If you’ve ever played a sports video game, you deeply understand the fun in creating a player. It brings visions of a formulation that isn’t often seen. The combination of dreams, past players, and internal creativity. We at The Bird Writes wanted to bring those elements from your television onto the real life New Orleans Pelicans.
Kevin Barrios and Chris Conner join forces to take you on a two-part roller-coaster that is centered with enough fun for all ages to enjoy. Instead of creating a player from scratch, Kevin and Chris take turns evaluating a merge that would fix New Orleans’ most fatal flaw. We hope you enjoy our first installment of: The Player Compression Challenge.
Monster Mashburn: Inventing E’Tulius D’Magnificent
It’s no secret that all iterations of New Orleans professional basketball have been devoid of long sustained quality at the small forward position — or in terms that the position-less crowd would rather hear it — the 6’-6” to 6’-9” player on the wing that can dribble a little bit, pass with above average ability, defend three to four different body types, rebound some and shoot the three.
The 2002-03 season saw New Orleans field it’s most well-rounded player at the three in franchise history: Jamal Mashburn, who stood 6’-8” and weighed 240lbs. He was big enough to bang in the post, where he had a nice set of post moves, and defend the bulkier power forwards of that era, while additionally having the quickness and footwork to hang with his contemporaries on the wing and at the two. Mashburn was also an exceptional passer, tallying 5.6 assists per game that year despite playing on a Paul Silas team that deemphasized pace and ball movement. The 02-03 Hornets played at a pace that produced 89.4 possessions per 48 minutes and 93.9 points per game. (For reference this past season the Pelicans played at a pace that produced 100.5 possessions per 48 minutes and 111.7 points per game.)
Although the game was very different, the 2002-03 Jamal Mashburn would have fit seamlessly in today’s NBA. Three-pointers were already valued highly, but they were not as emphasized as they are today. For example, Antoine Walker lead the league in three-point attempts with 582 in 02-03, which is 140 less than James Harden’s league leading 722 last season. Allan Houston was third in attempts in 02-03, but he wouldn’t have even cracked the top 20 of the 17-18 season.
Along with attempts not being as high, shooting percentages were lower in 02-03 as well, with several players in the top 20 dipping under 40% from beyond the arc — no one in the top 20 last season dipped below 41.5%. Mashburn’s 3.7 attempts per game (306 total) with his 38.9% (40.7% from the corner) conversion rate made him enough of a threat to stretch the floor while Baron Davis attacked the rim — though injury would limit Davis to just 50 games.
If we adjust Mashburn’s stats per 100 possessions to see what he may have looked like in an up-tempo style of play, he’d have averaged 28.7 points, 8.1 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 1.3 steals per game — I think the Pelicans could use that. For those of you who were too young to see him play or have foggy memories, here are some of his highlights.
Unfortunately like many bright spots in New Orleans basketball, Jamal Mashburn battled injuries throughout his career, which came to a sudden end in the 2003-04 season due to a devastating knee injury.
We’d see other slivers of greatness along the way on the wing — Peja Stojakovic would bring his floor stretching dagger shooting presence to New Orleans for a few seasons, including that magical 2007-08 playoff run where he shot 54.9% from deep. Check out this performance with the play-by-play call from Joel Meyers. (Why can’t we have all the good things at once?)
Once these two were firmly in the rear-view, we were placated by some acceptable yet unspectacular years from Trevor Ariza. Ariza has gone on to cement himself as a very solid wing following his two seasons in New Orleans. He had an okay tenure in Washington but a more prominent role in Houston’s Western Conference leading record resulted in a large payday from the Suns this offseason.
The 2010-11 playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers did two things for me — 1) Made me forever hate Marco Belinelli and 2) Tattooed hearts with Trevor Ariza and Carl Landry’s names on them on my actual heart. Refresh your memory here:
Of course that offseason Chris Paul would force his way out and Trevor would eventually escape the rebuild that followed.
Al-Farouq Aminu would be the next body to slide into the three spot in New Orleans, and while he was an incredible athlete, rebounder and a solid defender, he never developed the handle or jumper. In fact, he was a more of a small ball four before small ball fours were en vouge. Unfortunately, the coaching staff didn’t have the foresight to use him that way, and having also drafted Anthony Davis, who needed those minutes at the four, sealed Big Chief’s mediocre fate on the wing.
After and for a short time during Aminu, Tyreke Evans was asked to play out of position part-time at the three — though he is more of a fit there in his post-Pels tenure than he was at that time. Injuries really derailed any chance of sustained success for what could have been with Tyreke and then the Pelicans handed out a somewhat sizeable contract to Solomon Hill in hopes that his defense and the potential of him improving upon his playoff success in Indiana could make him the long term answer at the three. However, while he produced on the defensive end, Solo’s rebounding and offensive production were not up to expectations, and of course a torn hamstring stole away any chance of seeing if those areas improved this past season.
There’s still hope that Hill can be the answer, but even if he is, that position is thinner than Carlos Boozer’s hairline. With limited assets and need at the most desired position in the NBA, it may be time for Dell to turn to more unconventional methods. Perhaps he should turn to the New Orleans’ cliched movie trope of a voodoo priestess raising Mashburn’s knees from the dead. However, being more of a fan of the sciences than mysticism, I believe he should bring back Morgus the Magnificent.
For the unfamiliar, Morgus was a mad scientist whose antics were shown through the lens of being a late-night horror host on New Orleans’ television from the ‘60s through the ‘80s book-ending and filling gaps during commercial breaks in horror and sci-fi films. He briefly returned alongside Rick Flare to New Orleans for opening night of the Hornets Inaugural season on Halloween in 2002 — see, it all connects, but how great would it be if he returned again to use his dark sciences to combine two current Pelicans into a monster that could most resemble that season’s Jamal Mashburn: E’Twaun Moore and Julius Randle.
Morgus would probably have a much catchier name for his invention that could make this sausage from the parts and attributes of my two chosen Pelicans, but I’ll just call it, “The Three and D-Animator.”
This would be a simpler process if both Moore and Randle had submitted DNA to one of those ancestry sites, allowing Morgus and sidekick Chopsley to break into their data banks and genetically engineer a single person from those samples. Then once the fetus developed in a test tube, Morgus would then sew it into the back of the old penis-nosed murder chicken Pierre the Pelican and utilize heat lamps, fertilizer and wacky montages while showing his audience, “The Bride of Frankenstein” in-between commercials for Shoe Town to grow like a human ear on the back of a mouse.
However, the more likely scenario is that this has to be an updated, more gore filled saw-and-stitch reboot of the show for the Netflix generation that will include some wacky kidnapping attempts by our antiheroes fitting of a Noah Hawley Fargo-like treatment — I’d definitely watch that.
In all of the sci-fi/horror B movies that Morgus would present that would later go on to inspire the ironic B film genre — which produced tales like Sharknado or Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus, an older scientist that had become obsessed with some singular task that the dialogue could barely explain in a coherent manner would rush an experiment or piece of equipment into use before it has been properly tested. When that poor hastely-made desperate decision blows up in said scientist’s face as the equipment, chemical or equation wasn’t properly vetted, the scientist will declare, “it isn’t an exact science.”
Despite that classic trope, let’s assume combining two NBA players into a single one is an exact science — I mean, we are trying to be realistic here. By perfectly averaging Julius Randle and E’Twaun Moore, we get somewhat close to replicating Jamal Mashburn.
E’Tulius D’Magnificent— as we will call our genetically sewn together wing from here on out — would blend to become 6’-6-1/2” tall and weigh 221 lbs, clearly giving the Pelicans the size they need on the wing. Also, if you take the added inches over each players height that makes up their individual wingspans — 6’-9” (5 additional inches) for Moore and 7’ (3 additional inches) Randle — E’Tulius’s wingspan would stretch to 6’-10-1/2.” While Moore is not thought of as being overly athletic or quick for his position, Randle is a freak. Moore posted a very solid 32” vertical at the combine, but Randle’s athleticism was raved about leading up to the draft as evidenced in this article by Mike Chiari of Bleacher Report:
According to Beisner, Randle’s vertical leap of 35.5 inches put him on par with some of the NBA’s most explosive athletes in recent years...he looked fluid in the lane test too.
Julius gets up. He also attacks with quick bursts and a lot of power — like in this crime documentary interview he did about the time he murdered a Zeller (whom was also made in a factory with the other Zellers).
If Morgus and Chopsley take the quick accelerated power of Julius Randle’s remade body that boasts just 6% body fat along with his arsenal of power dunks and combine them with Moore’s finessed and soft as toilet paper made from chinchilla fur floater game, they can create a multifaceted and deadly drive and score skill set for E’Tuilius that would be reminiscent of Kevin Durant’s game.
I jumped this highlight reel up to the 1:44 mark to show off one of Moore’s classic floaters, but you should watch the entire reel from likely his best game as a Pelican.
A late in the game disclaimer: As we discuss Morgus’ build when I refer to statistics, I will use per 100 possessions numbers.
While Chopsley will do the dirty working of lopping off parts to craft E’Tulius to more closely resemble Julius Randle physically, Morgus will tinker with the subjects ability to subconsciously register distance, weight and the proper compulsion needed to send an object accurately at a target. This will involve using E’Twaun’s vision. But by using Moore’s elbows and ligaments connecting his elbows and his wrist along what are essentially a slightly shortened version of Julius Randle’s arm, some variance in Moore’s shooting accuracy should be expected when his logic is inserted into E’Tulius brain. If Julius Randle’s shooting ability gets factored at all into this new person, it could pollute Moore’s marksmanship.
Randle is a hybrid 4/5 and hasn’t played a role where he was asked to shoot from deep — in fact, only 14% of his shot attempts came outside of 10’. This is good news because it means his 22% shooting from deep wouldn’t make Moore’s 42.5% from deep too muddy. In fact, adding their makes together over 100 possessions and dividing them with a combination of their attempts should result in E’Tulius converting on 39.4% of his three point attempts — a number higher than Mashburn’s, but one we could easily expect him to get to if he played in an era where the three was as valued as it is now. If E’Tulius listens to the E’Twaun voice in his head like this guy did, it could be closer to Moore’s actual numbers.
E’Tulius — with his power dunk, floater game and three-point stroke, is well on his way to be the multifaceted scorer that Jamal Mashburn was. However, despite post-up being kind of a dirty word these days, Monster Mash was skillful in the post. Morgus and Chopsley would use Julius Randle’s hips, feet, shoulders and core strength to give E’Tulius a dominant post-up game, some of which can be seen in this Randle highlight reel.
As you can see from the above reel, Randle already boasts a ton of offensive skills. He’s got a fantastic handle for his size — he doesn’t have that awkward high dribble that makes a handle look as pained as clipping your toenails with your teeth.
Julius also has excellent court awareness and vision while also being a crafty passer. While E’Twaun isn’t going to break a guy down off the dribble like Steph Curry or Kyrie Irving, his dribble move cupboard isn’t bare. Combining both of their dribble skills with Randle’s burst ability gives the Pelicans a player that can beat his opponent off of the dribble. Both players are also solid cutters, but Morgus would be wise to extract Randle’s aggression; therefore, E’Tulius will constantly be putting himself in position to score whether by cutting, rolling after a screen or running off of a screen to set up beyond the arc.
Yet, Mashburn wasn’t purely a scorer. Like Julius Randle, he was a solid playmaker for his size. The Pelicans front office has reportedly been seeking a 6’-7” player who can create from the wing. Even the Ringer, who usually spends most of their time dreaming up scenarios to pry Anthony Davis from New Orleans, said this kind of player was the one piece that AD needed to be a title contender in their pitch for a DeMarcus Cousins and Otto Porter trade.
New Orleans, meanwhile, could put a smaller and more versatile team around Davis. Porter checks every box: At 6-foot-8 and 198 pounds with a 7-foot-1.5 wingspan, he’s a versatile defender who doubles as one of the league’s best 3-point shooters, hitting 44.1 percent from 3 on 4.1 attempts per game this season. Porter is also an excellent secondary playmaker who can run pick-and-rolls, threaten the defense without the ball, and post up smaller players.
Randle could possibly be a better playmaker than Porter, Mashburn, Cousins and E’Twaun Moore — who may one day kill Anthony Davis with his dangerous lobs. Though in pure assist numbers he pales in comparision to Mashburn’s 2002-03 season where he averaged 7.5 assists per 100 possessions and an absurdly good 26.2% assist rate for a wing. However, when looking at tape of Randle’s passing and projecting that into Alvin Gentry’s system, what we see in the eye test should start showing up in the data, improving upon his solid 4.6 assists and 15.8% assist percentage from last season — probably even eclipsing his numbers from 2016-2017 where he averaged 6 assists with a 19.3%. Those passing skills were on display from the day he entered the League, and will pad his stats playing alongside Davis, Jrue Holiday and Nikola Mirotic, putting him and the monster made from half of him up there with peak Mashburn.
Mashburn was also a solid rebounder in 02-03 as he averaged 8.1 rebounds for New Orleans. Last season E’Twaun Moore, who was towered over at the three by most of his match-ups, still manged to nab a respectable 4.4 rebounds for his 6’-4” height. However, when factoring in Julius Randle’s contributions to E’Tulius, things start looking up. Randle snagged 14.3 rebounds — including 4.0 on the offensive glass. While the hybrid will perhaps fall short of Mashburn’s assist mark, he’d eclipse that rebound number posting 9.35 total rebounds 2.55 of which would create 2nd chance opportunities.
Defensively, Moore had some struggles last season — mainly due to playing out of his natural position (though he was integral in the frustrating scheme Darren Erman threw at the Portland Trail Blazers). However, when it comes to positions, they do not matter to Julius Randle as he can cover them all.
How about Julius Randle's defense when switched onto a couple of scoring champions in crunch time? pic.twitter.com/HiV0nW5bEu— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) November 30, 2017
In an article on the Lakers website, Joey Ramirez goes on top explain just how versatile Randle is.
Opponents have tried to pick on the Lakers’ small-ball center, and most have come away fruitless thanks to Randle’s blend of speed, footwork and conditioning...Randle has been isolated by opponents more than any other player in the league this season, except Houston’s Ryan Anderson (a known defensive liability)...That 30.4 percent clip is the best defensive mark by any player that has faced at least 30 iso shots. Only former Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol has a comparable clip among bigs (5-of-15), though he has been isolated just a third of the time Randle has.
Combining E’Twaun’s sacrifice and willingness to guard above his head and Julius’ total versatility on defense, E’Tulius will be a lockdown wing that should be able to guard three and possibly four positions — his averaged size will make him more vulnerable against fours and fives. This experiment would make E’Tulius D’Magnificent the perfect plug to fill the longstanding hole on the wing since the last well-rounded human filled it in 2002-03.
However, when I pitched the idea for this act of mad science to Crescent City Sports’ David Grubb he replied, “Well, if Morgus is doing the procedure, he’ll probably mess it up as he always did, turning Moore and Randle into another Julian Wright.” Let’s examine how that would look...
How was that merge for you? Are you salivating? Thinking about what could be? Well be sure to stay tuned for part two as Chris Conner dives deeper into Kevin Barrios’ theories — while providing a few of his own. You may even catch another scary movie comparison if you aren’t careful.