While digging into why Anthony Davis is poised to have his best season — a potential MVP campaign should things fall in line (a belief that was also recently echoed by The Ringer’s Jonathan Tjarks), I decided to power rank every player he’s shared the court with in New Orleans. A daunting task that lead to some memory gymnastics and deep searches, but one that was also a fun, sometimes depressing, yet clearly hopeful look into the past, present and future of this franchise and its face.
In an attempt to not have you choking on force-feed nostalgia of names like Lou Amundson, Roger Mason Jr., or short-lived fan favorite, Ish Smith (or “Q93 Curse Word” as we called him), this will be broken up into several parts. You can find part 1 here and 2 here. In this edition: A recurring nightmare, a class role player, a deserter, a gunslinger that got away and a misused lockdown defender.
6. Eric Gordon
I could probably leave the following quote-tweet here without comment and move onto the next player on the list — as this pretty much sums up the city’s feelings for Gordon.
Not even if he was the last shooting guard on Earth. https://t.co/knPycaBd47— Kevin Barrios (@kevinbforbounce) February 19, 2017
However, no matter the amount of effort it takes to hold back that hot vomit shot you just burped up, we have to all swallow it down and give Gordon some due because for as unlikeable as his tenure and departure were he’s got skills. In fact, before I began calling him, “The Collective Groan” — as that’s what you’d hear in the arena whenever he touched the ball or checked into the game — he seemed like a prize that was teetering on stardom. He was the NBA hipster’s pick as the next great 2-guard prior to his trade to New Orleans. Grantland — or the rib that Bill Simmons used to create the Ringer from — predicted such a step forward as Gordon was entering his 4th season.
Los Angeles Clippers shooting guard Eric Gordon took his game to another level last season, his third in the NBA, by scoring 22.3 points per game and improving his PER from 14.1 to 18.5. Gordon’s game was pretty efficient, finishing the year scoring 1.001 points per possession, ranking him among the top 20 percent of all NBA players...Despite playing a majority of his minutes at the shooting guard position, pick and rolls were Gordon’s bread and butter last year. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Gordon came off ball screens in 27.4 percent of his possessions. When he did so, Gordon was able to post a PPP of 0.944, placing him among the top 10 percent of all NBA players when using a ball screen. What made Gordon so successful was his ability to make pull-up jumpers off the dribble. Gordon is very quick with the basketball in his hands, and that puts the pressure on his defender as he drives off the screen...he PPP of plays in which Gordon passes to the roll man is 1.174, and his screeners, after receiving the ball, shoot 60.6 percent from the field. Gordon has great vision and passing ability, so when the defense pressures him and the floor opens up, he can find an open teammate in scoring position. More often than not, Gordon makes the correct pass-or-shoot decision when he comes off screens, and the result is either a made jumper or an easy dunk for the screener.
Before Gordon was the center piece of the Chris Paul trade (take 2), he was a potentially lethal athletic bowling-ball of a combo guard. Gordon was not purely a jump shooter, he had hops and collected bodies.
Even going back to high school.
He was so athletic that he was once part of a Dunk-In Contest — when the league was still struggling to find ways to make the dunk contest interesting again — where fans chose between Gordon or DeMar DeRozan to participate in the actual Slam Dunk contest on All-Star Weekend.
Side note: if you aren’t yet healed and still enjoy watching Eric Gordon fail at things, you will enjoy his initial attempt.
If you were in a coma prior to Gordon’s arrival and woke up as he arrived in New Orleans and then slipped back into that coma when he signed with Houston, all of the above would sound like an elaborate fabrication. You may even think that Stanley Kubrick filmed all of the above clips on a sound stage in Hollywood — that’s how disappointing his New Orleans tenure was.
In the 2011-12 season, Eric Gordon had just closed out what was seen as an All-Star snub season and was now the face of The New Orleans Hornets. It’s hard to remember, but that season started with some early promise. Eric Gordon — despite not shooting well from three — was attacking the rim, splitting defenders, finishing tough shots at the rim, dunking on Kenyon Martin and even throwing nearly half-court alley-oops to Al-Farouq Aminu resulting in a 6-3 record in games he played. Here are some highlights set to a NSFW (unless you have one of those good jobs) soundtrack.
And here is the game winning long two in his first game in New Orleans, with pun specialist Gil McGregor calling Gordon New Orleans’ new superstar.
As alluded to earlier — in a season that was already cut short due to a labor dispute, Eric Gordon’s would get cut shorter. A knee bump with Grant Hill would reveal a pre-existing knee injury that would limit him to those 9 promising games — though there was nearly 2 months time in-between games 2 and 3 as he had to have cartilage damage repaired.
While the brief glimpses of Gordon were promising, the then-Hornets were a miserable team (30th in pace, 29th in offense — 89.6 points per game) to follow — though I was in there every night. In hindsight though, without the trade for Gordon, Gordon’s injury and that horrible season, we wouldn’t have Anthony Davis. So while Gordon’s knees and heart will be a sore-subject going forward in this overview, they could possibly be the best thing to happen to basketball in New Orleans.
That offseason the Hornets were sold by the NBA to Tom Benson. They won the draft lottery where they of course selected Anthony Davis and also held the 10th pick in the draft. However, it wasn’t all friendly tides as the potential slides of Damian Lillard and Andre Drummond to the New Orleans didn’t happen. Dell Demps selected Austin Rivers, who we will discuss at a later date. It wasn’t the worst selection as looking at the rest of the first round that draft only (in order of their draft position) Jeremy Lamb, Maurice Harkless and Evan Fournier stand out as guys you may rather have than Rivers — though the 2nd round did feature Tomas Satoransky, Jae Crowder, Draymond Green, Khris Middelton, Will Barton, Mike Scott and Kyle O’Quinn. However, as disappointing as the Rivers tenure would turn out to be, it wasn’t as devastating as Eric Gordon having complications with his repaired knee causing him to miss the first 6 weeks of the Anthony Davis era; the Hornets would go 6-22 during that absence.
Gordon’s return would show flashes of promise instantly, with a win in Charlotte following a very rough ten-game stretch where they notched just a single win before the victory over the then-Bobcats. He’d still struggle from beyond the arc that season, but we again saw the solid ball-handling, the drives to the rim and effort of defense.
Gordon averaged 17 points and 3.3 assists per game while also getting to the stripe 5.3 times per game, proving to be one of the best attacking guards in the league. In comparison, Jrue Holiday only got the the stripe 2.9 times per game last season. If we adjust these numbers to per 100 possessions to adjust for paces Gordon would have shot 9.5 free throws while Jrue would attempt only 3.9. Gordon was gifted at getting to the rim and drawing contact — this, along with his deft perimeter shooting, was likely a key factor in Daryl Morey’s recruitment of him years later in free agency.
None of what you’ve read so far would seem to justify the fist made of poo emojis glued together with rotten milk that has a firm grip on your tongue — pressing itself into every tastebud — that has conjured up such a bad taste in your mouth with the mention of Gordon’s name. That started in the offseason just as David Stern was putting a Hornets draft cap on Anthony Davis’ head.
Eric Gordon was looking for the backdoor despite only giving New Orleans 9 games by signing a $58M maximum contract offer sheet with Phoenix, which put immense pressure on Dell Demps. Dell had just drafted a projected superstar — that has already exceeded those lofty draft night expectations — and paired him with another rookie combo guard that many thought would be a solid NBA starter sooner rather than later. Now the centerpiece of his rebuild, who had shown breakout star ability in just 9 games, had him choosing between two potentially dark fates — much like the decision he faced this past offseason with DeMarcus Cousins. This offer sheet wasn’t really the thing that made Gordon dead to them — as that’s how RFA works — it was Gordon’s comments after signing it.
“After visiting the Suns, the impression the organization made on me was incredible. Mr. Sarver, Lon Babby, Lance Blanks, the Front Office Staff and Coach Gentry run a first-class organization, and I strongly feel they are the right franchise for me. Phoenix is just where my heart is now.”
Demps gambled on a return to form and a change of heart. It’s a gamble that may have paid off in a return to form — as Gordon’s numbers that year were one of the best from a two-guard in New Orleans in quite a while. However, while the team obviously improved once Gordon returned, they would still just win 16 of the 42 games he’d play. Worse, New Orleans never seemed to win back Gordon’s heart. Perhaps it was drafting Austin Rivers, perhaps it was the oft-questioned handling of his knee injuries — some even questioned the validity of the injury that kept Gordon out to start the 2012-13 season, or maybe it was just us — we aren’t for everyone.
Whatever the case was, that offseason started the Eric Gordon plane on its spiraling descent into the mountain. While he’d still have moments of brilliance, he’d also have elephant-like gestation periods of mediocrity, sheer numbskullery and a desert of lack of effort that that was as brutal as the Sahara. And while Gordon’s jumper would return, his scoring would drop as did his ability to get to the rim — demonstrated by his trips to the line — 3.5 (‘13-’14), 2.2 (‘15-’16) and 2.8 in (‘16-’17). The eye and heart test had shown Gordon would often start games hot and then become Wonder Woman’s jet after the half — completely invisible. He was a model of inconsistency, with the only steadying presence about him being games missed.
In March of 2014 Gordon was forced to leave a game early with knee tendinitis. He’d have surgery on his non-surgically repaired knee (his left knee) forcing him to miss the rest of the season. The following year he’d play the first 12 games then miss the next 21 with a torn labrum. However, he would be an integral part of the Pelicans first playoff run and was likely the second best player for the Pels that season in the playoffs dropping 16 in game 1, 23 in game 2 and 29 in game 4.
The following season a fractured figure on his shooting hand would lead to surgery and six weeks of inactivity. He’d return for 4 games in late February, but he’d re-injure his hand and miss the remainder of the season, playing in just 45 games — though Gordon’s explosion would seem to be back.
If you were able to Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless mind the previous four season’s chronic injury, effortless performances and heart relocations, you could argue that Gordon’s 2015-16 warranted Demps once again throwing big money at him to retain his services.
Gordon, of course, relocated to Houston where he’d build off of that 2015-16 momentum, earning himself a 6th Man of the Year Award (putting up a stat line that looks very similar to his 2015-16 season) and by ruining Carnival season briefly in 2017 — winning the three-point contest in New Orleans while having a giant hand built of boos contesting every shot.
Factoring these rankings is a real juggling act of measuring player’s talents before their time, during their time and after their time in New Orleans. Eric Gordon is one of the trickiest to rank because while you can just look at his stats and say he played pretty well when healthy those numbers don’t begin to tell the whole story. Gordon’s tenure was one of huge disappointment: the hype he brought with him coming from L.A., the promise he flashed when healthy, the lack of effort after getting his payday and the success he’d eventually find once he left. Oh, and don’t forget his willingness to accept a 6th man role in Houston — a role that he refused in New Orleans.
Now he’s teamed up with Chris Paul, forming a duo that was once traded for each other, but are now key cogs in one of the league’s deadliest offenses.
And he’s no longer disappearing in fourth quarters.
7. E’Twaun Moore
Shortly after the Pelicans signed Moore, I was probably a little too optimistic.
Moore is the anti-Gordon! He’s the ultimate role player, and potentially a late-blooming star that just needed the right situation. Coincidentally, no situation needed him so desperately as New Orleans. The Pelicans were like the inexperienced cannibal eating into their cap space with a bunch of empty calories trying to survive the owner’s win-now mandate — Eric Gordon, Norris Cole, and Jimmer Fredette — until this well-balanced meal saved the team from continually eating their past mistakes.
E’Twaun is a great defender who provides a ton of versatility. He’s 6’-4” but has a 6’-9” wingspan and a lot of core strength. He reminds me a bit of Chris Paul in that he’s like an inflatable punching clown filled with cement— you can’t push through him or knock him over.
With Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans out for the foreseeable future, the Pelicans will need more perimeter players to step up their playmaking. Moore is a combo guard that has enough passing ability and vision to keep the team afloat.
I’m hoping that Alvin Gentry paid extra special attention to this game because we get a lot of Moore running around screens and cutting to the hoop, catching passes in stride from Pau Gasol. These off ball cuts should be a bigger part of the Pelicans offense.
Moore is also tremendously versatile. Defensively, he can guard the 1-3. He can play the point offensively for short stretches, but I think his greatest value is allowing Alvin Gentry to play three guards together once Jrue Holiday returns to the team.
These blocks of over-praise came before E’Twaun played a regular season minute for the Pelicans. Obviously, calling him a great defender was a stretch — as was proposing his ability to play the point for short stretches. Also, he clearly didn’t keep the team afloat while Evans and Holiday were unavailable. Despite all of this, E’Twaun has been that essential role player the Pelicans needed.
Moore showed a willingness to come off of the bench in 2016-17 and he then agreed to play out of position on the wing, testing every ounce of his defensive abilities guarding bigger and more athletic players last season. Incidentally, he enjoyed the best offensive season of his career to date, scoring 12.5 points per game and shooting 42.5% from three. He was the supporting character that didn’t need to have a spotlight, but that you could develop interesting side-plot episodes with. This scoring outburst against Houston is the equivalent of Darius fueled, “Teddy Perkins” episode of Atlanta.
Or this game could be Better Call Saul’s, “Five-O” episode that finally gave us a hard look at who Mike Ehrmantraut really was and how he got there.
If anything, fans, media and likely the coaching staff would like to see Moore try to steal some shine more often because he can score in a multitude of ways, but especially as a spot-up shooter for the Pelicans. Moore converted an incredible 57.8% from deep in December of 2017. While he has the ability to lessen Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday’s scoring burden, his lack of consistent aggression has been his biggest knock. He can defer too much.
Moore actually had a higher usage rate (17.4%) in his first season in New Orleans when he was part of the bench unit than last season when he started 80 games (16.1%). Moore also took less shots per 100 possessions as a starter. This is naturally attributed to playing more minutes alongside higher more desirable options — Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, DeMarcus Cousins or Nikola Mirotic — but you’d like to see the kind of efficient scorer that Moore is taking closer to 15 shots per game than the 10 he took in the 30+ minutes he played per game.
Heading into his third year — where he will likely continue to start out of position on the wing — it seems E’Twaun knows he will have to take it upon himself to create his own offense. Additionally, he’ll need to ease Jrue and Elfrid Payton’s burden by being more aggressive, taking on a bigger role as he recently explained to Alex Kennedy on the HoopsHype Podcast.
“Just different ways of creating shots, creating threes...Last year, we had Rajon Rondo on our team and he did a lot of creating for us. He’s not there this year. I can be another guy that can help create shots and help create my own shots — shoot more threes maybe off the bounce and create in different ways to get threes.”
He’s also willing to take on that challenge of playing on the wing because it helps the team — though it is a sacrifice personally.
“One of the things that makes me valuable is that I’m able to play multiple positions — if it’s guarding bigger guys sometimes or playing the point if they need me to or playing on the wings...it doesn’t really matter as long as I stay on the floor and help my team win — but I would like to say that maybe I hopefully could be playing a little bit more guard. Last year, I was more of a wing, but it worked out well for the team because we played so fast.”
Moore should be empowered entering 2018-19, and once again thrive off of the attention paid to and the playmaking skills of his more heralded teammates. This will either make him the basketball hipster’s, “guy who doesn’t get enough credit, but is quietly making this surprise team deadly” x-factor pick or an integral part of a mid-season trade that brings in a player deemed by management more desirable as a core piece. Either way, Moore is a low-maintenance player that can create space for your stars to roam or get you 30 when he’s feeling himself — all while punching above his weight class on the defensive end and on a good contract, making him extremely valuable.
8. Rajon Rondo
Before Boston left Rajon Rondo alone on a depleted roster and swindled the Nets out of all of their treasures with the promise of the now stale magic beans that had brought them a championship...before the reputation killing stays in Sacramento and Dallas...before a semi-redemption tour in Chicago that made huge strides in New Orleans, Rajon Rondo was one of the most celebrated young players in the NBA! His basketball IQ is still universally praised across the league, but for a time, he was known as a lockdown defender, a selfless creator and a floor general mature well beyond his age.
Then something happened: He became the Red Turtle.
The Red Turtle is one of the signature cocktails at the bar where I I work. It’s a polarizing drink. To me and I’m pretty sure 97% of the rest of the staff it is an abomination — yet it has an increasingly large fan base that tries to push it on all newcomers who argue that it’s better than the two drinks that built the empire. The Red Turtle is basically a well or basement level margarita made at a dive bar. It’s rot-gut tequila and sour mix, but then you add some other garbage to it that makes it red and painfully sweet.
You either love it or hate it — and are extremely passionate in your stance.
When people would ask me what it was like, I used to respond that it was the most tragic thing to ever happen to a margarita, and that it should come with a reflecting pool for you to stare into deep in thought, trying to figure out what went so wrong in the ruining of a seemingly acceptable cocktail — but then I started to get blow-back from Red Turtle Stans. So to be more diplomatic, I now say, “It’s like the Crown Apple of margaritas.” This works well because of the polarizing nature of that fermented Jolly Rancher libation — if you like that, you probably also like the Red Turtle and vice versa.
Rondo’s IQ, nor its reputation, hasn’t gone away. The NBA world universally accepts that he is one of if not the smartest player in the NBA. This has worked for and against him though. Highly intelligent people are very inquisitive — constantly questioning beliefs, traditions and laws to understand why they are in place and if they are just or correct. It’s been told that Rajon Rondo is constantly questioning on court decisions and analyzing game tape. In sports there are certain personalities that cling to the olden days chain of command — don’t question authority mindsets. Rondo ran into two of the biggest examples of this mindset in his stints in Sacramento and Dallas — shackling him with the locker room cancer label. He was described as uncoachable. This was likely an unfair assessment of the situations — though hurling gay slurs at referee Bill Kennedy — a now openly gay man definitely helped to tarnish his reputation making him an NBA heel.
This incident was also following a turbulent stay in Dallas where he and Rick Carlisle publicly battled each other; this SI article breaks down one such exchange.
Rondo did not re-enter the game after the exchange, which occurred early in the third quarter.
”It’s an emotional game and we had a difference of opinion,” Carlisle told reporters after the game. “There was an exchange, and then, in my mind, it was over. ... Once it was over, it was over.”
Then there was the clear lack of effort he began to display on the court.
Rondo quit on Dallas like he was Scarface in Half Baked — tired of being talked at through a PA while he’s standing right behind you, B. Just watch the NFSW clip...you’ll understand.
The Dallas era was really where the great divide happened in public opinion — though there was talk of assist hunting dating back to the later years in Boston. However, now his defensive efforts or lack of became a talking point — as did his inability to ever develop a jumpshot. He was somehow labeled a me-first guy even with his main focus being to set up teammates for easy buckets.
Then came his Chicago tenure. The Bulls did Fred Hoiberg no favors in his quest to build a pace and space offense as Gar Forman gave him round pegs — Dwyane Wade, Michael Carter-Williams and Rajon Rondo to insert into a square-holed team that already lacked outside shooting. Still, Rondo would use that 2016-17 season to rebuild his reputation. He’d agree to come off of the bench, and by all accounts was loved by his teammates — earning himself the Bulls teammate of the year award as detailed in this article in the Chicago Tribune.
Rondo, waived in June when the Bulls moved to a rebuilding process following the Jimmy Butler trade, helped unite a fractured locker room in January when he spoke up for his younger teammates. Dwyane Wade had criticized those players following a home loss to the Hawks, and Butler followed with more general criticism of all players.
Rondo responded with an Instagram post the following day that said, in part: “It takes 1-15 to win. When you isolate everyone, you can’t win consistently. I may be a lot of things, but I’m not a bad teammate. My goal is to pass what I learned along. The young guys work. They show up. They don’t deserve blame. If anything is questionable, it’s the leadership.”
That led to a team meeting and management-imposed fines for Wade, Butler and Rondo the following day. But the incident also brought the team closer together. And Rondo’s strong play down the stretch helped the Bulls secure a playoff berth.
His impact on the court was also on the upswing.
Despite posting his lowest usage rate since his rookie season, Rondo still managed to post an exceptional assist percentage (37%), which was good for 12.6 assists per 100 possessions. And while his shooting ability will never be a true space creator, he started to hit open threes consistently enough, shooting 37.6% from beyond the arc and 43.8% from the corner.
Then it depends on if you are a glass half full or half empty person, but Rajon Rondo made “Playoff Rondo” a thing. Some view this as a guy who always takes it to the next level in the playoffs; others view him as a coaster who only gets up for nationally televised or playoff games. Either way before he was injured, he had the Bulls up 2 games on the top-seeded Celtics in Boston.
The Bulls waived Rondo after they traded Jimmy Butler to go all in on a rebuild. Rondo was the first transaction with Chicago ties in 2017-18 that would help both teams achieve their goals. With Chicago buying Rondo out, Dell was able to bring him in for just $3.3M.
“We wanted a guy to pair with Jrue because we like his ability to score and play off the ball some,” head coach Alvin Gentry said on WODT-AM 1280’s “Dunc And Holder.” “We think (Rondo) is a leader.”
The Pelicans were bringing in a floor general with a questionable recent history, but also with great pedigree. Rondo is a 4-time All-Star, 4-time All-Defensive team member, 1-time All-NBA; he’s led the league in assists per game three times and for eight seasons has been in the top 10; he’s lead the league in steals per game and has also been in the top 10 for five seasons; he’s 5th all-time in career assist percentage and 26th all time in career steal percentage (4th among active players). Although having developed a reputation for coasting on defense, he has been in the top ten of defensive ratings for three seasons and has been in the top 10 of defensive win shares four times.
Despite all of this, some were questioning Rondo’s fit. Alvin Gentry has thrived in systems that strike fast, and at his most successful stops, they’ve had a point guard who can shoot off of the dribble. Rondo is not that dude, shooting just 30.9% from beyond the arc for his career. There were concerns about pairing him on the court defensively with DeMarcus Cousins — and offensively, as both need the ball in their hands to be effective — but also in the locker room where both players strong personalities have caused issues in the past.
Rondo would prove that Gentry’s above quote was prophetic. His basketball IQ, leadership and even his constant questioning was praised in New Orleans. His coaching on the court and from the bench paid dividends in eventually transforming the Pels into a top 6 defense post-Boogie — though Rondo would sometimes get played off the court on that end.
Still, Rondo arguably unlocked Jrue Holiday. Previously, I posed that had Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday been healthy together and utilized properly Holiday may have become the Holiday we have now years ago. Tyreke was exceptional at breaking down a defense and getting to the rim. However, he wasn’t purely attacking to score — once defenders would collapse to help he was willing and able to kick out to an open shooter. It was simplistic and effective. However, Rondo isn’t a one-pass thinker. His mind operates like a Rube Goldberg machine seeing how each action effects the next and how defenses will react to each action — knowing how to start a chain of events that will create movement, multiple touches and the most optimal shot.
It’s more complex and orchestrated. It’s writing a love letter versus sending a dick pic. Both can work. One is just most crude and direct, but probably won’t create a lasting deep connection. Despite not being a threat to shoot off of the dribble, Rondo captained Alvin Gentry’s offense to near perfection, with a 42.2% assist percentage versus just a 16.9% usage. The ball and players moved. And then there were still some shades of assist hunting like in his career high in assist performance against Brooklyn where he comically hunted assists late game to get his career mark.
There were also complete games where he scored, defended and headed a deadly offensive attack. This contest against the Spurs was one of his best of the season as he bounced back from looking unplayable in this exact match-up in their previous meeting.
Or this contest against the Lakers where we saw Playoff Run Rondo, breaking out that post season effort early, combined with Petty Rondo, where he was fueled by a feud over Boston celebrating Isaiah Thomas.
Rajon Rondo was irked to hear that the Celtics would honor Isaiah Thomas on any night. "What has he done?” Rondo asked. Told that he led the Celtics to the conference finals last year, Rondo remarked, “Oh, that’s what we celebrate around here?”— Bill Doyle (@BillDoyle15) January 17, 2018
Once in the playoffs, Rondo continued to demonstrate his worth.
In every exit interview from coaching staff to GM to players, Rondo’s return seemed to be a bigger focus than Cousins’. He’d clearly raised his value and improved his reputation — so much so that he earned a contract with the Lakers that the Pelicans could not match. Despite being salary cap sheet impossible, paying Rondo $9M would be hard to justify because of his wavering efforts, lack of shooting and his defensive liabilities in certain match-ups. However, his importance to the 2017-18 Pelicans is undeniable — via running the offense and his intangibles — which made his ranking one of the hardest to assign. I debated slots 4-10 for him, but regardless of where you have him ranked you have to agree that he piloted a cultural shift in New Orleans within a single season. Now, we all just have to hope that Elfrid Payton can thrive despite similar skills and weaknesses but perhaps a lack of the intangibles.
9. Buddy Hield
The Buddy Hield era is now a short-lived what if?
What if the Pelicans had drafted Jamal Murray instead? Would the Kings have taken Murray instead of Hield in the Cousins trade? Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé was said to be extremely thirsty for Buddy, viewing him as the next Steph Curry. Hield being a Pelican made that trade work. With what we now know about the Cousins era, would the Pelicans have been better off keeping Hield?
It’s a fair question — and I do believe Buddy is a great fit for this current roster — but it is very hard to argue against moving a rookie for a perennial All-Star and an All-NBA big man. Despite his departure, I still love Buddy as much as I did on draft day, and while I believe my player comp of a right-handed Michael Redd is more likely to come to fruition than Vivek’s comp of the next Curry, he may not be that far off. Hield has become an assassin from deep — historically good, really. But before we jump ahead, let’s look back to his short stay in New Orleans; remember how excited we were when we found out he named his dog “Nola?”
Buddy brought a big smile, personality and enthusiasm to New Orleans. These were upgrades over the just ate an atomic warhead sour pout that Eric Gordon carried with him. Even if you doubted Hield’s abilities, it was almost impossible not to like him. He was a workout warrior, constantly working on his game and exploding with positive energy.
On media day, he spoke about how he was constantly questioning the veterans to help prepare himself for any situation he would encounter on and off of the court. Cheick Diallo joked that Buddy talked way too much — constantly asking for advice.
His shooting and his work ethic had me filled with lofty expectations. However, those expectations would take a little longer than I had expected to materialize. October and November were dismal for Buddy. He shot a putrid 23.6% from deep and scored just seven points per game in 17 minutes — not a good look when outside shooting and scoring was your one touted skill entering the league. In the three games he played in October, he posted a -21.9 plus/minus. Some had already written him off as a bust, suggesting that he was too old to improve and that he lacked athleticism and the ability to get himself open.
Buddy Hield was heralded as the national player of the year in college basketball, and many thought due to him using all four years of his eligibility in college, he would adapt the quickest of any rookie in the 2016 draft class...In college Hield was renowned for his incredible shooting, but at the NBA level he is shooting below 40 percent from the field.
Then on December 4th, 2016, Buddy returned to Oklahoma and nailed four three-pointers in 15 minutes, scoring a total of 16 points. This game inspired Alvin Gentry to move Buddy into the starting five, which launched the rookie campaign I was expecting from the start.
In December and January, he’d still have struggles, but not from deep — converting 45% of his three point attempts.
He’d dip again in February, before being sent to Sacramento. Once in Sacramento he’d put up the numbers I was expecting in New Orleans — 15.1ppg, 4.1rbs, 1.8asts while shooting 42.8% from deep and 85.3% from the stripe in 29 minutes. He’d show flashes of potential stardom.
Hield would carry that late season momentum into his sophomore year despite a new role as a 6th man for the Kings.
Buddy would also show out All-Star weekend during the Rising Stars Challenge.
The shooting prowess we were expecting had reached historic levels by the end of the season.
Now, that top 10 sorted by 3P%— Andy Bailey (@AndrewDBailey) July 10, 2018
1-Stephen Curry (43.9)
2-Ben Gordon (42.1)
3-Buddy Hield (41.2)
4-Luther Head (40.6)
5-Klay Thompson (40.6)
6-Kyle Korver (40.1)
7-Damian Lillard (38.1)
8-Kirk Hinrich (37.2)
9-Damon Stoudamire (37.1)
10-Nick Van Exel (35)
However, shooting isn’t Hield’s sole contribution. Buddy’s per 100 possession numbers show a more complete player — 27pts, 7.7rbs, 3.9asts and 2.1stls. Andrew Bailey also charted Hield’s impact on his teammates. The Kings were awful, but Buddy’s presence was clearly a huge positive.
With veterans like Garrett Temple and Vince Carter moving on, Buddy is poised to build off of last year’s success with more playing time and a louder voice in a young locker room. Buddy could become not only one of the best shooters in the league but also one of its highest scorers.
10. Al-Farouq Aminu
Al-Farouq Aminu was the extremely raw — yet super long and athletic — lamprey attached to Eric Gordon in the CP3 trade. Although he stands 6’-9” tall, and has a 7’-3.25” wingspan, he was a victim of being too ahead of his time.
Aminu’s height and slight frame had him pegged to play the three in an NBA that had not gone all in on small-ball fours — or the smaller small-ball fives we are starting to see. And while Monty Williams was an incredible motivator, he was not known for being innovative. This meant that Aminu was saddled on the wing with very limited dribbling skills and no jumper to help him out. Williams would continue to do him and his teammates no favors by playing him alongside Greg Steimsma and Tyreke Evans, which allowed defenses to pack the paint. Despite being misused, Aminu used his length and athleticism well as one of the premier rebounders and defenders from the wing position — he’d also put together a nice reel of posterizing dunks and soul crushing rejections.
Perhaps, this 16-point, 20-rebound game against Dallas sparked Rick Carlisle’s imagination as the Mavericks would sign Aminu in the offseason and try to hide his flaws playing him at the four.
The Al-Farouq Aminu deal is for two years at the veteran's minimum. Player option for the second season.— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) July 24, 2014
It would be a stretch to say that Aminu thrived in Dallas, but he was an integral part of a 50-32 team. He still struggled with his shooting and handle, but Aminu was making a name and some money for himself on the defensive end, grabbing 12.6 rebounds, blocking 2.3 shots and swiping 2.6 steals per 100. Big Chief would opt out of the 2nd year of his contract and get paid by Portland to the tune of four years and $30,000,000. Portland would truly maximize his abilities — even though they too tried to make him a small forward his first season in the Pacific Northwest.
Despite a slightly improved handle and a respectable 3pt shot (36.1% in his first season in Portland and 36.9% last season — 47.4% from the corner), Al-Farouq’s staying power comes from his defense.
His size, length, quickness and instincts allow him to guard any position on the court. He’s the kind of defender Darren Erman would love to work into his scheme. Aminu isn’t a flashy player, but he’s the hardworking glue-guy teams need to cover up the flaws of their defensively challenged scorers. It wouldn’t shock me to see the Golden State Warriors target him as an Andre Iguodala replacement in the near future.
In the next installment I’ll finish the top 20, which includes a former playoff run hero, an up-and-down flame thrower and a few fan favorites despite almost zero tape to support the fandom.