Fixing the Small Forward Position

Published: December 1, 2013

On Friday night, we saw Monty Williams tinker with the starting lineup for the first time since Ryan Anderson returned. No, he did not start Anderson next to Anthony Davis like our own Michael Pellissier suggested. Instead, he moved his other elite shooter – Anthony Morrow – into the starting lineup to increase the spacing. The result was a mixed bag. On the offensive end, there was more space and movement, but the defense lacked the ability to keep Philly out of the paint and it was terrible on the boards. Put it this way, they entered the game first in defensive rebound rate and left the game seventh.

For people who love offense, Morrow is the answer, but if you love winning consistently, you can clearly see that the small forward that this teams needs is not on the roster. We’ll see a few games of Morrow, then Monty will go back to Aminu before maybe giving Darius Miller or even Josh Childress a try. But its just a game of musical chairs, and all the chairs have a broken leg. Morrow is a great heat-check swing off the bench and Aminu  is probably a small-ball four in an ideal world. Neither is a starting three.

So while most have looked to the center position as the part of the roster Dell has to concentrate on, I go the other way. Long term, Anthony Davis will be this franchise’s starting center. He already is the center in the most devastating lineup that this team puts out on the floor and if this team has aspirations of being a top level team, it has to get Davis and Anderson on the court as much as possible. Jason Smith is a solid backup big and Jeff Withey has some long term potential as a guy who can protect the rim off the bench. The big hole on this roster is at the small forward position, and you better believe that Dell Demps has every intention of filling it.

What They Need

If the other four starters are Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, and Anthony Davis, the fifth starter needs to be able to rebound outside of his area. Holiday is an average rebounder for his position, Davis is above average for a center and could be elite, but both Anderson and Gordon are well below average. He also needs to have length to close out on shooters, since the Pelicans hedge and help so often. Offensively, he needs to be able to provide enough of a threat offensively from the perimeter, so that teams cannot put their small forwards on Anderson. Basically, they need Aminu with Morrow’s shooting ability.

What They Have

The Pelicans have some assets and flexibility if they want to solve this problem sometime in the next 12 months. They have a collection of expiring contracts and young, cheap players to send out in a trade this February, as teams go full throttle with their tank. They can put Aminu, Stiemsma, and Rivers in a package and trade for a guy who makes upwards of 11.5 million back in salary. Throw in a couple other minimum deals, and that could climb up to $14 million. They could also throw Pierre Jackson into a deal as a sweetener. He could be ideal for some teams trying to save money, as he is a future prospect who stays off your cap this year.

Dell doesn’t have any picks thus June, but he does have the ability to get 8-9 million under the cap, while keeping the core five intact, and he can also take advantage of some exceptions while staying well under the luxury tax. Don’t rule out the possibility of Dell trading a future 1st round pick to get into the middle or the end of this draft, either. As much as scouts love the top end of this draft, the middle and beyond is no different than any other year. With teams salivating over guys with “upside” and “potential”, a guy who is NBA ready could slide down the board and Dell could be there to pick him up.

Short Term Targets

Caron Butler, Milwaukee Bucks, 33 years old, 1 year/$8 million left on contract

The Bucks took on Butler because they were shooting for that coveted 8th spot in the East yet again. But unfortunately (actually, fortunately) for them, they are horrible this year and it looks like they just might be the worst team in a terrible Eastern Conference. Obviously, Butler is not part of their long term plans, so he could be had for relatively little. He is in the top 10 amongst SF’s this year in Defensive Rebound percentage, and he is a savvy defender who can hit the three. Last season, he hit a career high 128 treys, shooting 39%. He is actually well ahead of that pace this season, and is shooting a respectable 37% despite not getting many open looks.

The hard part will be figuring out a trade that works for all parties. I can imagine the Bucks agreeing to a deal in which they get Aminu and Stiemsma to save some money and give them an up close looks at a young SF, but will Aminu agree? Remember, he has the ability to veto any trade this season, and nobody would blame him for not wanting to go to Milwaukee. If you take Aminu out of the equation, you have to include someone like Rivers to get the salary close enough and that wouldn’t be worth it for a rental.

Luol Deng, Chicago Bulls, 28, 1 yr/$14.275 million

Deng seems like he has been in the league forever but he is only 28 years old. The worry is that he has played so many minutes that his body will break down before it is supposed to. But even if he plays every game this year, he will still head into the offseason with about 2000 less minutes played than Iguodala had when he hit free agency last offseason. And if he comes to a place like New Orleans, where he will be asked to do less and play less, it could extend his career an additional year or two.

On the court and off, Deng could provide a lot of things this team sorely lacks. First and foremost, he immediately becomes the teams most accomplished player, both individually and with regard to team accomplishments. Unlike the other guys on this roster, he knows what it takes to succeed in the postseason as he has hit big shots and guarded big-time players when it has mattered most. On the court, he would instantly become the teams’ best perimeter defender and a more than capable rebounder (7.4 per game this year). On the offensive end, he is a threat from mid-range and he also gets to the free throw line quite a bit.

The hardest part of a Deng trade would be sending enough salary out to make the trade legal. The Pelicans would have to send out close to $10 million, and there are only two ways to do that: 1.) Trade one of the Finishing Five 2.) Gut the bench. I don’t think that anybody wants to do the former for Deng, so let’s look at what the latter would entail. You would have to trade Stiemsma, Aminu, Rivers, and Smith for Deng. The first three aren’t currently in the rotation, so in some ways, it is basically Smith for Deng straight up. You are giving up a future prospect in Rivers, but how much time is he going to get moving forward anyway? The Bulls, meanwhile, save about 9 million when you factor in luxury tax payments, get a prospect in Rivers, and a close looks at two guys in Smith and Aminu who fit what they do.

Losing Smith means Davis has to give you 35+ minutes at Center and/or Amundson and Withey have to play more. The trade also kills your depth, unless you can get something from Darius Miller. You can also bring in Pierre Jackson and another D-League player or two. Really, how good do they have to be to offset the loss of Rivers and Stiemsma? Again, the real loss here is Smith. But you can resign Deng this summer and have the full MLE to get a 3rd big.

Deng is listed in the ‘short term” here, but if a team manages his minutes and doesn’t demand so much of him, there is every reason to believe that he can have another 5-6 productive seasons in the league. There is always appeal in the young guy with “upside”, but you can argue that there is nothing that this team needs more than an experience vet who knows who he is as a player and knows how to win.

Long Term Targets

Jordan Hamilton, Denver Nuggets, 23, 2014 UFA

Because Denver fears the luxury tax, and because they have so much invested at the swing position, they declined a team option for Hamilton that would have paid him just over two million dollars next year. Now, he will hit free agency next summer with no restrictions and he can get a multi-year deal worth more than twice that annually. He is only getting 18 minutes per game this year, but he is providing Denver with the exact things that the Pelicans team needs. He is a solid defender, who rebounds the ball at a great clip (19.7% DRR), and hits the three (basically shoots 3-8 from deep per 36 minutes).

A fair deal for Hamilton will be in the neighborhood of what Quincy Pondexter got with his recent extension (4 years/$14 million) and the Pelicans could give him that by using their cap room or the MLE. Hamilton gives them another young guy that can grow with the team and has the potential to become a plus defender with his length and quickness. Hamilton is, by far, the least proven of this bunch of NBA players, but he might just be the best fit for the direction this team is heading.

Wilson Chandler, Denver Nuggets, 26, 3 years/$20.2 million remaining

The Nuggets have a logjam at the swing position and they also could have a good pick in a draft loaded with small forwards if the Knicks keep stinking it up. Maybe they move Gallinari, maybe it is Chandler, maybe both, who knows? But if they do want to move one of those guys next summer to open up some cap space, the Pelicans would love to take Chandler off their hands. Chandler had a defensive rebound rate of 18% from 2011-2013 and he has hit about 1.5 three’s per game over the last two seasons.

He fits the ‘young veteran’ profile that Dell loves to target and he is versatile enough to defend three positions. The Nuggets will be right up against the tax next season and that would be before they sign their draft picks or use any of their cap exceptions. If they want to create some room to help balance out their roster, an uneven trade like Chandler for Rivers or Pierre Jackson could happen this summer, and the Pelicans would have the flexibility to get it done.

Doug McDermott, Creighton, 21, 2014 NBA Draft

McDermott will light it up statistically again this season, but he will fall down the board because he won’t impress at the scouting combine and he will lack the upside that GM’s covet. Demps has been seen scouting him multiple times over the past few years, and from a rebounding and shooting perspective, he could be a perfect fit. His lack of lateral quickness and small wingspan will probably mean that he will struggle defensively, but the hope would be that he could overcome it by playing good team defense.

Regardless, if Demps can land a pick in the late teens or 20’s for a future lottery protected first round pick, you think that Dell would pull the trigger for the right player. If McDermott plummets down the board, as I expect he might, then he could be that guy.


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