The Pelicans may have been saved some heartache on layaway thanks to Ramona Shelburne’s tweet exclaiming that Paul Millsap will be seeking a $140m contract this offseason — a contract that would run (or perhaps awkwardly limp at a mediocre pace based off my late 30s’ athleticism) into his late 30s. Millsap is a very good player that would have been a great signing two years ago, but I don’t think he’s worth that money to New Orleans right now.
While I believe Millsap will be a solid player in NBA-years scaled later life — ala Dirk Nowitzki — it wouldn’t be wise to tie this kind of money up in the front court (especially on a player who will begin to diminish from All-Star level to solid due to age) while still having Asik and Ajinca on the books. There are just too many other holes. Consider that New Orleans still doesn’t have a real starting small forward and the team’s two starting caliber point guards are on the last years of their deals. More than anything, the Pelicans need to address the future of the lead guard spot as Anthony Davis and most of our roster still needs help creating their own shot.
Therefore, I’ve devised two trades (that I’ll just condense into a single trade on the trade machine) to give the Pelicans a young PF on his rookie contract and an athletic freak of a point guard who also has injury question marks — but is on the books at a good value for a few more years.
Trade 1: Boxing out a Stockholm syndrome overpay with another Kentucky big to fit alongside Anthony Davis
The Utah Jazz receive Jrue Holiday and send Trey Lyles to the New Orleans Pelicans.
Why Utah Does it?
The Jazz are on the cusp of being a very very good team. They aren’t championship contenders yet, but they are built in a way that could give Golden State some trouble if they advance into that matchup. The move to get George Hill has already paid off for a team that is stocked with talented bigs and an interesting collection of wings. The problem for the Jazz is that when Hill is unavailable — he’s only played 13 games this season — they are dependent on Shelvin Mack, Dante Exum and Raul Neto to run their offense. Holiday may be an improvement over Hill, but if not — the Jazz should be able to hammer out at least 40 more games of legit point guard play between the two of them. If they both can stay healthy, this gives Utah a great guard rotation as they can play together, or Holiday can be that supersub we’ve seen during periods in our own Gentryfication. This move makes them a real threat in the playoffs, and perhaps can help persuade Gordon Hayward that sacrificing the opportunities a bigger market could provide could make him part of something great in Utah.
Why New Orleans Does it?
If you do this move without the Phoenix Suns part, it can be a move to tank: gain a young developing player and save money in a losing year — which can be an acceptable route to take on its own. However, I not only want the Pelicans to make the playoffs soon, but I also want them to protect against a very real threat of overpaying a less than dependable Jrue Holiday this offseason so I won’t write about how this move in isolation helps the Pelicans take a step back for a better draft pick — instead I’ll focus on what Trey Lyles can bring to the rotation at the four spot.
Lyles has great size at 6’-10” and 235 lbs, with a near 7’-4” wingspan and a 9’ standing reach. He’s also only 21 years-old and owed under $3m over the next two years with a team option in 2018/19 for just over $3m. At this point in his career Lyles is purely an offensive player at the four. His lack of lateral quickness has limited his effectiveness on that end. However, in a rotation with Anthony Davis, Donatas Motiejunas, Cheick Diallo and even Omer Asik (and being teamed up with solid perimeter defenders like Hill, Galloway and Moore) he should have help picking up the slack. While Lyles is relatively slow and not particularly explosive, he does run with a fluid stride and shows very good footwork on the offensive end, which can perhaps be developed into some defensive footwork tools improving his ability to stay in front of his man in isolation defense where he can then use his reach to clog passing lanes and defend jumpers.
Lyles could also be considered a questionable rebounder, but I believe this has more to do with his teammates and schemes than ability. If you look at his rookie season, his true rebounding rate was only 12.6% but his defensive rate a very solid 20.2%. However, he only posted a 5% ORB. Playing next to Rudy Gobert (20.2 TRB%, 27.7 DRB%, 12.6 ORB%), Trevor Booker (16.2 TRB%, 20.4 DRB%, 11.9 ORB%), Derrick Favors (14.8 TRB%, 19.6 DRB%, 10 ORB%) and Jeff Withey (15.4 TRB%, 20.7 DRB%, 10 ORB%) that year could have impacted those stats. This season Trey is posting very similar rates as he continues to play alongside these other solid rebounders — with the exception of Booker who is now in Brooklyn.
Looking back at his college season, Lyles posted 13.3 TRB%, 16.1 DRB% and a 9.9 ORB% which doesn’t scream glass cleaner. However, Lyles was mostly flanked by Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein, which makes it hard to assess his rebounding ability through purely metrics — especially considering that Lyles was asked to play out of position as a small forward in college. What the tape shows is that he has solid upper body strength, gets in good position for box outs, has good timing, good instincts and soft hands, which makes me believe that he already is a better rebounder than his metrics demonstrate, but definitive proof doesn’t exist yet.
We aren’t here to dwell too much on his weaknesses, so let’s dig into why he works next to Anthony Davis. There’s no guarantee that Trey can be a great three point shooter, but he has a jumper that has potential to make him a very serviceable stretch four. His shot has good form and a high release point and despite being dreadful from deep in his lone year of college — hitting just 4 of 39 attempts for 13.8% — he converted 49 of 128 attempts for 38.3% and 44.3% from the corner in his rookie season. This year his outside shooting has dropped to 33.3%, but he has already converting on 45 attempts. With the drastic increase in number of attempts, we have a better picture of what to expect from him going forward.
However, Lyles isn’t just potentially a stretch — he is a very good post player with an array of moves and soft touch around the rim. He also has a good face-up game and has shown high offensive IQ with his off ball cuts and passing out of the post. Lyles also sets solid screens for teammates, which is a severely lacking skill on the current Pelicans roster. While Lyles is lacking foot speed he does have a nice handle for a big man, which he uses well attacking his man off the dribble effectively whether going left or right. He has some nice spin-moves in his toolbox and has great touch on floaters and layups at the rim. He’s also shooting just under 80% from the line this season. In short, Trey has the offensive game that Terrence Jones thinks that he has.
Here’s some tape to demonstrate those skills. Pelicans fans should take great joy in watching Trey Lyles abuse Ryan Anderson in this highlight package from November.
Torching a defensive deficient Anderson may do little to impress you so let’s look back at Trey’s rookie season and how well he fared against the much sought after Denver big man combo of Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic.
I think my favorite part of this reel is 8 seconds in when Lyles drives towards the basket, flips the ball out to Hayward above the arc, then slides out to the corner where Hayward kicks back to him off of a drive for a catch and shoot corner three over Jokic. The Pels could run this all game with Evans, Buddy, Moore, and Galloway in the Hayward role.
In this matchup with the Kings you get to see more of his ability to finish around the rim and drive hard to the basket.
Trade 2: Adding that missing piece that escaped the Chris Paul Trade
The Phoenix Suns receive Dante Cunningham and New Orleans’ 1st round pick in the 2017 draft and send Eric Bledsoe to the New Orleans Pelicans.
Why Phoenix Does it?
After hitting on TJ Warren and Devin Booker, the Suns have two young building blocks that have already shown the ability to thrive in the NBA. This past offseason they rolled the dice on two physically gifted bigs that ooze potential. However, their roster is littered with veterans that don’t fit the tank to build through the draft mode they should be in so expect some movement. Over the last few seasons the Suns have built a logjam of point guards, always seemingly having at least one too many while still not having the one they want to be married to. Currently they have a rotation that features Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight who are both under contract for multiple seasons. With a draft class heavy in point guard potential, and perhaps Phoenix thinking that Devin Booker can be to the Suns’ point guard position what James Harden has been to the Rockets at least one of Bledsoe and Knight should be moved if not both of them. This move gives them another pick to use on young talent or to package into another player or a move up in the draft. It also helps them lose games to improve their own lottery odds. Cunningham is really just a salary throw in to make the trade work, however he could be moved again to pick up other parts/make another trade work. He has a player option for next season that he will likely decline for a bigger pay day, but if he doesn’t, it’s only for just north of $3m and he can be that veteran leader they may still need if the Suns also trade away PJ Tucker, Tyson Chandler and Jared Dudley who are all likely on the trade block.
Why New Orleans Does it?
When Dell Demps was negotiating the Chris Paul trade with the Los Angeles Clippers it was no secret that Eric Bledsoe was a part he really wanted. Bledsoe has been called Mini-LeBron for his freaky athletic ability, strength, his penchant for aggressive shot blocks...
and one man fastbreak and putback dunks.
He’s a pitbull of a defender that should be in that 15/5/5 club like LeBron James, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and our own Tyreke Evans. He’s not as gifted of a shooter as the aforementioned players — nor does he have their size — but he plays with as close to the intensity of Westbrook as any mere mortal can. Check out their battle from February 2015.
At the time of the Chris Paul trade all of this was just flashes of potential, but over the years Bledsoe has developed into a very good guard when healthy — I’m sure Dell still has eyes for him.
Health is the rub with Eric. He has had some injury problems in his career: being limited to just 31 games last season and just 43 games in 2013-14, which surely will scare every Pelicans fan. However, I’m slightly less concerned about his ability to stay on the court than I am Jrue Holiday’s ability to do so.
Also, factor in that Dell Demps is obviously under a win now operational procedure to save himself, but also at the behest of ownership. This is dangerous when it comes to Jrue Holiday’s looming free agency. Holiday is a very good player; he is not a top 10 all around point guard, though his borderline elite defensive versatility and IQ make him valuable on a team with an offensively gifted supporting cast. He’s often passive on offense, and while he is a good playmaker, he isn’t dynamic. He isn’t the fiery leader you’d like to see as your lead guard. He’s very calm and laid back, which doesn’t really work for this Pelicans roster and it’s often passive superstar. And have I mentioned yet that Holiday has also not proven to be durable?
History has shown that despite all of these question marks that Dell Demps will often pay top dollar (he’s rumored to be seeking a $20-25m a year contract) to retain his players’ services. Moving Jrue and replacing him with Bledsoe protects Dell from the overpay while also keeping this team in the playoff hunt with another young veteran. Bledsoe’s deal will look like a steal if he is healthy and if Jrue really is demanding that kind of payday. Bledsoe is on the books for $14m this season, $14.5m next season and $15m the following season, potentially saving the Pelicans $10m a year by replacing Holiday with Bledsoe. This deal also takes Bledsoe to age 30, which is still a decent age to re-invest in him should he prove to be a core piece.
Eric Bledsoe is a much more proven player with lots of tape in this league so I don’t feel a strong need to sell him on you like I did Trey Lyles. Let’s skip more numbers and highlights and look at how he fits with the current roster and how he can be a core member to build around going forward. Bledsoe would likely immediately step in as the starting point guard from day one. It will likely take a few games for him to adjust to the scheme and his new teammates possibly costing the Pelicans a couple of games. However, with a healthier and more comfortable by the day Tyreke Evans and the very serviceable Tim Frazier on the roster, Bledsoe can be eased in. With Cunningham gone, his forward spot can be filled with Terrence Jones, D-Mo and Trey Lyles. Hill could even slide over to the four for stretches with either Moore or Evans playing with Bledsoe and Hield.
While Bledsoe doesn’t have the length and ability to cover big men on switches like Holiday, he has the athleticism, speed and IQ to play the passing lane into one man fastbreaks, block shots, recover off of picks and stay in front of his man in isolation. Jrue Holiday is a very solid defender, but he’s sleepytime tea. Bledsoe has cocaine-infused double espresso energy, which should inspire his teammates. If healthy, at minimum replacing Holiday with Bledsoe is a wash, but I believe it’s an upgrade, which should keep the Pelicans in the playoff hunt.
For the future, Bledsoe paired with Davis and and a blossoming Buddy Hield could finally be the bait that reels in the long needed difference maker at the three. The Pelicans still need to exhaust every option to unload Asik and/or Ajinca’s contracts and maybe let Tyreke Evans and most likely one of the Jones/D-Mo ex-Rocket combo-pack walk, but space can be created. If so, after Dell has successfully robbed the Jazz of Trey Lyles, I’d hope he’d turn his sights on luring Gordon Hayward to New Orleans, which would create the best starting five New Orleans has ever seen.