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Tim Frazier will bear weight of potential early success for New Orleans Pelicans

With Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday likely sidelined to start the year, the seldomly used rotation player will be asked to shoulder the load at start of the 2016-17 season.

NBA: New York Knicks at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

For the second straight year, it appears the New Orleans Pelicans will not be able to rely on the team’s most dynamic and experienced guards on a nightly basis to start the regular season. Tyreke Evans is not expected to be ready to return to action as his rehabilitation from right knee surgery has been slow and tedious, and Jrue Holiday has taken a leave of absence to be by his wife Lauren’s side as she battles a brain tumor. Consequently, Alvin Gentry will be forced to turn to Tim Frazier and Langston Galloway in training camp, at least until Dell Demps perhaps adds another face to the mix.

Until Holiday or Evans are ready, the coaching staff may decide to start the former member of the New York Knicks. After all, Galloway has the experience on his side, having played significantly more minutes (3490 vs. 980) and started more games (48 vs. 5) than Frazier. Additionally, Galloway would more readily replace Holiday’s defense. However for this scenario to work in the Pelicans favor, the surrounding starting lineup would need to take a big step forward in the ball and player movement department. Sadly, I’m not as confident of this occurrence as I am of just giving Frazier the ball.

Fans probably still remember the pains of last season all too vividly. Opening night saw Nate Robinson (!) start at point guard and unsurprisingly the Golden State Warriors swarmed Anthony Davis with multiple defenders — compounding the pressure on his shoulders of needing to make up for the production of the team’s best guards. A 111-95 spanking cascaded into an 1-11 team start, effectively ending many postseason hopes even before the start of December.

During those darkest days, the defense bordered the worst and the offense wasn’t far behind the same level of ineptitude; however, one glimmer of hope did emerge: Ish Smith. The journeyman was solely responsible for making the Pelicans a competitive team during the nearly winless stretch, so much so that it was easy to vote him as the Pelicans early-season MVP.

Team PPP Team TS% Team 3P% Opponent PPP Opponent TS%
Ish Smith on the Floor 1.015 54.3% 37.0% 1.092 54.6%
Ish Smith off the Floor .850 49.3% 30.1% 1.154 61.0%

Wow. The Pelicans average over 15 more points per 100 possessions when Ish Smith is helping dictate the offense. Defensively, his presence plays a part in reducing the opponents output by more than 6 points.

When Ish is on the court, a number of Pelicans witness a spike in efficiency from all the parts of the floor. For instance, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Luke Babbitt all shoot 36% or higher from three-point range. Conversely, none of them can manage anything better individually than 31.8% when the opening day signee sits.

With Smith running the offense, Anthony Davis is the monster that we've all come to know and love. He has a true shooting percentage of 61.6% and is nearly automatic from 16 feet and beyond (61.1% from 16+ feet and 71.4 three point percentage). No Ish and Davis becomes mortal: a 48.9 TS%, 46.7 FG% from 16+ feet and a 22.2 3PT%.

Lo and behold, Tim Frazier proved to have a similar effect on the Pelicans and it was evidenced in his very first game against the Sacramento Kings. Like Smith, he stepped right into the rotation with a minimal amount of preparation yet was able to enjoy a lot of immediate personal success. In 16 games with the Pelicans, Frazier averaged 13.1 points, 7.5 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.4 steals.

The odds of pass-first point guards finding prosperity under Alvin Gentry are good, regardless of name or experience. Unfortunately, Langston Galloway and his career 16.5 assist percentage fail to inspire the same confidence. Neither does E’Twaun Moore’s mark of 14.4%. Just as Gordon’s career 16.3 AST% failed to adequately fill Evans and Holiday’s vacuum, don’t expect this new duo being capable of carrying a heavy ball-handling load. Both can help initiate an offense, but metrics indicate additional burden would be problematic.

Hence, this is why the front office has been desperate to add another ball handler like Ty Lawson or Lance Stephenson. Frazier offers some hope but a lack of long-term sustained NBA success and creators behind him on the roster are troubling signs. That said, I’m not ready to fully declare the Pelicans doomed to repeat last year’s dismal start.

First, Frazier is set to be surrounded by a stronger cast, and as Quentin noted in his player season review, that is an important factor.

In the same instance, I think Frazier's strengths could be more evident next season. Amid his fill-in role this spring, he didn't play alongside many proven shooters. Guys like James Ennis got a ton of opportunities to knock down some threes, but imagine if he is surrounded by Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, or Quincy Pondexter. I imagine his strengths would be maximized.

Secondly, the franchise has been aware of Holiday’s predicament since June so one can assume Frazier has as well. He and his teammates have had months to prepare for his greater role — much different circumstances than when he was first thrust into a Pelicans game without attending a single practice.

During the 2016 Summer League, I observed Frazier spending a lot of time with the coaching staff throughout the exhibition games.

There is little doubt in my mind now that Gentry, Darren Erman and the rest of the crew were prepping him for something much greater than we imagined possible at the time.

Lastly, it’s worth mentioning the fact that the team is devoid of several black holes. Volume scorers like Anderson and Gordon have moved on and were replaced by a slew of role players. Prior to the final month of the season, the Pelicans averaged 41.7 potential assists a game (25th) and an Assist-to-pass percentage of 9.7% (18th). In April, the team’s potential assists spiked to 46.1 (15th) and they posted an 11.9 assist-to-pass percentage (6th). A little continuity and unselfish play led to some startling individual production as well. Dante Cunningham averaged 13.4 points on over 50% shooting for the month, James Ennis 17.0 points and a 53.2 FG% and Toney Douglas 16.3 points on a 46.5 FG%.

At the center of the controls was Frazier, the only Pelicans player to finish with a positive +/- in April. When he sat, the point differential was a whopping -26.2. Per nbawowy, Cunningham, Ennis and Douglas averaged 1.39, 1.39 and 1.45 points per possession alongside Frazier. Without him, the trio respectively posted PPPs of 0.83, 1.10 and 0.96. Frazier was directly responsible for turning a mash unit of unheralded players into legitimate competition!

One year ago, the Pelicans found themselves in a similar position; however as outlined above, there might be some key differences. No Holiday and Evans will hurt, as would a less than 100% physically fit Davis, but Tim Frazier showed in a small window that he was capable of providing timely contributions. For the Pelicans to survive yet another start from behind the eight ball, he’ll need to reenact his portrayal of Atlas’ character from Greek mythology one more time.

Fingers crossed.