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In wake of Rajon Rondo’s departure, New Orleans Pelicans must band together to fill void

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The front office’s pursuit of veteran help at the point guard position has been widely covered, but can the Pelicans manage without an in-season addition?

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Miami Heat Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

It is no secret the Pelicans have been searching for veteran leadership at the point guard position since losing Rajon Rondo to the Los Angeles Lakers this offseason. Rondo was thought to be the incumbent starter coming off a bit of a resurgent campaign alongside Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis; however, plans quickly changed.

The New Orleans Pelicans brought in the former lottery pick, Elfrid Payton, in an attempt to maximize the fast falling guard in a similar mold as the aforementioned Rondo. General Manager Dell Demps’ designs for Payton included the fourth year veteran in a linchpin role off the bench, piloting a unit consisting of some makeup of E’Twaun Moore, Darius Miller, Nikola Mirotic and possibly Jahlil Okafor.

But fate would intervene in an unwelcome fashion. Rajon Rondo followed the illustrious gleam of Hollywood and billionaire mogul, film producer and possibly the game’s second-best player of all time, LeBron James.

Demps would backpedal in expert fashion, with Anthony Davis’ help, by bringing home 23-year-old wrecking ball, Julius Randle. The Pelicans’ frontcourt is now unquestionably one of the game’s best, but a bit of a question mark now resides next to Jrue Holiday in the backcourt.

  • Will Elfrid Payton’s game better translate into a winning culture next to two of the game’s best at their respective positions?
  • Will Frank Jackson overcome his health problems and forge an NBA career, or become another second round afterthought?
  • Will Ian Clark rebound into the player that terrified Blazers’ fans from his time in Golden State, or will he more closely resemble the player who shot under 29% from deep in four of his six months as Pelican?

Jrue Holiday will again assume the role of point guard circumstantially, but should the three above-named dissatisfy, will he again be forced to hold signal calling responsibility for the vast majority of time?

Let’s dive in!

Elfrid Payton

NBA: Orlando Magic at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Elfrid Payton’s play in Orlando granted him no second chances in his three and a half year tenure with the Pinstriped Pushovers. While he showed a penchant as a paint prober, rim slasher, and wide-eyed facilitator, he too often showed complacency, forced the issue, and at times, froze out teammates on critical possessions.

On defense, matters were even worse.

The former Lefty Driesell winner was brought to Orlando to shut down backcourts alongside the newly dubbed star Victor Oladipo. But the Lousiana product never came close to putting it together on the defensive side of the ball under Head Coaches Jacque Vaughn, James Borrego, Scott Skiles, and Frank Vogel.

Payton’s numbers, his measurables, and his style have been well chronicled, but questions regarding his ‘fit’ in New Orleans have yet to be answered. Utilizing numbers assembled from NBA.com Driving data and Synergy Playtype data, Tim Cranjis’ new BBall Index measures Elfrid Payton’s potential talent, not impact, with the New Orleans Pelicans.

Based on the numbers captured from the above platforms, Payton measured in the 98% percentile in Playmaking — matching Rajon Rondo’s impact.

‘Playmaking is graded on four subcategories: Box Creation, a measure of how much overall offense a player creates per 100 possessions created by Ben Taylor, Points Generated by Assists per 100 possessions, Assist Points over Expectation, and Potential Assists per 100 possessions.’ – Bball Index

In addition, Payton rates better as a finisher, in off-ball movement, both offensive and defensive rebounding, nearly matches him in perimeter defense and exceeds him in interior defense.

Payton may not carry the basketball IQ at this stage of his career or convey the veteran leadership, but he possesses the requisite skill level to match and even possibly exceed Rondo’s production.

Ian Clark

NBA: Playoffs-New Orleans Pelicans at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Ian Clark should have earned himself a chunk of a contender’s Mid-Level Exception with his championship pedigree, age, and fire throwing spurts off the bench. In fact, it was but two years ago when Golden State Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr called Clark one his favorite players he had ever coached. But the market being what it was, Clark again resigned himself for a below market value deal to return to New Orleans. As he still hungrily gazes at Langston Galloway’s three-year, $22 million dollar contract signed last offseason, we weigh Clark’s production with the Pelicans versus his playmaking potential.

Clark put together an impressive month of March, after struggling in Gentry’s offense in the first four months of the regular season. Clark struggled to find his touch and his comfort early on, failing to reach or exceed 30% from beyond the arc in four of his six months in New Orleans, with one of those months being the four games in April.

But Clark found other ways to be effective — mainly attacking the basket with regularity. Clark finished with an efficient 61% conversion rate inside of five feet and shot above 50% overall within 19 feet. But when pushed beyond 19 feet, Clark’s field goal percentage dropped precipitously.

The NBA three-point line sits 23.75 feet from the basket and 22 feet out in the corners. Clark posted a 39% FG% between 20-24 feet and 29.2% at 25 feet and beyond. From the right corner, Clark was solid (42.9%), but elsewhere he was well below average (33.3% left corner, 29.7% above the break 3).

Basketball Index ranked him in the 96% percentile among point guards in one on one opportunities, but gave him a C for Perimeter Shooting and a D+ in Off-Ball Movement.

His playmaking graded as a C+, but his Roll Gravity (based on how frequently a player set screen assists, how successful a player was as the roll man in pick and rolls and how frequently a player was the roll man) was a little better as evidenced by a B grade.

Based on his performance last season, potential talents and skills, and Pelicans desired offensive schemes, Clark would best be utilized as a scoring threat off the bench when the offense stagnates.

Frank Jackson

Pelicans’ fans are understandably high on the former Blue Devil, and with good reason.

On Mike Krzyzewski’s sixth-ranked offense in 2016, Frank Jackson displayed his raw potential alongside first-round picks in Luke Kennard and Grayson Allen. With a stress fracture in his right foot, Jackson still appeared in 36 games and entered the NBA Combine without an agent. Jackson would finish with one of the best performances, finishing first in shuttle drills, and third in vertical leaping (42 inches), but it didn’t sway enough, as he fell to the 31st overall selection — which the Pelicans traded up to to snag him from the Charlotte Hornets.

The stress fracture undoubtedly weighted his draft position down, but could an agent’s influence have kept him in the first round?

Make no mistake, Jackson’s game does need refining in a variety of areas, but Jackson’s otherworldly talent gives him an elite first step, allows him to get tremendous lift on the perimeter, attack closeouts, tip toe down the baseline behind off-ball screens and finish at the rim with or without contact. Jackson can space the floor with three-point shooting and punish defenders who cross under screens. However, there is a belief that his game is closer to that of a slashing scoring guard than a primary ball handler.

While at Duke, Jackson struggled to create space for himself and his teammates, and horse blinders prompted some ill-conceived 20-foot contested jumpers. An average of 1.7 assists vs 1.4 turnovers per his 24.9 minutes of freshman action reinforces that story.

At this stage of Jackson’s career, he is better suited as a secondary slasher — and there’s nothing wrong with that. He is a dynamic athlete, versatile scoring threat and some day he may develop the skills necessary to assume the keys to the offense in time. For now, Head Coach Alvin Gentry is going to have a curious decision to make regarding playing time as Jackson and Clark appear to offer many similar positives from off the bench.

Conclusion

Elfrid Payton has positioned himself well for a resurgence in New Orleans and I believe his production should mirror Rajon Rondo in terms of numbers. Davis, Holiday and others will need to step into the void created by Rondo’s leadership shadow though, and don’t be surprised if the Pelicans continue to search for a stop-gap ball handler who can spell Payton in times of health concerns or potential early season struggles.