are stuck in the awkward position of hoping that our face of the franchise doesn’t earn an All NBA Team spot and thus the Rose Rule money — munching up more cap space in a year where this team often looked hopeless without offseason upgrades.
Congrats my people, the Eric Gordon reign of injuries/extreme mediocrity is surely over. We’ve made it to the end of the overpay. The overpay was surely why he continued to start over better, yet cheaper players. Gordon gave us a pretty solid run post All-Star break last season, but his scorching hot catch-and-shoot three point dominance (44.8%) from that run dropped to 38.4% this year. 38.4% is a pretty solid percentage, but it isn’t enough to cover up for Gordon’s inability to leave any real tangible effect on a game. That’s the main issue with him — he rarely does anything that impacts the outcome in a positive way and often completely disappears. Also, the injury bug returned — limiting him to just 45 games this season. He really should have broke out the Jawbreaker, "Accident Prone" scoring clip this year.
I don’t see a situation where Eric Gordon is a starting two in this league any time soon. His new role should be a bench scorer/secondary playmaker. I think he has enough skills to stick around the league and perhaps even become a valuable role player, but his body can’t handle 30 minutes over 82 games. Also, he just doesn’t ever take a game over, which you need on occasion from a guy logging thirty plus minutes in your rotation (and making $15 million). The problem is that I can already see him signing with the Spurs for $3 million a year and getting a ring, and me being furious over it. Still, this marriage has been bad for both the player and the team and it’s well past time we both move on — both finding happiness in the arms of others.
I’m completely over Omer Asik. I’ve been on the fence with him for a while, but he’s pushed me way over to the anti-Asik club. Bad contract aside — but paying a person who only logs 17 minutes (that is more likely to decline than increase) a game $9 million is a very bad look — the fact that he isn’t Bismack Biyombo, Ed Davis or Kyle O’Quinn (guys I’ve been clamoring for at the five) aside — he just cannot play on the offensive side of the floor.
Also, his once dominating defense only seems to come in flashes these days. He’ll fool me for two weeks with some solid play, but that leads to a month and a half of pure misery. My untrained eye says that he is just plagued with a lower back problem that really affects his lateral movement and overall comfort. He still rebounds pretty well — scooping up six in those 17 minutes on the floor. However, he does let a lot of seemingly easy rebounds slip through his undeveloped fetus hands.
His contract makes it very hard to move him, but if an amnesty clause gets written into the new CBA, he should be the amnesty posterchild. I’m hoping that we can slide back in the draft and still get one of our coveted prospects while attaching Omer to the deal, or perhaps send him with one of those second rounders to a team that needs to meet the salary floor.
Let me preface this by stating that I’ve never understood why the Anderson fan club always seems to be the same people who complain about Tyreke holding the ball and how Evans and Holiday play the same position. No one kills ball movement like Ryan Anderson (14+ shots in 30 minutes from your fourth best player) — except for Alvin Gentry when he fields Anderson with Norris Cole together.
Ryno is like the blue-haired old lady who is getting comped rooms and buffets on the regular at the casino, but doesn’t think she has a gambling problem, "I hit 3 double covered turnaround faders last week so I must be ahead." It’s almost not his fault, as he has hit some insane shots throughout his career, but when he’s off, someone needs to remind him that his controller has an X button — he’s had a toenail clipping over the 1 assist per game average in only two of his seven years in the league (his career high is 1.2). He’s the screwtop to our incessant whining for ball movement. It’s not even that he’s rolling the dice on a bunch of catch-and-shoot opportunities — he’s often over dribbling into a double or triple team that he’d rather spin and fall back and shoot over than to give it up to an open teammate.
Another problem with Ryan Anderson is that he does play the same position that AD wants to play. Now consider that he will be asking for $18-$20 million a year on a new deal, and you can see that aside from being completely counter-intuitive to ball movement he's also a drastic overspend.
Anderson is also terrible on the road. This season he shot a horrendous 38.6% from the field on the road and just 32.1% from beyond the arc, which is inexcusable for premier stretch four who gives you very little outside of his jumper — his defensive liabilities were on full display.
Don’t get me wrong, he hit some shots that had me scratching my head in disbelief, but more often than not he made the game unfun.
I’m very ready to usher out the Anderson era, and am still angry that the alleged deal to turn him into KJ McDaniels and Donatas Motiejunas did not come to fruition. I’m sorry if this seems like I’m throwing feces at Anderson like I’m an irate chimp in a makeup testing facility, but he just isn’t made for a roster that needs to be focused on getting another big man the ball. Anderson would fit wonderfully next to a center that doesn’t demand touches and builds his resume on rebounding and defense like Dwight Howard, Andre Drummond, DeAndre Jordan, Bismack Biyombo, Steven Adams, Tristan Thompson or even Miles Plumlee or Ed Davis. Ryan’s just an awkward note — that could be nice if it was isolated — in a vocal harmony lead by Anthony Davis. He’s the other Destiny’s Children.
If we can convince Anthony Davis to be the full-time center, then I really like bringing Alexis off of the bench as his backup. Ajinca is a taller and painfully slower version of AD’s face-up game. Davis, obviously is an athletic freak, but if he were bit by a zombie he’d look a lot like Ajinça on the court. Ajinça is also good for several highlight reel dunks a month. With Alexis spelling Davis, the offense can function in the same way as when AD is on the court. Currently, it is a pretty drastic shift when Asik gets swapped out for the French Dip. Having versatile bigs and guys that you can plug in to play different styles is a good thing, but so is being the team that can stay consistent and dictate the style of play from top to bottom, making the opponent have to try to match up to you. This is what Ajinça brings off of the bench for us.
If he were our second center his contract would be pretty acceptable, but with the way we are playing Omer Asik just over 17 minutes a game at $9 million a year and with Davis logging a lot of minutes at the five as well, paying Ajinça $5 million is a lot of money tied up into one spot. Obviously, it would be great to be able to move Omer, but if not perhaps Alexis can fetch a decent return from a team looking for some offense from their reserve center. If Tim Duncan were to retire and/or David West were to leave the Spurs I could see Alexis fitting in nicely providing a LaMarcus Aldridge light boost off of the bench. He could also look good in Golden State if Ezeli and Speights walk this offseason.
In my season opener I said, "Do you remember that Dave Chappelle bit where he said he wanted to botox his balls so they’d be smooth as eggs, shave little goatees on them and then draw mean faces on them with a Sharpie? That’s Dante Cunningham. He was our lone enforcer last season, leaving a trail of blood and cotton all over the court. Tyreke’s our soul, but Cunningham is our testicles." No performance showed this more than his defensive masterpiece on LeBron James, check out the shot chart:
Dante’s stats seem pedestrian: 6.1 points, 45% FG, 31.6% 3P%, 3 rebounds and an 8.6 PER in nearly 25 minutes per contest. Still, Cunningham showed flashes of not just being an athletic defensive guru, but of possibly becoming a very complete player — including the month of April where he shot 40.9% from deep and 50.7% from the field. Let’s look at some Cunningham shot charts courtesy of vorped.com to see how he can become a more consistent offensive player.
Cunningham was often forced to play out of position this season due to injured or ineffective bodies at the three resulting in Dante taking a lot of shots from the right side of the basket. With the Pelicans likely moving on from Ryan Anderson and hopefully re-signing James Ennis, having a healthy Quincy Pondexter and/or drafting/acquiring a stud at the three Cunningham can slot in as the reserve four giving Davis a breather or even playing next to him for stretches when AD shifts to the five. This would in theory have Dante shooting mainly from the left side and center of the court from which he converted a respectable 51%.
In this more detailed chart you can see that Cunningham is great around the basket. It also shows that he is respectable to above average when shooting from behind the left side of the arc. Weirdly, he is much better shooting the, "corner college three" from the right side, but the sample size is pretty small. If we are to believe what we saw in April (remember this was when he was mainly playing PF next to either Ennis or Babbitt) those numbers are promising heading into the offseason.
However, it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows when we dissect Dante’s performance. Sure, he showed that same great defense and athleticism we’ve come to expect and his offensive arsenal seems to be evolving, but he his rebounding rate is a bit troubling as is his reluctance to take shots (3 rebounds and 5 shot attempts in nearly 25 minutes a game). He should have been more aggressive in both departments considering that he only missed 1 game on a roster that seemed to have been hit with a frag grenade.
When Dell swung this deal for Cole last season, I was not very enthused. Anyone who relies on the major networks for their NBA viewing had seen a ton of the Lebron-era Heat and thus a lot of Norris Cole. Those heavy doses of Miami basketball made me think that he was an overrated defender and below average distributor. The Heat were kind of like the Ditka era Saints at that time — trying to decide which Billy-Joe (Cole/Chalmers) should be their designated passer, when the correct answer was probably neither.
Then Cole started doing non-Cole like things as a member of the Pelicans. I found myself thinking, "maybe he is a good point guard, and maybe playing with LeBron James had so diminished his role as the playmaker that we just couldn’t see that he is a solid player." After the arrival of Pondexter and Cole, the team played so well that they snuck into the postseason.
Welp. The 2015-2016 Norris Cole reminded us that he is definitely not a starting point guard — though he ridiculously started 23 games over Jrue Holiday anyway. In fact, there was a large stretch of the season where Cole’s numbers mirrored Austin Rivers’ historically bad rookie season (see Oleh’s piece here). He bumped those up with a decent stretch to close out the season, but unlike most of our other walking wounded players, I always felt like we had a better chance to win when he was on the bench in a very nice suit. For some reason Norris Cole had the green light to shoot early and often under Alvin Gentry — averaging nearly 11 attempts per game. Cole has Ryan Anderson’s mentality, but Omer Asik’s stroke as he shot a pretty pedestrian 40% from the floor and 32% from deep. Only three players who stepped on the court for the Pels finished with a lower points per shot average (less than a point per attempt), and they were Orlando Johnson, Nate Robinson and Jimmer Fredette. Cole has a mid-range game that only Byron Scott’s mother could love.
In a lost season, I don’t see why Dell and Gentry stuck with Cole — a 27-year-old four-year pro who has proven that he is what he is. If no trade could have been found at the deadline, he should have been waived to make room for a glimpse at a young prospect. Say D-League MVP, Jarnell Stokes, could have gotten a look — especially since we had a run of injuries to our bigs — but instead we waived him for some cash and stuck with one of the most inefficient players in the league. I would assume and hope that he is nowhere in the Pelicans’ plans for the coming season, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he gets no bites again this offseason and comes back on another one-year tender.
I’m a pretty big Babbitt fan, and when Alvin Gentry praised Luke in his end of season interview, it didn’t come as a shock. A few weeks earlier I was sitting next to David Wesley (my season tickets are next to his allotment) on a nationally televised night off for our esteemed and rather gracious color commentator, and he told me that Alvin Gentry absolutely loves Babbitt. Luke is a guy who understands his role, and with his defensive limitations and lack of athleticism, it takes a certain coach and system to mask those pockmarks to allow a player like Babbitt to thrive.
The Hawks have done a great job of this with Kyle Korver. These players are very similar, but are tweeners at two different positions. Korver has the size and shooting ability to play either the 2 or 3, but lacks the speed and athleticism to effectively cover most opponents at either spot. At 6’-9" and 225 lbs Babbitt has the size to play the three or as a stretch four, but lacks the athleticism to cover the three and the strength to pound with larger fours. Babbitt seemed to have bulked up a little since last offseason, and I hope he continues to add more core strength, as I see him being very suited to being that Anderson replacement on this roster while demanding less minutes, less dollars and less touches.
One year ago I thought Luke was totally misused under Monty Williams. Williams allowed Babbitt to start 19 games and even though the only thing he really brought to the game was a deadly three point shot (51% in 2014-2015) the team rarely if ever seemed to run plays for him while he was on the floor. He would be ignored sitting wide open in the corner consistently, which lead to my petition to get his scoring track changed to Fugazi’s, "Margin Walker." If you have Babbitt on the floor, you have to at least get him a couple of shots or touches to create space and offset his defensive liabilities.
This season Luke’s incredible three point shooting dropped a bit, but it was still a deadly weapon. Here’s his vorped.com shot chart:
Overall, he still shot over 40% from three this season, which is very very good, but if you look at the months of February through April you’ll see that he was absolutely scorching — 57.1% in February, 43.8% in March and 52.6% in April. In my season preview I stated, "If I were doing a, ‘key losses/key additions’ segment to this preview, Luke’s gorgeous mane would have been at the top of the "key losses" column. With the loss of his hair, he also loses the, ‘My Chemical Small Forward’ monaker and all of the screamo records I had imagined him listening to in the locker room. It’s cool though, he’s now rocking a classic riot grrrl look — and I can get behind some Huggy Bear and Bikini Kill."
However, that to-start-the-season cut wasn’t cool at all — as we learned all of Babbitt’s long range ability is clearly tied to the length of his hair. Luke went 0-4 from deep in October; in November he was at a pretty good, but un-Luke-like 38.6%; in December Babbitt was a dismal 16.7% from deep and 25% overall; and in January he only saw the court for 20 total minutes in which he didn’t make a single three. Those dismal days coincided with his scorched Earth haircut, as soon as we saw Luke at Elliott Smith, "Either/Or" album cover length shaggy locks we saw the true flamethrower on our squad show out.
Another underrated part of Luke’s game is his passing. In the Williams era, he was the only player I ever saw initiate that Spurs-like quick swing around the perimeter. This past April we saw him dish out 3.5 assists per game making sure the ball was moving and his teammates were getting good shots.
As for his defensive inefficiencies, I haven’t seen a player with a hand up in good position get scored on as much as Luke Babbitt. He seems to be in the right place when contesting jumpers, so maybe it’s just bad luck and he can become at least a serviceable defender, but his lack of lateral quickness definitely needs to be masked as players often drive past him with relative ease. Even with these flaws, I truly believe Babbitt can easily serve as the Ryan Anderson replacement on at a very low cost — we just can’t let him trim up. NEVER AGAIN!
Unlike Cole, Toney Douglas is more of what I want in an end of the bench guard — a solid vet that can give you minutes at the 1 or 2 (Cole’s shooting doesn’t allow him to play the 2 exclusively, but at the same time I never wanted the ball in his hands either), and that isn’t trying to take over games on his own.
That being said, he plays defense adequately, has a good handle, can run an offense and he can also knock down the three — shooting just under 40% from beyond the arc this season. If Douglas is starting on your team you have issues, but if he’s your third to fifth guard off of the bench you can feel really good about plugging him in in a pinch. His 14.7 PER is a clear sign that he isn’t a star player, but that he is a solid rotational NBA piece.
Alonzo Gee is a freaky athletic, potentially shutdown defender that can guard four positions. At 6’-6" and 225 lbs he gives you solid size at the three and great size at the two. However, his dominating defense can sometimes wane. He isn’t the consistent lock that Dante Cunningham is. He’s also not the offensive threat that Cunningham is as well — which isn’t all that threatening anyway. Gee can be very hesitant even when getting a wide open look. I’ve often seen him pass up a good look and then over dribble into a bad shot/turnover/last minute desperation pass for a bad shot clock beater from a teammate. This season, though, he did give us some tremendous dunks — often from a completely flat-footed stance.
His conversion rate is seemingly very good for a wing player at 51.8%, but on further inspection you see you’ll see he’s only finishing well right near the basket. Check out this shot chart:
If this was Omer Asik’s chart, I’d be very excited. Unfortunately, Gee plays on the wing and not at the five. Due to his injury he is sure to exercise the player option on his contract and will almost certainly remain a Pelican next season. His salary is low, and could possibly be used to match a salary in a bigger trade. However, I wouldn’t be upset to have him as a chess piece. He shouldn’t be a guy who is relied upon to play 20+ minutes a game (unless he can develop at least some semblance of a corner three), but if you can put him in the game for 10-15 minutes to help shut down a hot player on the wing or to protect a late lead he’s well worth his asking price.
I’m going to start this off by saying I loved Perkins this year. However, his play can best be summed up as, "big man with football." He looks like an o-lineman scooping up a fumble at all times. However, from my seat behind the bench I could also see his passion and leadership qualities shine through. But in a season of torment, he also provided the laugh to prevent the crying. I’ll just scroll through my Twitter feed and sum his season up with my best Perkins-based tweets.
• Spiders just crawled out from behind Perkins’ knees
• On the third quarter Perkins rose again
• Perkins bleeds maple syrup
• When Perkins is in on O there isn’t even thigh gap spacing, but he’s frustrated DMC
• Did Perkins hurt the thumb on his chip dipping hand, or is it not a serious injury?
• I hope Perkins and Jefferson fall down so we can see if they mop up the court with sliced bread
• When is Perkins going to do an Eddie Murphy styled Fantasia reboot where he plays all of the dancing hippos?
Kendrick posted a terrible 6 PER with nearly a negative six Net Rating. As a player Perkins has very little to offer besides six fouls, a few good screens and some goonery, but as a locker room and bench presence he does have value. I wouldn’t like to see him return in uniform — as that means we weren’t able to upgrade the 5 spot — but I would like to see him in a suit on the bench like Juwan Howard in Miami.
In the season preview I was shocked that Alonzo Gee was kept over BDJ to start the season, but I did predict his return:
"Both guys give you great athleticism and the ability to play two positions, but BDJ gives you potential and offensive firepower — and it hasn’t just been in waves. Dejean-Jones has been scorching the net since Summer League(making him the most tenured in this offense). At some point in this season I predict BDJ will be back on this roster, perhaps at the expense of Alonzo Gee or maybe if we don’t find a viable PG stop-gap for the 15th spot."
It took a while, but as soon as 10-day contracts became available, Bryce got his call up. On January 28th against the Kings, BDJ saw his first real action as a Pelican and did not disappoint — scoring 14 points, 3/6 from deep with 2 steals and 2 assists. I remember jokingly asking if he was already a max player, but his size, energy, deep stroke and pestering defense was such a welcome sight from the seemingly going through the motions play we were getting from Eric Gordon. At 6’-6" with a quicker first step than Gordon and much better hops, he looked like a steal. His free throw percentage was abysmal (52%), but that seems more like an anomaly when you look at as his college and D-League stats.
Dejean-Jones earned a second 10-day and then eventually a partially guaranteed multi-year deal to help fill the void on the wing. Of course, immediately after signing on for the rest of the season, Bryce did the most Pel thing and suffered a season ending injury (though he played a few games with it before bowing out making it even more of a Pel thing). I like the deal he got, but I would have rather have seen it go to James Ennis or Tim Frazier, but neither were Pelicans at the time of this signing. That being said, in a year of heartache, bad contracts and injuries the potential that BDJ gives the Pelicans bench is something to be excited about.
I love this kid, and so do his former teammates in Portland. Frazier had obviously left an impression on Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum who regularly praised Tim on his play with the Pelicans. You don’t see that kind of love expressed for ex-teammates often. It’s clear that Frazier is not only fun to play with, but he’s a good locker room guy as well. Frazier is a little undersized (6’-1") and a bit older (25) for a prospect, but he’s had very little NBA games under his belt. In the 16 games he played with the Pelicans, he has shown great promise.
The offense and the ball really move well under Frazier’s command. In 29 minutes per game he averaged 7.5 assists, which is a real feat considering that he was playing alongside piecemealed lineups post the catastrophic injury bug infestation. Not only is he good at setting up his teammates, but he also has a little razzle dazzle in his passing, which was on full display in this masterclass he put on for the Brooklyn Nets:
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, plays better defense, but doesn’t have that sick of a handle (but outside of Kyrie or Steph, who does?).
Frazier is the pass-first point guard the Pelicans need off of the bench, but he is also a complete player that can score when he wants or needs too, which earned him a 19.1 PER in his brief Pelicans stint. Frazier converted on 45% of his field goal attempts, but more importantly showed that he can stretch the floor converting just under 42% from long range. Frazier is that late-bloomer that was probably overlooked due to his size, and in an upcoming free agent market that only features guys like Mike Conley, Ish Smith, Brandon Jennings, Rajon Rondo, Jordan Clarkson, Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers the Pelicans may face some competition for his services — hopefully we can make this late season find pay off long term. He really made a dismal season much more watchable.
Dell Demps — despite all of his criticism — has been pretty good at making middle to end of the roster acquisitions. Ennis was the unopened box of cookies sitting right on top of the Whole Foods’ dumpster just waiting there pristine, fresh, untainted and delicious for that late season Demps’ dumpster dive gold. At 6’-7" and 210 lbs, Ennis has the size to play the three, but he also posses the quickness to play the two. In a very small sample size (9 games), Ennis not only made these late season games fun to watch he also produced. He posted a 17.8 PER and shot a scorching 44.8% from three.
He’s still young, he’s explosive and he plays with a high motor. He’s like if Tyreke Evans and Al-Farouq Aminu had a baby. He drives like Tyreke, and has that new and improved jumper. He’s not as athletic or as good of a defender or rebounder as Aminu — but he has a great wingspan, is an above average athlete at the three and makes a lot of hustle plays. He looked dominant in games where he started alongside sub-starting cast members, so with the cleaner looks that come along with starting alongside Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and/or Tyreke Evans, I could really see him flourish as the fourth option.
If the Pelicans do not hit a homerun in the draft or in free agency to fill the post Jamal Mashburn void at small forward, I’d feel pretty good with James Ennis starting at the three. I’d certainly like it more than an overpaid Chandler Parsons (16.3 PER and 41.4% from three), Harrison Barnes (12.3 PER and 38.8% from three) or Kent Bazemore (13.4 PER and 35.7% from three). Still, if the Pelicans are able to score a Nicolas Batum or draft Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram I’d definitely like to see them retain Ennis. He can provide depth at two key positions that have become pretty big holes over the past few seasons.
Hamilton was a player that I wanted the Pelicans to look at during his first 2 years in the league. He has the size you want to play the three — 6’-7" and 220 lbs. He’s also got some pretty decent hops. Unfortunately, we may have brought him in two years too late. In fairness to Hamilton, he wasn’t even able to go through a single practice with the Pelicans and was just asked to make things work on the fly. That being said, the same was true for James Ennis and Ennis flourished in his role. That’s not saying Hamilton was terrible (a 12.45 PER is higher than everyone not named James Ennis that filled the SF spot this season), he just didn’t stand out, and his 28% conversation rate from deep didn’t help his cause. Still, he has shot 35% or higher from deep in all of his previous NBA stops. I’m in no rush to sign him up long term, but I would like to see him on the Summer League squad and as a potential 10-day guy later on if injuries crop up again next year.
Early in the season, Ish Smith was greatly outplaying one half of the Pelicans’ core, Jrue Holiday. Sure, Holiday was coming off of two lost years and is clearly the better all around player, but Ish was a master when it came to running Alvin Gentry’s offense. If Smith isn’t the fastest player on the court, he’s second only to John Wall. He’s definitely the spark plug you want off the bench when your goal is to push in transition. The problem with Ish is that he can’t shoot a lick (a career 40% scorer from the field with a dismal 30% mark from deep), or even score really (barely a point per shot taken). He’s a guy that needs to be surrounded by shooters, and in his 27-game tenure with the Pelicans, shooters were in short supply. Still, his play this year has certainly earned him a chance to start or at least be the top reserve point off of the bench for a team that wants to run.
I was sad when he was traded, but the Tim Frazier discovery significantly lessened the blow. Also, Ish did fetch us two quality 2nd round picks that can be used to either trade up into the 1st round, select a draft and stash guy, take a chance on a risky prospect or be part of a package with a current player on the roster for an upgrade. I’m still very interested to see where Ish signs this offseason, and look forward to following his career. He’s a really fun player.
I played in as many games for the New Orleans Pelicans as Q-Pon did in 2015-2016. It’s very sad. Thinking Pondexter will solve all of the problems is naive, but his return will surely tip the scales in the right direction. In his end of the season press conference, Alvin Gentry expressed that he would like to see the Pelicans add a versatile player, standing about 6'7'' and possessing a good handle. Pondexter is exactly 6’-7" can play the 3 or the 2, and in his brief second stint with New Orleans he showed that he can defend, shoot and handle the rock. Like Evans, we don’t know if we will see Quincy at 100% this coming season, or if he can play like he did post All-Star break in the 2014-2015 season, but if he gives us 80% of that New Orleans will be a greatly improved team.
Q-Pon shot 46.4% from deep after Zach LaVine showed us that the dunk contest was no longer a waste of time. During March and April that percentage was over 48%, which is realistically unsustainable over an extended stretch but a good sign none-the-less. If Pondexter can return to this form and we retain James Ennis I’m no longer overly concerned with the complete and utter void we’ve experienced at the three for seemingly ever.
My first shift at Port of Call was on a New Year’s Eve — while I was able to endure such a challenge becoming a consistent part of the rotation, Orlando never recovered from the weight of starting the day after he was signed against a pretty tough Utah team. I feel for him, I really do. However, a sub 4 PER will never warrant a second 10-day contract. Better luck next year Orlando.
With an entire minor league of young developing talent at his disposal, Dell Demps chose to call up Jimmer, and I may never forgive him for it. Like Tim Tebow, Jimmer has proven that white privilege exists, and that no matter how terrible you are at something — if you combine that terribleness with a clean cut white face, a devotion to a higher power and a little, "aww shucks" you’ll have a rabid fanbase for life.
Yes...Nate was on the team this year. His era lasted just two games before he was replaced by Ish Smith. I’ve always liked Robinson — he’s just a fun player even if he is a volume shooter. Unfortunately for him his shots weren’t falling, and the team realized they needed a more pass-first point guard to fill the Evans and Cole early season void. Nate’s tenure only produced 4 assists, 1 steal, 5 fouls and nothing else — not even a turnover. Robinson was let go before he got hurt, and this made him feel so invincible that he’s been rumored to be attempting a second career in the NFL.
Throughout the season and this blog post I’ve shared my many concerns with the Alvin Gentry hire. However, I can’t dub him a total failure... yet. Injuries and weird waves of success have led me to give him an Incomplete, but don’t get me wrong — it’s more of an Incomplete Minus. He loved him some Monty Williams-esque bad rotations even when he had some pieces to play with. His insistence on starting every guard over Jrue Holiday was maddening. His misuse of Anthony Davis was troubling. However, the MASH unit of D-League guys and bottom of the bench dwellers actually played some fun basketball that demonstrated a functioning system. Unfortunately (or fortunately for lotto luck’s sake), they would just tire out or the other team’s talent would just be too much to pull off many wins.
My concerns have always been that he’s a good assistant coach, but a bad head coach. I see glimpses of hope, but I need to see that he has learned from his mistakes when it comes to how Anthony Davis gets the ball in his offense. I think he should get a bit of an injury blessing and has the right to have a prove it year next season. However, if these bad trends continue I think you have to cut your loses by All-Star break and give "Pee-Wee" Erman the interim tag.
However, if Dell Demps is not retained, and the new GM has no ties to Gentry or is not 100% on board with him being the head coach then you have to make a move. No one wants to see another Dell and Monty arranged marriage.
• I love everything Craig Sager brought to the art of covering basketball. I really hope the league comes up with a fitting way to pay homage to him next season. I think it would be really great if they would sew patches out of his suits/ties onto jerseys — if not for every game, at least for all TNT games.
• The Carmelo Anthony/Knicks marriage should come to an end, and I think I found a deal that could make sense for both sides.
Orlando seems to be operating under a win now ultimatum. They’ve already begun reshaping their roster by moving Tobias Harris for a little veteran boost. This move gives them the legitimate superstar they’ve been missing since Dwight Howard was trading Disney World for Disneyland. They also bring back O’Quinn who was a fan/locker room favorite. Melo, Oladipo and Gordon give the Magic three solid players to build a cohesive 15 around. If I were them, I’d let Jennings walk and add a pass-first guy like Ish Smith to make this work. The Knicks become Europe’s favorite team, but also field a lot of young and exciting players for them to nurture into a northern version of the OKC model. The Knicks could then flip Lopez for a decent wing or prospect to round out their starting 5, or chase Batum to keep the Euro-team direction going.
• Can we please get blocks on the Pelivision screen boxscore next season?
• Can playing, "Duh dunna dunta anah...Charge!" be removed from all basketball stadium playlists?
• Highlight of the season: I witnessed David Wesley being asked to autograph a David West trading card and it was magical.
• Why don’t these three teams just swap power forwards?
• If D’Angelo Russell does find himself exiled to the Pels, I have his scoring track:
"Distrusted. I look for wires when I'm talking to you." But seriously, I have concerns about Russell — not because of his one-act performance as Tommy Grand, but for his weird idolization of Nick Young. He can play though.
• Alternate logo idea: Pelican skull with band-aid crossbones
• Rehashing an old in-arena entertainment request: DJ Jubilee Dance Party Interlude. I mean, come on:
• With Hinkie resigning and Morey on the chopping block, it's good to know they have Dell’s lunch money to live off of.
• Speaking of Hinkie, I’m pretty tired of the notion that in the NBA you have to be either a contender or a tanker. Realistically there are only 3 real contenders every year. 29 teams lose the championship every year. It takes so many factors to fall into place to make your way into those top three teams that it’s close to impossible. However, while you can strive for being a champion you don’t have to destroy everything to spend years trying rarely successful plans to be considered a true contender. In the past 20 years, only 9 different teams have won the Larry O’Brien trophy. As a fan — I’d of course love to see my team try it’s best to field a contender — but I’d also like to watch enjoyable consistent winning basketball. Get me in the playoffs every year and it’s a success. Once you’re in, you never know what could happen. I’d rather endure a consistent second round exit than years tanking to acquire assets to either strike lottery gold or trade for players that often don’t pan out. Also, the Spurs will eventually get too old, LeBron will break down, OKC will split up and the Warriors will get raided. As long as we have a healthy/properly utilized AD, we should at least be a threat.
• Kirk Goldsberry, former Grantland shot-chart maker and current Spurs’ staffer came up with an idea for changing the three point line that I absolutely hate for the NBA, but completely love for the D-League. First let me say that I hate the idea of changing the three point line because Steph Curry is too good and stretch-fours are now a type of player. I find it a ridiculous notion to even consider. However, Goldsberry had an idea to let every team draw their 3pt line where and how they wanted it — distance and shape, but it would have to stay that way for the entire season. It’s an interesting idea as it gives stadiums more personality like baseball parks. The problem is that it creates huge issues with stats and records. However, doing this in the D-League adds more personality, quirkiness and experimentation to the minor leagues and I’m all for that.
• Also, give me a D-League team please. Aside from having extra basketball to watch and cover, it seems like every NBA team should have a farm team. With the amount of injuries we saw around the league this year, it would make sense to create a practice squad roster system in the NBA that gave each team 5 extra players to develop on their D-League squad that could be called up in cases of injury while not affecting the cap or roster space (Also, this could open the door for an Injured Reserve designation in the next CBA, which makes a lot of sense with 82 games and only a 15 man roster). Not only would it benefit every team, it’d also increase interest in the league.
• Why is noone trying to get a very protected (non-guaranteed/low cost) look at Larry Sanders? He’s said he wants to return to the NBA. He’s 6’-11" and 230 lbs with very solid athleticism. In limited action in 2014-2015, he posted a 15.25 PER and was a defensive anchor. His, "character flaw" is suffering from anxiety that he self-medicated with marijuana. With weed becoming legal in many states, the benefits it provides (increases in tax revenue, reduced costs of policing/jail, medicinal properties) and the fact that it clearly isn’t a performance enhancer, it’s probably time that it gets removed from the banned substance list. Free Larry Sanders, and let’s get progressive…...
• I love that Adam Silver has declared that the All-Star game will be moved if the new anti-LGBTQ law in North Carolina is not repealed. This continues the trend of the NBA’s progressiveness. It really started in David Stern’s tenure when Robert Johnson became the first African-American owner of an American major league sports franchise, and then Jason Collins became the first openly active gay player in one of the four major professional sports. Adam Silver started his tenure by banning Donald Sterling from the NBA and forcing the sale of the Clippers. Also, the Spurs made Becky Hammon the first female assistant coach in a major professional sports this past offseason (the Kings then hired Nancy Lieberman, but then totally Kinged that hire up). It’s good to see a league moving forward. Intolerance is not to be tolerated.