The New Orleans Pelicans are fast approaching the Houston Rockets and their opening night mixer with their southwest rival. Before the Pelicans can prepare for the games that matter though, they’ll need to shave down their roster to the maximum 15-man designation and the two spots reserved for Two-Way players.
General Manager Dell Demps could conceivably carry fewer than the 15-man limitation, which would allow the Pelicans to add from the floating debris following league-wide roster cuts (hello, Tyrone Wallace?), or keep the slots open in the event of an unbalanced trade. But more often than not, injuries invariably force his hand, and the Pelicans have to utilize every single seat on the withered bench.
While New Orleans has yet to sustain any severe injuries (notable exception Alexis Ajinca), the Pelicans have seen minor bumps and bruises experienced by Darius Miller (bicep), Julius Randle (back), Nikola Mirotic (Achilles Tendinosis), and Frank Jackson (ankle).
As we’ve learned, the Pelicans are far from invulnerable. Just last season they lost 212 games to Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Solomon Hill, and Alexis Ajinca. In 2016-17, they lost 31 games to AD, Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore, and AD exited an additional 12 games early for precautionary reasons.
So, if the Pelicans utilize each of the allotted spots, who will fill them?
We know the locks:
PG: Elfrid Payton - Jarrett Jack - Frank Jackson
SG: Jrue Holiday - Ian Clark - Trevon Bluiett (Two-Way)
SF: E’Twaun Moore - Solomon Hill - Darius Miller
PF: Julius Randle - Nikola Mirotic
C: Anthony Davis - Alexis Ajinca
Jahlil Okafor’s spot became all but assured when the Pelicans parted ways with the elder Emeka. With the uncertainty surrounding Ajinca, the Pelicans will undoubtedly need depth at the center position behind Anthony Davis.
Jarrett Jack was brought in as an insurance policy to young Elfrid Payton and an injury-prone Frank Jackson. Let’s just assume he also begins the season on the regular roster, with plenty of enviable experience to offer.
That brings the roster to 13. With dangerously little space to work with, Head Coach Alvin Gentry and Dell Demps could have a decision to make regarding the third year man out of Kansas. Do they further bolster the four and five positions behind Randle, Niko, AD, and Okafor with Diallo, or do they choose to run with a wing in Garlon Green, Troy Williams or Kenrich Williams? Do they fill the roster to the brim, or leave one space available following preseason roster cuts?
Garlon Green shined as the do-it-all defender and spark plug in the NBA Summer League, and Troy Williams has proven a confident scorer in his limited time with the Pelicans preseason squad. Williams provides veteran experience in addition to his aggressive play. The former Grizzly, Rocket and Knick posted 16 points and 7.3 rebounds with 2.4 steals per 36 in 17 games last season. Kenrich Williams, named NIT MVP in his time with the TCU Horned Frogs will also look to challenge for regular season minutes with the wing hungry Pelicans.
So, could Cheick Diallo become a roster casualty?
Diallo has become a fan favorite for his unrelenting motor and his patented celebrations like this one as he denied James Harden:
DEAAAAAAAR LORD! Cheick Diallo blocks Harden and mocks his "cooking" celebration. pic.twitter.com/4G4Der24wd— Stats Insider (@StatsInsider) March 18, 2018
The now infamous ‘Wakanda Forever.”
Cheick Diallo dunks the ball and does the Wakanda Forever celebration pic.twitter.com/JXMgqmSXxW— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) March 18, 2018
And with an impressive performance off the bench on 3/18, when Diallo shined against the Celtics to the tune of 17 points and seven rebounds.
3/18/18— Jayhawks In The NBA (@NBA_Jayhawks) April 3, 2018
Cheick Diallo vs Celtics (23 min)
17 points (7-9 FG) (3-4 FT)
7 rebounds 1 block pic.twitter.com/66nmP5nJPS
Cheick Diallo’s departure is a question mark financially. Per Spotrac, the 500k portion of his $1.5 salary has already been guaranteed. However, Basketball Insiders lists Diallo’s contract as having guaranteed back on July 6, 2018. If the former applies, should the Pelicans consider cutting Diallo before October 16th and save an additional million toward the 2018-19 cap?
At 6’9, 230 pounds, the energy plug off the bench gives Gentry the effort and pace he wants at the four and five positions. He is a tireless worker, and with but six years of true basketball experience, seemingly has nowhere to go but up.
But Jahlil Okafor’s arrival puts all of that into question. The four and five positions have become oversaturated with young and hungry talent. Plus, Diallo has remained limited in his knowledge of the game, often overpursuing and making costly mistakes. Diallo seemed to be on the verge of a breakthrough last season as he leapfrogged Emeka Okafor in the Pelicans’ postseason lineups. But this summer, Diallo has seemingly regressed, lacking awareness on the basketball court, and suffering setbacks in his efficiency.
Waiving Cheick Diallo would still come as a surprise after the Pelicans gave up two second-round picks to select him just two seasons ago, but it must be considered a possibility given the current roster construction. Diallo still has plenty of time to earn his place in two remaining preseason games against the New York Knicks and Miami Heat. After being outplayed by John Collins, Diallo will seek to resurrect his foothold in New Orleans with a dominant performance over Mitchell Robinson, Noah Vonleh and Bam Adebayo.
Or, should the former Jayhawk clear waivers, the Pelicans could conceivably bring him back as the second of their Two-Way contracts. A player with less than four years of NBA experience would be eligible for such a shift, and it would allow Diallo the time to further develop into the player the Pelicans’ hoped to select in 2016.
”The Bird Calls Podcast’ answers this question and so many more, including our early impressions of Elfrid Payton and Julius Randle, and who else could be in the running for the Pelicans final roster spot and second Two-Way contract.
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