And we’ve arrived to the sexiest part of the series — improving the roster through free agency and trade.
If you’re not at the top, everyone wants to move and shake things up. My proposed moves look to add more defense and extra playmaking, but do not provide anymore shooting or space. This is where coaching, and in particular rotations, are key.
Trading for playmaking and defense from a former local triple double flirter
I do have a soft spot for Tim Frazier, but this coming season is likely his last as a Pelican. He’s a hardworking overachieving passer that due to his size and shooting limitations resign him to very specific uses in very specific lineups. We’ve seen a little over a year of Frazier and have a good idea of who he is and what he can be in this league. While I will always root for his success, the main thing I think he can be is replaceable — at least when it comes to this squad. Therefore, I’m proposing that Dell Demps rolls the dice on another shooting challenged point guard — one that I admittedly want to be better than he probably can be — Elfrid Payton.
Acquiring Payton may have been easier had Rob Hennigan not been fired, as evidenced by his deals over the final year as Orlando’s general manager; however, the Magic have never seemed to fully trust Payton as their floor general. If you are looking for a team to fit the “Blow it Up” status that all the kids are raving about, the Magic should at a minimum have their name in the hat that may or may not be rabbit filled.
Once draft day rolls around and the Pelicans 2017 1st round pick is conveyed to the Kings, Dell can chase that dragon of trading away that 2018 1st to scratch that unquenchable itch. As he nods back into that dope-fiend lean with spit bubbling on his lips coming away with a good hard look at Elfrid Payton with very little other collateral damage could help him convince himself and perhaps the world that he doesn’t need rehab.
Payton is still on his rookie deal and his $3.3+ million salary could slide right into the Buddy Hield trade exception without having to send anyone out. However, I’d prefer to offer Orlando the 2018 1st and Tim Frazier, saving the exception and unloading some additional salary for future roster emergencies. Frazier’s passing ability could also save the Pels from having to toss in a 2nd rounder to sweeten the pot — in the roster moves I’m proposing there won’t be minutes for Tim anyway.
Elfrid Payton is a bad shooter — like stormtrooper or Lt. Frank Drebin bad — at this point in his career.
That being said, Payton isn’t a total offensive liability — he scores relatively well around the rim, besting Jrue Holiday with a 61% finishing rate at the rim — where he takes the majority of his shots. He gets to the rim with hard drives, running in transition, attacking off of the pick-and-roll. Plus, Elfrid creates a lot of 2nd chance point opportunities for himself with his rebounding ability. He attacks with the aggression I would like to see from Jrue Holiday, but don’t dismiss Holiday is a much more accomplished shooter.
Payton is more a reflection of a younger Tyreke Evans than Holiday — before Tyreke’s improved spot up shooting — in the way he plays the game. It’s all use your size and one or two dribble moves to get to the rim and score or create out of that penetration. Also, like Tyreke, Payton is one of those tick-off-all-the-box-score-boxes guy that will give you points, rebounds and assists effecting the game in numerous ways, seemingly streaming together several triple doubles to close out each of his three seasons.
This highlight package of Payton against the Utah Jazz is probably the best representation of what the Pelicans could expect from EP as a peak offensive performance. When I watch this, I imagine how much better these plays would work with DMC and AD in place of Serge Ibaka and Nikola Vučević.
However, there is one area where Payton is more like Jrue than Tyreke — defense. When Alvin Gentry decided to move Jrue off the ball and play him with Tim Frazier, he hurt the perimeter defense while also compromising spacing due to Frazier’s poor shooting for a slight boost in playmaking ability.
I’m not saying I’d start Payton next to Holiday, but I’d certainly feature them in lineups together. Payton would provide similar spacing issues as Frazier did — though he does have the ability and mindset to create his own shot. His playmaking may not be as special as Frazier’s could be when he was really keyed in, but it would certainly take some of the burden off of Holiday and Cousins. However, unlike Frazier and even Tyreke Evans, Payton brings high-level defense which makes him a better back up to Jrue, ensuring the point of attack is secure or a nice sidekick to improve upon last season’s defensive improvements.
Ignore every three-point shot in this package because this is one of those horseshoe up the ass games, but focus on EP’s ability to stay in front of and to recover when beaten while guarding my favorite — and a top 5 — point guard — John Wall. That defensive ability is not a flash in the pan. I want Payton to be good because I grew up in the shadow of his high school, and he is that drive-and-kick kind of point guard I value so I’ve watched the Magic more than their play should warrant. He’s a player with tangible flaws, but defensive IQ, versatility and tools are not in that list of shortcomings.
I don’t expect Elfrid Payton to ever turn into a respectable jump shooter, and he’s been pretty terrible from the free throw line for a guard (check out this very interesting article about his haircut or lack of may hurt his shooting numbers from the line) — shooting just 61.1% for his career (though his numbers have jumped each year and was just under 70% this past season) — however, Payton affects games in a multitude of ways and would improve depth at minimum while also bolstering an improving defense. Best of all, he is likely available and his production/salary will surely be a net gain for the Pelicans who will be cashed strapped for the foreseeable future.
Using the MLE to secure the chain pizza version of potential MVP — Kawhi Leonard — and save the wing rotation:
Ever since I heard the story of Jonathan Simmons paying to try out for the D-League and then earning a spot in the San Antonio Spurs’ rotation I was intrigued.
With the Spurs being in our division and on national TV frequently, I’ve seen Simmons play pretty often over his two seasons in the NBA. Spurs guys always scare me because of how successful that system has been (though it is a system that has been tweaked constantly since its inception with various styles of play and rosters) often making mediocre players look like potential breakout stars, or players like Marco Belinelli look drastically improved.
While Simmons would make one or two standout plays a game, I wasn’t sure if he was a legit NBA player. However, it was during All Star Weekend, when Oleh and I watched the Rising Stars Challenge practices and game in person, where I really started to be sold on Simmons as more than just another guy benefiting from the Spurs’ system.
Watching him prepare in person had me sold. Simmons is also one of those guys who is always around the loose ball, and is always zeroed in defensively — two traits that supersede what a system can provide in offensive shine. From All Star Weekend on, I’ve been watching him closely as a potential piece for the Pelicans to add this summer.
Simmons’ play in the postseason has undoubtedly bolstered his value, and he is seemingly a better two-way player currently than Solomon Hill was when he was signed — perhaps purely for his mentality. I’m still a believer in Solo, but he needs to be less hesitant and attack — a theme that resonates throughout this roster outside of Davis, Cousins and Crawford.
Like Elfrid Payton, Jonathan Simmons is probably a very bad three point shooter. In his rookie year, Simmons made a very good 38.3% from deep, but I’m betting that this year’s mark of 29.4% is closer to reality as it comes on 102 attempts in a bigger role compared to the 47 he took in 2015-16, which were mainly clean looks at the basket. Simmons perhaps provides even less spacing than Solomon Hill does with his deceivingly decent 34.8%. It’s deceiving because all of those shots were wide open. Defenders completely sagged off of Hill this season, begging him to take that shot.
This is why these three players should never share the court together — though I’m sure Monty Williams would have had them logging big minutes together in a new version of the Tyreke Evans, Al-Farouq Aminu and Greg Stiemsma offensive turd garden. Simmons offers defensive flexibility by being able to guard the 1-3 spot and in some instances even the four allowing Alvin Gentry to pair him with decent shooting — in fact, playing him with Jordan Crawford could help offset both players’ deficiencies.
I won’t pretend that Simmons is a polished offensive player — he’s far from it. However, he is an incredible athlete that attacks the rim with purpose. His highlight reels are filled with dunks that should have the posterized defender sitting in a dark room wrapped in a warm wet blanket mumbling inaudibly to themselves for a week. He’s an assassin in transition, and while he isn’t a jump shooter, he has been money in the clutch — shooting 40% from three with less than 3 minutes left in a quarter and 53.3% from deep when the Spurs are trailing by less than 5 points. Simmons is also shooting a respectable 35% from deep in the playoffs — though we know how that kind of hope hasn’t translated yet with Solomon Hill.
When you look through the highlight reels of his two years in the league, you’ll see great play in transition, a solid handle, decisiveness, knowledge of when to cut to the rim, solid play as the ball handler in transition, nifty passing and the ability to finish through contact.
As I’ve already mentioned Simmons has shown that clutch gene — if you’re a believer in that sort of thing. He’s also shown he can elevate his play to the level of competition. Check out his incredible performance against Golden State from earlier this season:
Jonathan has also had great moments in these playoffs — game 2 of the Conference Semi-Finals really had people taking note of the energy he brings:
Simmons continued to validate that praise throughout the series — perhaps most notably in the instant classic that was game 5:
Simmons impact of the defensive end was felt as he made James Harden’s life miserable.
By adding Simmons to the wing rotation, the Pelicans would have three elite stoppers — Jrue Holiday, Solomon Hill and Simmons — on the defensive end to shutdown all of the opponent’s primary threats on the perimeter. The Pelicans could employ lineups that may not shutdown the machine that is the Warriors’ offense, but being able to put Holiday on Curry, Simmons or Hill on Thompson, Davis on Durant and Cousins on Green would give them more than a puncher’s chance. Add in to the mix that four of those players have demonstrated the ability to turn defense into offense efficiently and you have lineups and rotational parts to challenge the real contenders on a nightly basis.
Making the minutes work:
My series of proposed moves may seem to create a log jam around the perimeter, but going with a 10-man rotation and utilizing the positional flexibility these pieces (every player in this 10 man rotation can play 2 positions and some 3 to possibly 4) offer the Pelicans to throw out some interesting line-ups.
Also, with the desire to exert a ton of energy on defense and to push hard in transition, keeping these players fresh over the course of the game and season will be a benefit. Having these established wings and ball handlers helps offset the inevitable injury that will likely pop up giving some run for the younger guys — Quinn Cook, Cheick Diallo and Axel Toupane while also having Alexis Ajinca and Omer Asik available if a veteran big is needed.
Minutes Distribution - A 10 Man Rotation:
Anthony Davis - 35
DeMarcus Cousins - 35
Jrue Holiday - 30
Dante Cunningham - 28
Jonathon Simmons - 22
Elfrid Payton - 22
E’Twaun Moore - 20
Jordan Crawford - 20
Solomon Hill - 20
Cheick Diallo - 8