Offseason Grades: New Orleans Pelicans
The Point Forward will grade every team’s offseason over the next few weeks. Click here for the complete archive.
Additions: Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Greg Stiemsma, Anthony Morrow, Jeff Withey (No. 39 in 2013 draft), Pierre Jackson (No. 42)
Losses: Greivis Vasquez, Robin Lopez, Xavier Henry, Roger Mason, Louis Amundson, Terrel Harris, Lance Thomas
Other Moves: Re-signed Al-Farouq Aminu
What Went Right: Gambles to acquire good young players. The Pelicans can’t be assessed with any certainty until we see how all the pieces fit together, but I like the risk and potential benefit in obtaining two 23-year-olds in Holiday (for two first-round picks, including No. 6, Nerlens Noel, in the June draft) and Evans (for Vasquez and Lopez in a sign-and-trade deal that netted the former King a four-year, $44 million contract). This could be a terrific and flexible offensive team in time, with the ability to exploit opponents based on specific weaknesses.
On the perimeter, three ball handlers — Holiday, Evans and Eric Gordon — are capable of selectively initiating offense. In the frontcourt, Ryan Anderson represents a terrific pick-and-pop option, and former No. 1 pick Anthony Davis is a potentially elite pick-and-roll prospect. Evans would be the only non-shooter of the bunch, and even that worry could be alleviated if he can be urged to move without the ball more often. The Pelicans can build a sophisticated, versatile scoring attack despite the absence of a superstar-caliber offensive player, provided coach Monty Williams pushes the right buttons and approaches the playbook with the necessary creativity.
Stiemsma is a nice shot blocker and team defender for a club that finished 28th in points allowed per possession last season. Morrow, while incredibly limited, is a razor-sharp three-point shooter who should complement the Pelicans’ core well because of his disinterest in dominating the ball. Even bringing back Aminu — a player whose option New Orleans initially declined — makes sense, given his rebounding and defensive potential.
With a high-caliber overhaul and those subtler additions, New Orleans is in a good place. If the offensive chemistry picks up quickly, the Pelicans could be a playoff team as soon as this season. If not, every member of their core is young enough to improve with time — particularly Davis, who could eventually transform into the defensive help and offensive glue that makes this weird roster work.
What Went Wrong: Losing Vasquez is a bit of a bummer. He had come so far as a pick-and-roll player during his two years in New Orleans. Vasquez monopolized the ball last season, but with his playmaking savvy and feel for drawing defenders, the Pelicans were able to sustain a league-average offense despite Gordon’s half-season absence, rookie guard Austin Rivers’ struggles and a general shortage of talent. That’s quite an accomplishment for a bargain-salaried point guard who will make $2.2 million this season, but Vasquez and Lopez were ultimately the price to pay for getting Evans.
Beyond that, with the addition of Evans, the Pelicans have committed a lot of money to a group of suspect defenders. Until Davis manages to live up to his defensive potential, he could be overwhelmed in making up for the lapses of Anderson, Evans and Gordon. Evans and Gordon can be decent defenders when they apply themselves in the right way, but they haven’t been consistent yet. Anderson is a passable team defender, but he’s a bit much to bear with two other shaky defenders on the perimeter.
The total committed salary, though, only becomes a problem if either Gordon or Evans becomes untradeable. That prospect doesn’t seem too likely, given the wealth of teams willing to take chances to acquire talented contributors (even problematic ones), but New Orleans could be put in a tricky position if things go especially poorly for this core group.
Grade: B-. The large salaries tied to Holiday (whose four-year, $41 million extension that he signed with the Sixers kicks in this season) and Evans make their acquisitions more perilous if all doesn’t go according to plan, and New Orleans surrendered two first-round picks as part of its makeover. But most moves to improve involve risks, and the Pelicans have a solid chance to give Evans a proper developmental toolkit, Holiday a perfect home and Gordon a fresh start.