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NBA2K simulation: Addition of potent small forward to current New Orleans Pelicans roster yields encouraging results

The Matrix Meets Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure: Time travel and digitized alternate realities predict what could have been if Dell Demps were able to add Jamal Mashburn to this current Pelicans roster.

Hornets v Wizards Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

On the most recent episode of The Bird Calls podcast, a listener — Wiliam C. Smith (@wcs21usn on Twitter) — asked Preston Ellis, Oleh Kosel, David Grubb and myself if we could add any former Pelican/Hornet to this current roster who would it be and why. Without hesitation I spit out 2002-03 Jamal Mashburn.

Mashburn’s tenure in New Orleans was so sadly abrupt. He totaled 105 games in two seasons including just 19 contests in that second campaign. Plagued by injuries for most of his career, he probably succumbed to the insane workload he had in 2002-03: 40+ minutes per game and playing all 82 and all 4 playoff games that season. This article from ESPN details the terrible state of Mashburn’s right knee.

Team trainers said that several MRIs this summer indicated that Mashburn has worn out cartilage in his right knee, causing bones to grind together, leaving a bruise and an irritation. Mashburn and the Hornets said that with rest, the irritation could heal, but they acknowledged there would be a good possibility of re-aggravating the injury if he tried to play again.

”I’m hoping with a rest and a lack of pounding, things will heal themselves and maybe there’s a possibility in a year or so,” Mashburn said. “I just have to take a wait-and-see approach. There’s not a particular thing I can do. I’ve been trying everything. It’s a frustrating situation.”

I’m not sure if he truly tried to make a comeback, but he never would play again, earning the 19th spot in Complex Sport’s 25 Best NBA Careers Ruined by Injury — a list you never want to end up on.

Monster Mash may own car dealerships, Papa Johns, and Outback Steakhouses today, but in his prime he got busy for Dallas and later the Hornets during his NBA career. A prolific scorer coming out the gate, Mashburn’s career was forever tainted by multiple knee injuries. As one-third of the “Three J’s” in Dallas (Jim Jackson and Jason Kidd) he had high expectations, but the three young stars had a hard time co-existing and they were eventually broken up.

After his time in Dallas, Mashburn managed to play more than 50 games in only three of the seven years he had left in the league. Although, he is one of five players to average 20 a game in his last season (Drazen Petrovic, Jerry West, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan are the others).

As a side note: Mashburn’s time in Dallas was also epic off of the court:

One season of greatness — 16 years ago — may not be considered enough by most people to be placed so high on the fandom mantle in my heart, but 02-03 Mashburn was that one summer fling, that amazing concert, or that one trip you’ll never forget — he’s the Before Sunrise of my New Orleans’ basketball fandom.

So this question from William, combined with a recent suggested topics list from our editor Oleh Kosel — a list that included, “If you could combine any two players on our current roster, which two would it be?” — inspired me to write my previous article that suggested how a combination of Julius Randle and E’Twuan Moore could possibly replicate Jamal Mashburn. This then lead me back to the initial question from William. Luckily, there is a way to do a bit of a Matrix and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure mashup to see just how Monster Mash would fit in Alvin Gentry’s system.

For those of you too young to know Keanu as anything other than John Wick or Neo, peep this.

Nekias Duncan (@NekiasNBA), who writes for BBALLBREAKDOWN and Miami Heat Beat, has made a constantly updated NBA2K roster that includes all renders of all the 2018-19 rookies and every trade and signing that has happened this offseason. So I downloaded that roster, converted Jrue to a shooting guard, bumped Frank Jackson’s rating up to a 73 and then swapped Alexis Ajinca out for the 02-03 Jamal Mashburn from the official All-Time New Orleans’ basketball roster that already existed on 2K.

Though I’m a supporter of the Elfrid Payton, Jrue Holiday, E’Twaun Moore, Nikola Mirotic and Anthony Davis starting lineup, with plugging in Mashburn at the three, I then decided to start Julius Randle and bring Niko and E’Twaun off of the bench. I mapped out the rotations and then started simulating to see what could be.

Immediately, that rotation would need to be put on hold as E’Twaun Moore broke his wrist (4-6 week injury) in an opening night 114-111 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies. Then just a couple of weeks later Frank Jackson sprained his toe (1-2 week injury) in a 105-126 loss to Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors. E’Twaun returned on November 21st and Jackson was back on the 30th.

Despite losing two key rotation players and having to immediately tweak the rotation, the Pelicans had a strong start to the season. They closed out November with a 16-5 record, placing second best in the Western Conference!

December would be an injury-free month, but it would also be a slight step back. At month’s end, New Orleans had dropped to third in the West (24-12 overall), but they were still dominating the competition, scoring 119.2 points per game on 36.5 assists per game — Gentry ball at it’s finest.

In January, the Pelicans would drop just three games, but the toughest loss would come almost a year to the day that DeMarcus Cousins was injured.

Jrue Holiday tore his MCL (2-4 month injury) a mere eight minutes into a January 24th 100-87 loss to the Charlotte Hornets. New Orleans maintained their third standing in the West with a 35-15 record, but obviously things were about to get much more difficult.

February did not let up.

Julius Randle pulled his calf muscle, keeping him out the entire month. Luckily, this coincided with the All-Star break so the impact was lessened. Anthony Davis was elected a starter to the All-Star game, and he was the only Pelican selected though Jrue was a top-4 guard in voting until his injury.

NBA All-Star Game 2017 Photo by Bob Donnan - Pool/Getty Images

AD walked away with that game’s MVP, putting up 21 points (9-11 from the field, 2-2 from 3pt range), grabbing 11 rebounds, blocking three shots and assisting on four buckets.

2017 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Frank Jackson — whose role increased dramatically following Holiday’s injury — would also make an appearance in the Rising Stars Challenge, scoring 10 points (2-3 from the field, 2-2 from deep and 4-4 from the stripe), two rebounds, one assist and a steal.

Despite the exhibition fun, February was certainly a step back as the Pelicans went 7-5, but they still maintained that 3rd spot in the West. However, the team’s points per game dropped to 117 and their three-point percentages took a hit, falling from a respectable 38.6% to 36.1% by month’s end.

March brought more bad luck.

Frank Jackson was starting to show out in his increased role — climbing up the rookie of the year power rankings — but he’d be lost for the season as a result of a broken vertebrae. Ian Clark and Darius Miller were now relied upon heavily going into the final stretch. Minnesota would pass New Orleans on the Western Conference ladder, knocking the Pelicans to fourth with a 47-29 record. Despite Darius Miller getting a heavier workload, the Pelicans three-point shooting would fall to 35.4% as a team. Scoring also dropped to 116.6 points per game.

The Pels would close out the season 3-3 in April, but Jrue Holiday would return for the final game of the season and the playoffs, which the Pelicans would enter as the 4th seed facing the 5th seeded Utah Jazz.

Before the playoffs began, 2K announced the regular season awards. Here they are:

MVP: Anthony Davis

ROY: Luka Doncic

Portland Trail Blazers v New Orleans Pelicans - Game Three Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

6th Man: Nikola Mirotic

Defensive Player: Anthony Davis

MIP: Kris Dunn

Coach: Nick Nurse

All-NBA 1st Team:

James Harden, Steph Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, LeBron James and Anthony Davis

All-NBA 2nd Team:

Russell Westbrook, Ben Simmons, Kevin Durant, Kristaps Porzingis and Andre Drummond

All-NBA 3rd Team:

Chris Paul, Victor Oladipo, Luka Doncic, Blake Griffin and Marc Gasol

1st Team All-Defense:

Victor Oladipo, Ben Simmons, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kristaps Porzingis and Anthony Davis

2nd Team All-Defense:

John Wall, Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant, Robert Covington and Rudy Gobert

1st Team All-Rookie:

Luka Doncic, DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Trae Young and Wendell Carter Jr.

2nd Team All-Rookie:

Jaren Jackson Jr., Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Mitchell Robinson, Collin Sexton and Michael Porter Jr.

And here are the regular season stats for the key contributors:

Anthony Davis: 30.6pts, 12.5rbs, 3.8asts, 1.6stls, 3.9blks, 54.7%fg, 31.6%3pt, 66 double-doubles

Jrue Holiday: 17.8pts, 3.2rbs, 7.3asts, 1.6stls, 1blk, 50.6%fg, 34%3pt, team leading 8.4 plus/minus

Jamal Mashburn: 15.1pts, 6.7rbs, 3.8asts, 1blk, 52.4%fg, 42%3pt

Nikola Mirotic: 14.6pts, 8rbs, 2.9asts, 1stl, 1blk, 41.6%fg, 37.2%3pt

Julius Randle: 14.3pts, 9.8rbs, 4.5asts, 0.6stls, 1.3blks, 53.2%fg, 24.5%3pt

E’Twaun Moore: 11.6pts, 2.2rbs, 3asts, 1.2stls, 42.6%fg, 39.2%3pt

Elfrid Payton: 10.6pts, 4.3rbs, 7.4asts, 1.1stls, 44.9%fg, 29.2%3pt

Frank Jackson: 8.3pts, 2.5rbs, 4.5asts, 1.3stls, 45.2%fg, 40%3pt

Ian Clark: 5.5pts, 1.4rbs, 2asts, .5stls, 39.5%fg, 38.9%3pt

The Pelicans did a gentleman’s sweep of the Jazz, giving Utah just one victory in a series New Orleans dominated. The Pels entered round two facing the 8th seeded Oklahoma City Thunder — a real, “you stole or tried to steal our basketball team” playoff opponent lineup for New Orleans — who shockingly knocked off the Golden State Warriors in 6 games. They would also upset the Pelicans in a seven game, back-and-forth series where no contest was decided by more than three points. The Pelicans won games with their defense in the playoffs as their shooting fell off of a cliff. Jamal Mashburn was the only Pelican to find the net from beyond the arc in the post season.

Pelicans’ Playoff Stats:

Anthony Davis: 26.4pts, 11.3rbs, 2.6asts, 1.4stls, 2.8blks, 52.5%fg, 31.2%3pt, 9 double-doubles

Jrue Holiday: 15pts, 3.3rbs, 7asts, 2.1stls, 0.7blks, 42%fg, 31.8%3pt, team leading 5.5 plus/minus

Julius Randle: 14.7pts, 9.9rbs, 3.6asts, 0.7stls, 0.6blks, 46.9%fg, 23.5%3pt

Jamal Mashburn: 13.8pts, 6rbs, 3.8asts, 0.7blks, 50.5%fg, 43.5%3pt

Nikola Mirotic: 10.4pts, 8.5rbs, 2.2asts, 0.7stls, 0.7blks, 38.3%fg, 33.9%3pt

E’Twaun Moore: 10.2pts, 2rbs, 2.4asts, 1stl, 37.1%fg, 30%3pt

Elfrid Payton: 6.6pts, 3.8rbs, 6.2asts, 1.6stls, 33%fg, 27.8%3pt

Ian Clark: 5.6pts, 1.2rbs, 1.6asts, 0.5stls, 53.5%fg, 29.4%3pt

The Houston Rockets would eventually go on to beat the Toronto Raptors in the Finals and James Harden walked away with the MVP.

Unfortunately and all too familiarly, injuries kind of what-iffed this what-if simulation. However, should Dell come across a telephone booth time machine, this season should be an excellent adventure — even if some parts feel like a bogus journey.

PS - I promise this is the last time I write about Jamal Mashburn this offseason.