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Pelicans smartly trade Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe for Grizzlies’ Jonas Valanciunas

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This deal represents a good move for New Orleans as it provides much-needed flexibility and a better overall player

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans have agreed to trade Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe, their 10th and 40th picks in the 2021 NBA Draft and the Lakers 2022 first round pick (top-10 protected) to the Grizzlies for Jonas Valanciunas and Memphis’ 17th and 51st picks in the 2021 NBA Draft.

Today’s agreed upon deal frees up cap space for the Pelicans to go in a number of different directions when free agency kicks off next month and make further changes to a 2020-21 starting lineup that failed to meet expectations.

The Pelicans now have the ability to chase Kyle Lowry in earnest, having potentially close to 36 million to dangle, re-sign a free agent or two of their own like Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart (Woj writes New Orleans has interest in bringing back Hart), and/or chase other free agents in the marketplace like Duncan Robinson, Dennis Schroder and Spencer Dinwiddie.

In addition to now possessing excellent flexibility on the books moving forward — there’s no anchor-like negative assets, flipping Adams, a paint-clogging big with few offensive instincts, for Valanciunas should pay immediate dividends on the court.

Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson, two of the league’s most prolific drivers of the ball, had trouble finding driving lanes or hitting open dangerous teammates often when sharing the court with Adams. The New Zealand-born center didn’t pose a threat to score from anywhere away from the rim. Valanciunas, on the other hand, presents no such problems, proving ridiculously adept at hitting shots from any range.

0-3 feet 3-10 feet 10-16 feet 16 feet-3-point line 3-pointers
Jonas Valanciunas 69.0 FG% 53.6 FG% 50.8 FG% 55.6 FG% 36.8 3PT%
Steven Adams 69.3 FG% 49.4 FG% 42.9 FG% N/A 0.0 3PT%

Don’t be fooled by Adams’ field goal percentages away from the rim. He attempted only 109 shots from beyond three feet. Conversely, in appearing in only three more games than Adams, Valanciunas totaled 458 shot attempts from that range.

While the differences in blocks, steals, assists and turnovers were negligible last season, Valanciunas compares favorable elsewhere over Adams, including on the glass, the defensive end of the floor and in overall impact.

Points Rebounds TS% FT% Defended FG% at rim Cleaning the Glass On/Off differential
Jonas Valanciunas 17.1 12.5 63.6% 77.3% 58.0% +6.4
Steven Adams 7.6 8.9 59.6% 44.4% 63.4% +1.7

Now, Valanciunas isn’t a lock to be Zion’s perfect front court running mate — he’s not a true stretch 5, but he does grade significantly better on paper and the Pelicans are only responsible for the experiment this upcoming season. Valanciunas will soon enter the 2021-22 season in the final year of his three-year, $45 million deal.

If magic happens, great, the Pelicans will have Valanciunas’ Bird Rights. If not, he could be moved before the next deadline as a valuable expiring chip for playoff contenders.

The cost of doing such friendly business, of course, had to come at the expense somewhere. The 2021 NBA Draft is thought to have about 12 or so really talented players at the top, so moving from No. 10 to 17 does sting slightly. Also, the Pelicans had to send another future first (the Lakers 2022 first rounder) out, but thankfully, it is top-10 protected in the unlikely event Los Angeles suffers a hugely disappointing season.

If the Pelicans hang onto the 17th pick though, there are some shooters expected to be available in the range that could help in the near future, namely Corey Kispert, Trey Murphy and Chris Duarte.

At first glance, trading for Jonas Valanciunas while getting off the contracts of Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe very much feels like a win for the New Orleans Pelicans. There are no more bad deals on the books. Future assets are valuable, no doubt, but with the Pelicans feeling the pressure to turn this team into a winner around Zion this summer, today’s trade was a smart move in expediting a quick turnaround.

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.