The New Orleans Pelicans are letting the final moments of the season end, gearing up for a seat in Secaucus at the draft lottery. The basketball is unbearable at this point, but there are small gleams to look for. New Orleans' roster is without starters from last season, but we're seeing some younger players get a chance to show what they can provide. The Pelicans are going to have decisions to make on the roster and some of the answers are in-house.
No matter, let's talk about the next game: The Pelicans (30-49) gear up for one of their final games of the season, facing fellow lottery bound brethren, the Phoenix Suns (21-58).
The Phoenix Suns are a bad team with some "bad" contracts on the books in Tyson Chandler and Brandon Knight. However, the rest of the roster is brimming with potential after that. The golden child of it all is Devin Booker, who after one year in Kentucky, has emerged as a potential force at the shooting guard position. Alex Len, just 22 years old, is still trucking along. Before injuries ended their seasons, Eric Bledsoe and T.J. Warren were playing well.
And they also decided to tank at the right time. The Suns pulled the plug early before the all-star break, fired Jeff Hornacek and luckily, moved Markieff Morris at the deadline. As a result, the Suns have the third best odds heading into the lottery AND a lottery pick just outside the lottery this year, thanks to Washington, giving up a top 7 protected pick for Morris.
Look at it like this, I'll list the player, age and how many years he's under contract for moving forward: Bledsoe (26, three years), Len (22, one year), Warren (22, two years) and Booker (19, three years). Depending on how you like Knight, he fits at 24 years old with four years left on his deal. Throw in two first round picks and it's a team that could be enticing if the ping-pong balls break their way and bless them with a Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram.
While we talk about the Suns' bright future, there are some things going on with New Orleans. I've been interested in Dante Cunningham and his three-point shot. Before this season, it was an afterthought in his game. This year, over 100 attempts, Cunningham has hit 30% of them, including 37% from the left corner, via NBA.com's stats. The hope is that this is a trend, allowing Cunningham to be a corner three shooter who can provide defense off the bench.
That's really about it, even though I'm optimistic about New Orleans' future, that's really the only thing I'm watching for. Let's talk about the keys to...well, defeat.
Stop playing Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca together - I've defended Alvin Gentry this season, but I don't get this move. In the immortal words of NFL running back Ricky Watters: For who? For what? The combination of Asik and Ajinca does nothing for either player. You have other players on the roster who should be starting alongside each other. I would play Ajinca in the starting lineup alongside Dante Cunningham in the frontcourt, with Asik and either Luke Babbitt or Jordan Hamilton at the power forward.
Let the young guys play - We back. Tim Frazier, James Ennis, Jordan Hamilton. Let these guys play. All three seem like guys who could be on the roster next season. Frazier should be the team's third point guard next season. He just gets it. He's nothing special, but he can move the ball on offense and maintain the passing when the starters sit. James Ennis is 25, but I'm still not totally selling him. He has good size and he's hitting three in his NOP stint. I would bring him back and see if he can sustain that. If not, you have the players on the roster to go away from him.
I'm a fan of Jordan Hamilton, but he seems like the guy who can score, but not do much else. If he had a bit more length, you could sell me on him as a potential reserve who could play some three and four, but he probably can't defend on that level. It is what it is.
Alright, alright. I'll give you an actual one.
Force the three-pointer - Since March 1st, the Suns are last in the league in offensive efficiency at 98.0. One factor in that they can't hit shots from beyond the arc. In the same time period, the Suns are 28th in the league at 32.0% from the field. The Pelicans, while without several key players on the roster, still have a few players who can defend on the perimeter. Forcing the Suns to take shots late in the shot clock seems to be the way to go.
Lose, er, Remember the lottery - This is silly, but the difference between the 6th spot and the 10th spot is three games. At sixth overall, the Pelicans sit in a good position to get one of the better players available. Someone like Buddy Hield from Oklahoma or Jamal Murray from Kentucky. Falling to 10th means Marquese Chriss from Washington? So, yes, the Pelicans need to lose. The best thing for all parties is if the Pelicans get the young guys good rep, Devin Booker goes for 40 and the Suns win.