The league-wide perception of this Pelicans’ team is very perplexing to me.
New Orleans has the superstar every team wants — Anthony Davis — who is surely inside top 10 best players in the NBA according to all those opinions that matter. Flanked next to him is the mercurial yet undeniably gifted DeMarcus Cousins, widely considered the best center in the league and a top 20 talent himself.
While I don’t use NBA2K ratings as much of a resource, their ranking system has both players as the top talent at their positions and both are also considered top 10 players in their virtual league.
The New Orleans Pelicans are built in an unusual way — that’s for certain — as the league is trending towards smaller lineups, but being able to have two of the top 20 players in the league on the court together makes the Alvin Gentry's squad a formidable opponent, even if the surrounding cast is seen as a question mark by many observers.
There were similar questions about James Harden and Chris Paul’s ability to coexist on the heals of that CP3 trade, but it seems most of the media were able to talk themselves into that pairing. Pairing two ball dominant guards may not be the most ideal fit, but it should still be a huge positive because both players are so skilled — I’m not sure why this notion hasn’t trickled down to the New Orleans Pelicans. I’m okay with it though, despite the increase in the absurd trade “rumors” being floating up like bad gas at a bean eating contest out of Boston and Cleveland. I like being counted out. I like being the underdog.
Despite the Solomon Hill injury — and I’m a Solo defender — I do believe this team has enough surrounding talent currently on the roster and will create enough mismatches because of their odd construction to play themselves into the playoffs and a Cousins contract extension. I’ve written several pieces detailing why I think this is the case, but the most detailed was the first part of my Shooting is Overrated offseason plan. However, I also feel like the time is right to make one more major roster upgrade, especially with Hill out for much of the season to really enhance the Pelicans fortunes.
With Quincy Pondexter’s salary off the books, the Pelicans should bring back Dante Cunningham or sign Nikola Mirotić — who can both provide minutes at the three and four, shoot the three and pass the ball — to a slightly above the minimum one-year deal, and then let hot seat Dell gamble on a young vet that could slide into the Buddy Hield trade exception and be a long term piece to this team’s core — overpaying for the right fit in a Roger Rabbit-like eye-buldging out of the skull way in it’s obviousness — as needed.
Therefore, I did what I hope Dell Demps is doing right now, having analyzed every teams’ roster, identified the players that fit the Pelicans needs and exceptions, and ranked them 1-20 with offers that would hopefully at least have their current teams’ GM consider a trade.
1. Rodney Hood
In April, I wrote a piece begging Dell to try to pry Hood away from Utah, and my desire for this move has only increased as training camp approaches.
When I wrote that piece, Hood was shooting 42.9% from three in catch and shoot situations — comparing favorably to elite shooters Kevin Durant, CJ McCollum, Bradley Beal, JJ Redick and Klay Thompson. For the season, Hood converted 37.1% from three and was John Wick deadly from the corners at 44%.
However, as you can see, Hood isn’t just a sit in the corner catch-and-shoot artist as he has the ability to create his own shot. The Pelicans were sorely lacking in this skill set until the Jordan Crawford signing. Hood has a nice array of moves to get clean looks. He has a crossover, a nice step-back, can hit the fall away, has a good spin move, he uses screens well on and off the ball, has a jab-step, has the quickness and high-level athleticism to blow by defenders or run in transition, and at 6’-8”, he is able to shoot over smaller guards as well as operate as a post-up guard on the block. He’s also a very good athlete, which are in short supply on this roster — especially after Frank Jackson’s injury who likely needs some seasoning before getting any real run anyway.
Looking purely at Hood’s defensive rating, he compares very favorably to Jrue Holiday: just 0.1 points over Holiday’s 101.8 rating while besting Holiday on the offensive end by 2.8 points with a 106.7 rating. He’s long and is versatile enough to cover the 1-3 spots, making him a great fit for Coach Darren Erman’s scheme.
The Jazz would surely love to keep Hood, which is why you have to blow them away. They are likely a bit damaged by losing Gordon Hayward and will have similar concerns with keeping Hood long term. They also have some other guys who can play Hood’s positions — Joe Ingles, Alec Burks, Joe Johnson, Thabo Sefelosha, Dante Exum and Donovan Mitchell, so going all in with an offer of two 1sts and a pick swap could have them at least considering sending Hood to New Orleans.
Pelicans fans may ruffle at the idea of trading away two picks for Hood as it may seem like a panic move. However, looking at the bigger picture, one can see how this would lay the foundation for a very solid and diverse roster, one that should compete well into the future. If this season winds up a failure, then this blog and our podcast will be dark and full of terrors, but it’s not really desperation as Hood gives the Pelicans a very good squad and helps the front office to continue to shape and offset future issues while contributing at a high level now.
If the Rondo pairing doesn’t work or he wants a bigger payday next season, the Pelicans could put the ball back in Holiday’s hands and play Hood at the two. Should Rondo work out and return on a team friendly deal, then Hood battles Rondo or Hill for a starting spot and the other is the super sub — like an Iguodala, Jamal Crawford, or a Lou Williams. Having Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Jrue Holiday, Solomon Hill, E’Twaun Moore, Cheick Diallo, Frank Jackson and the ability to match any offer Rodney Hood would receive in restricted free agency should ensure winning and fun basketball will be the norm in New Orleans going forward.
2. T.J. Warren
T.J. Warren is an unorthodox scoring forward that I’ve coveted for a while — I was hoping Dell would find a way to trade into the 1st to scoop him up back in 2014, but perhaps he can pry T.J. away from Phoenix with a fist full of picks.
Warren is the right age to develop alongside Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender & Josh Jackson and has already proven to be a solid scoring wing that gets to the basket, has a nifty floater game, finishes well through contact and has shown some promise of potentially improving as a 3pt shooter — converting 40% in ’15-16 — though reverting to 26.5% last season. I believe he’ll more than likely be a 33-35% guy for his career — which has him around where Hill was last season, but Warren will be more aggressive and willing to try to score. Missing won’t scare him. He’s also 6’-8” and 230lbs so he can swing between the 3 and 4 spot and while he isn’t a great rebounder he’s been better than Dante Cunningham.
So why would the Suns consider trading him? It would take an overpay and some increased patience from the Suns organization. The Suns are a few years from a playoff push without a quick infusion of star power or crazy draft/player development luck. Getting a couple of future draft selections and a pick swap for T.J. would be seen as a win for Ryan McDonough & the Suns especially considering they already have Jackson, Chriss, Bender, Derrick Jones Jr. and Alan Williams that can play minutes and be developed at his two positions. They also have Jared Dudley on the roster. These picks would allow them to continue to build through the draft or package them for a superstar or trade for solid young vets to jumpstart the playoff push.
For the Pels, there is no future if Boogie leaves the following summer. If he does, then we really need to start considering AD’s situation and anything we give up for Warren or Hood would be recouped in an AD trade. However, I think that is a pathetically dismal view because I have faith that AD and Cousins will work and will be in NO for the foreseeable future — especially with one more quality piece added to the mix.
Warren is an excellent scorer who thrives in drives and off of cuts — which are staples of the Chris Finch offense. Warren is also an aggressive player, having that go-to mentality and desire to shoot that we find lacking in all members of our squad that aren’t named Davis, Cousins or Crawford. Though he may be a worse 3PT shooter than Hill, his willingness to take a shot is also a gift. With AD and Boogie to cleanup, we could see some value in “Kobe” or “Tyreke” assists. Currently, Warren may fit more than Hood due to the need for bodies at the 3 and 4 spots, but I’ve ranked Hood ahead as I believe he is the best player and fit going forward. Regardless, Warren would instantly be the starting three this season and would battle it out for the starting three spot with Hill next season while the loser of that battle becoming a 6th man candidate. Like Hood, Warren also becomes a restricted free agent next season.
3. Robert Covington
Robert Covington could be considered the ideal Solomon Hill replacement.
At 6’-9” and 215 lbs, Covington has the size and strength to swing between the three and the four, but he also has enough athleticism to guard ones and twos. He’s been a lockdown defender in this league since he was snatched out of the D-League and last season he bested known defensive stalwart wings like Andre Iguodala and Andre Roberson in defensive win shares. However, RoCo is a much better shooter than those defensive specialists, converting over 35% from three over his 4-year career, and hey, he also rebounds.
Covington has long outperformed his contract. Entering the 2017 campaign, he’s the 129th best paid forward in the NBA, but he will be an unrestricted free agent this coming summer and thus making his future in Philadelphia a bit murky — especially considering the amount of young talent the 76ers have at the forward positions.
This fact also makes his acquisition a huge gamble for the Pels as there really is no level of team control going forward and with Davis, Cousins (hopefully), Holiday, Hill, Asik and Moore eating up most of the cap space next season — retaining Covington would be a challenge. Still, if Demps can convince Philly to let him go for a 1st and a 2nd, it could be a gamble worth taking.
4. Kelly Oubre Jr.
Standing 6’-7”, with a 7’-2” wingspan and a 37” vertical leaping ability, this New Orleans native would bring high level athleticism and reach to the Pelicans wing rotation. Offensively, however, Oubre is a work in progress, especially when it comes to 3-point shooting: Kelly converted under 30% from deep last season, including a dreadful 18.5% from the corner.
Making a move for Oubre means having faith that those numbers improve drastically. The good news is, he’s young and still has a few years left on a rookie contract that has him entering restricted free agency in 2019-20. Also, despite his youth and raw offensive game, Oubre has already played quality minutes in the playoffs for the Wizards.
Washington likely sees him as their future at the three playing small ball with Otto Porter Jr. across from him at the four — so he’s no easy get. However, should the Wizards be able to put together enough pieces via an Oubre trade to legitimately chase a third star — perhaps a multi-pick deal with Marcin Gortat, Jason Smith and Tim Fraizer going to the Cavaliers for Kevin Love — that would move Porter back to the three and the Wizards would possess a more suitable starting power forward. Seeing as Oubre is yet to show offensive consistency, I wouldn’t be willing to part with two firsts for him, but I would be comfortable with a first, an option to swap and a 2nd.
5. Trey Lyles
Prior to the Boogie trade, I had concocted a two-trade plan that had the Pelicans walking away with Eric Bledsoe and Trey Lyles. While Demps bested me by nabbing Splash Mountain, I’d still love to see Lyles as the third big man — and another PeliCat — in New Orleans. Also, after being shipped to Denver this offseason, he seems more available than ever. Here’s a list of Denver’s bigs: Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap, Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Juan Hernangomez and Tyler Lydon. It’s pretty fair to say after looking at that group that Lyles is expendable.
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 $3 million this season with a team option in 2018/19 for just over the same amount.
At this point in his career, Lyles is purely an offensive player at the four. There’s no guarantee that Trey can become 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. Last season his outside shooting dropped to 31.9%, but he did convert 36% from the corner.
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 a high offensive IQ with his off ball cuts and passing out of the post — perfect skills for Chris Finch’s offense. Lyles also sets solid screens for teammates, which is a severely lacking skill on the current Pelicans roster outiside of DeMarcus Cousins. 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. In short, Trey has the offensive game that Terrence Jones thinks that he has.
On this Pelicans roster, Lyles can be the answer at the reserve four spot, fitting well next to either Davis or Cousins. It could also be an interesting experiment to roll out a Davis, Cousins and Lyles front court for short stretches to see how that length, ball handling and shooting affects the opponent.
As I’ve stated earlier, Lyles is likely a realistic get without a dramatic overpay because of the collection of bigs in Denver, and while the aforementioned experiment could be interesting, Lyles is likely purely a four due to his lack of quickness so I wouldn’t mortgage too much of the future for him, but a first round pick seems like a fair price for him. I’d also consider a pick swap and/or a 2nd if needed as there is still so much room for him to grow on a team controlled contract.
Stay tuned for my next 5 TPE targets for the Pelicans coming very soon!