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2020 NBA free agency: Pelicans have major holes so Aaron Baynes, Maurice Harkless and others should sit on radar

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A Stan Van Gundy and Aaron Baynes reunion? (Beardless Baynes, anyone remember that guy???)

Detroit Pistons Introduce New Players Photo by Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The 2020 NBA free agency period kicks off later today — 5 p.m. CT to be exact — and after witnessing 19 trades in Wednesday’s draft alone, the expectation is the frenetic level of activity will continue across the league.

Will New Orleans be included prominently? Considering that the Pelicans’ roster currently fields 10 players + the draft rights to Kira Lewis Jr and Naji Marshall on a two-way contract — so that’s seven guards total, there’s little doubt plenty of moves are in store.

“There’s so many different balls in the air, it’s very difficult to get into a great deal of detail on very much,” David Griffin stated to media at the conclusion of the 2020 NBA Draft. “Big picture-wise, I would tell you that there’s an awful lot left to be done. Obviously with free agency starting as quickly as it does, we have some targets in mind there and we’ve got some other trade conversations going on as well.”

It’s difficult to surmise New Orleans keeping both George Hill and Eric Bledsoe from the Jrue Holiday trade, so the likelihood of at least one getting moved is high. Outside of Jaxson Hayes, there’s no true center on the roster. New Orleans should also be in the market for at least one good-sized wing defender. Someone has to stop the Tobias Harris’, Bojan Bogdanovic’s and Harrison Barnes’ of the world!

Player PTS average REB average AST average TS% PTS vs NOP REB vs NOP AST vs NOP TS% vs NOP
LeBron James 25.7 7.9 10.6 58.2% 30.0 8.3 11.3 65.0%
Luka Doncic 28.7 9.3 8.7 58.4% 28.5 12.8 8.5 64.2%
Kawhi Leonard 26.9 7.3 5.0 58.5% 32.5 5.0 6.0 57.3%
Giannis Antetokounmpo 29.6 13.7 5.8 60.8% 34.0 17.0 6.0 74.8%
Pascal Siakam 23.6 7.5 3.6 55.9% 39.0 14.0 4.5 63.9%
Jayson Tatum 23.6 7.1 2.9 56.2% 41.0 6.0 4.0 87.9%

Throw the patented small sample size argument out the window because the domination was so complete by everyone that it’s impossible to dismiss the trend. To solidify the point, Tobias Harris (31-point average, 67.2 TS%), Bojan Bogdanovic (29.7-point average, 68.8 TS%) and Harrison Barnes (30-point average, 86.8 TS%) also took turns pulverizing New Orleans defense, posting numbers significantly higher than their season averages.

All nine of these names mentioned above finished in the top 15 in scoring against the Pelicans. Their efficiency, as you can plainly see, also wound up through the roof. Not so fun fact: New Orleans combined W-L record against opposition carrying the aforementioned players when they were in uniform? A laughable 2-17!

The only stat line that’s changed from the time this was written to the end of the bubble was Harrison Barnes — He only finished with a 25.7-point average and a 67.6 TS% against the Pelicans in three games. {Insert shrug emoji}

So the question becomes, who should the Pelicans target in free agency if the holes on the roster cannot be filled through trade?

Aaron Baynes was linked to New Orleans by Kevin O’Connor a few days ago, and considering his skill set and having played for Stan Van Gundy in Detroit, signing the 6’10, 260-pound monster of a human makes a ton of sense.

If not Baynes, who else should be sitting on New Orleans’ radar?

My personal preference would be to see the Pelicans fill the big wing defender role and center position through some combination of a trade of either Bledsoe or Hill and the use of the mid-level exception. It’s really difficult to imagine the Pelicans becoming a cap space team (Brandon Ingram cap hold) so they’ll probably need to rely on sign and trades and the mid-level (full mid-level worth $9.26 million) and bi-annual ($3.62 million) exceptions.

If Baynes cannot be had, Mason Plumlee, Robin Lopez, Nerlens Noel and Alex Len pique my curiosity. Among available wings, Maurice Harkless easily tops my list, but James Ennis, Josh Jackson, or DeMarre Carroll might be worth a look, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist if there’s interest in a reclamation project. You don’t read the names of Jerami Grant and Jae Crowder because they’re likely to re-sign with their respected teams (Denver and Miami).

David Grubb went into some detail about New Orleans needing to kick the tires on Jackson in September so please give his article a read.

As for any of the Pelicans’ own free agents, perhaps either Derrick Favors or Jahlil Okafor could make some sense. In Favors’ case, a deal would potentially have to be team friendly, given the drop-off in production witnessed. Okafor could provide depth at center on a minimum deal again.

Who would you like to see the Pelicans add from this year’s free agent pool?

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