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New Orleans Pelicans may find difficultly replicating the gravity of Ryan Anderson

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Can a combination of Anthony Davis, Dante Cunningham, Solomon Hill and Terrence Jones make up for the departure of the Flamethrower?

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Following a flurry of offseason moves, coming on the heels of one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history, New Orleans fulfilled on their promise of change. However, not all of the transitions may wind up of the seamless variety. With the Pelicans maintaining a consistent theme of trading offense for defense, one possible area of concern next season could be the team’s floor spacing ability.

Ryan Anderson led the Pelicans in three-point field goal makes (131) and attempts (358) last year. In fact, outside of the 2013-14 season that was cut short by spinal surgery, Anderson topped both categories during his time in New Orleans all but once. (In 2014-15, Eric Gordon bested him with 19 more made threes.)

With the Flamethrower signing in Houston during the latest free agency period, the Pelicans have an enormous void to fill on the perimeter. In one fell swoop, 18.3% of the team’s three-point attempts and 18.7% makes left for the Rockets. For a squad that ranked right in the middle of the league in both departments, that spells trouble.

Yes, Gordon also left for Houston, but his departure is not nearly as worrisome. The Pelicans drafted Buddy Hield, signed E’twaun Moore and Langston Galloway and probably expect Quincy Pondexter to return to action. Gordon’s production is covered on numerous fronts.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Anderson. There is no heir apparent to one of the most potent stretch fours around, just a bunch of finger crossing.

The Flamethrower provided a distinct advantage. At the power forward position, the Pelicans ranked 8th in 3FG% (36.7%) and 9th in both 3FGA and 3FGM. Consequently, the driving lanes were wider for Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and the other ball handlers when Anderson was on the floor. Additionally, Anthony Davis was more efficient without a paint-clogging big parked under the rim — just have a look at these numbers Nico provided earlier in the month.

When Davis had Anderson alongside, the increase in both shot attempts close to the rim and boost in accompanying field goal percentages were staggering!

Did you know that 3 of the 4 conference finalists from last season resided in the top 7 in makes and attempts from the 4 spot in the lineup? That all 4 teams nearest to putting hands on the championship trophy shot 36.0% or better from that big man position?

This news shouldn’t come as a surprise. The NBA has trended towards small ball for years now, and the Golden State Warriors remain the envy of the league, despite their hiccup to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals.

So, a lot of the Pelicans potential success will hinge on some combination of Davis, Solomon Hill, Dante Cunningham and Terrence Jones. The problem is the results from last season don’t offer many reasons for optimism.

3PTA 3FG% corner 3PTA corner 3FG%
Ryan Anderson 358 36.6% 60 31.7%
Anthony Davis 108 32.4% 24 29.2%
Dante Cunningham 174 31.6% 110 33.6%
Solomon Hill 74 32.4% 27 44.4%
Terrence Jones 79 31.6% 16 25.0%

For the most part, Anderson’s volume and percentages blow away the rest of this field. Even though his efficiency from the corner was lacking, opposing defenses still clung to him like a magnet, and sometimes that’s more important than displaying an immediate ability to make a shot.

Why?

Basketball gravity is very much a thing. Certain players in the league can pull defenses in a step or two closer to them, from multi-dimensional threats like LeBron James or Stephen Curry to sharpshooters like J.J. Redick or Klay Thompson. An increase in attention creates easier opportunities for the rest of their teammates. In a league filled with so much talent, small advantages like this can normally influence the outcome of a game.

Ryan Anderson exudes a similar quality and it was multiplied when he shared the floor with Davis. In the early goings, that characteristic will not be evident among his replacements, no matter how well one or several of them start the season.

The hope is that in time, though, the Pelicans will be feared for a sum that is greater than their parts. However, that’s going to require lots of stuff falling into place — far, far from a sure thing considering the group's past perimeter shooting history.

I don’t believe anyone would argue that at least one of Davis or Hill are going to have to make a quantum leap from the three-point arc. I would much prefer both, especially if they find themselves in the starting lineup alongside Omer Asik. Getting consistent production out of Cunningham or Jones would greatly advance the cause as well.

For all of his faults, Anderson was elite at drawing the attention of a defensive big out of the paint. The Pelicans must find a replacement if the goal is to be in the upper echelon one day. Otherwise, Alvin Gentry may once again be saddled with too many non-floor spacers, and both Holiday and Davis will feel all too often as though they can’t escape the suffocating grasp of an opponent’s black-hole-like defense.