Over two months ago, I ranked Andrew Nicholson as my favorite realistic free agent addition for the New Orleans Pelicans. He's an under appreciated offensive weapon, a good performer on the defensive glass, and now more available than ever. Yesterday, the Orlando Magic decided to not offer Nicholson a qualifying offer, so he's an enviable unrestricted free agent.
Since last offseason, I've maintained Ryan Anderson was not going to receive a new contract from the Pelicans. With an expected salary in the neighborhood of $16-18 million dollars, the team has more pressing needs to fill before expending most of their available cap space to bring back a piece from a rather uninspiring core.
Many believe that a combination of Luke Babbitt and Dante Cunningham will be able to fill his shoes, but I don't see the logic. Cunningham's range, while improved, is far from reliable and his rebounding is close to non-existent. Conversely, Babbitt has always been a poor defender, the side of the ball New Orleans must upgrade next season. So with Anthony Davis likely to see a lot of time again at center, a more proven power forward is necessary.
Nicholson has the requisite size (6'9'', 250 lbs) and ability to play the four on both ends of the floor, but he would be able to effectively switch with Davis in a pinch. Several years ago, he spent nearly 1/4 of his playing time at center.
Offensively, he posted several career highs in three-point percentage (36.0%) and in two-point percentage (53.6%). Perhaps the most admirable improvement was seen in his shot selection. After living in the dreaded dead zone during his first three professional seasons (over 30% of his shots came between 16 feet and the three-point line), the vast majority of his shot attempts came inside of 10 feet or beyond the arc.
Nicholson's trade mark is confident post moves, specifically a variety of hooks with either hand. At the two minute mark of the video compilation below, he scored on Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson and Alexis Ajinca in successive clips. Just imagine Nicholson abusing a small ball 4 in the post as Davis drags the opposing five out to the perimeter. It'd result in a glorious bloodbath.
Defensively, Nicholson has never been regarded as a good defender, but last year his DRPM among power forwards rated him 37th, two spots higher than Serge Ibaka, the Magic's newest trade acquisition. Nicholson's individual DRTG was 98.6 -- the only Magic player to eclipse the 100 barrier.
Towards the start of season, Nicholson was lauded for his defensive improvement, yet before the the calendar flipped to 2016, Scott Skiles yanked him from the rotation. I honestly don't understand it. Nicholson was one of the Magic's better defenders and his offense showed a remarkable increase in efficiency. Did the organization fail to realize the number of steps forward he took over the last year?
Coming out of the same draft as Davis and Austin Rivers, Nicholson rose up draft boards following a strong NBA Combine performance. At the time, Josh Smith was actively being shopped by the Atlanta Hawks, so it was rumored that the new general manager, Danny Ferry, was interested in a replacement at the four. Many draft boards at the time had Nicholson and Jared Sullinger atop Hawks' wishlists, but both young bigs went before Atlanta's 23rd pick.
Is it possible that Ferry has been in Dell Demps ear regarding either of these power forwards? History and team need leads me to believe, yes. If Sullinger proves unobtainable, I pray the Pelicans decide to chase Nicholson. With teams readying to throw incredible sums of money at names like Harrison Barnes, Chandler Parsons and Ryan Anderson, Nicholson's positive production from the 2016 season is worthy of a good sized bet and a significant portion of the Pelicans available cap space.