A Little Talk on Big Men

Published: December 30, 2013

Jason: The way this team has played with Anderson compared to without Anderson is amazing. To me, he looks like a key piece to this team. And I mean key. He has weakness, particularly on defense and closer than 10 ft to the basket on offense, excepting putbacks, but it’s up to the brass to cover address those weaknesses with other talent and schemes. He’s 20th in the NBA in 3P% (0.429, 60/140) among players with significant minutes and attempts (at least 50 attempts, at least 400 minutes), and is top 5 in 3 point attempts per game and per 36 minutes. While Davis is out, he is the only big man the Pelicans have that opponents have to really worry about.

So, what do the Pelicans need to do keep shore up his weaknesses? And what do you think those weaknesses are? Did I miss any?

V: Here we go again with the “per 36” or whatever blah blah . . . Anderson is a “splasher.” Ye,s he can flat out shoot it! . . . and like Moses told the masses just before the waters were parted, “Remember, when you design an NBA Roster make sure you have a couple of 3-ballers on the team!” The problem is he is not and will not be a defender that allows you to sleep soundly at night. That’s not his role, he was hired to score the ball and stretch defenses to the ripping point! He will play hard for you and is very coachable, but if you don’t have decent enough defenders around him, his weakness will glow. The defensive weakness of others further exposes him . . . add to that the fact that the Pelicans rank #25 in Def.Eff., and you simply can’t hide his defensive limitations. It’s not his fault, as you knew what you were getting, a “deluxe 3-baller.”

  • Fair / poor vs pick-and-rolls
  • Fair ball side help defender
  • Step slow off-the-ball defender

I feel guilty looking at his defensive game and evaluating it since I look at him as a “pure shooter” and never thought he was a defender (He does give effort, however) . . . Anderson is a “It is what it is” kind of a player . . . a “Golden arm splasher” with just moments of defensive glitter . . . can’t blame him . . . never ask a player to do what he can’t do . . . ask only of him what he can do.

Jason: You say, “Tomato,” I say “Per 36 minutes.” Sue me.

So, I think we both agree that Anderson is worth the trouble, but those defensive weaknesses have to be addressed at the team level.

Davis came from his injury (relatively) quickly, but he’s may miss time due to little nicks or foul trouble (e.g. Nuggets). What do we do about the rest of the bigs when he is not out there? Is Stiemsma the best pairing for Anderson besides Davis, and Smith paired with Davis when Anderson is sitting? What about Withey?

V: The Smith and Anderson pairing doesn’t bother me (when Davis is not available) . . . both can score and move nicely without the ball . . . . Smith is an active big man who can also run the floor, and you can step him up the lane for those lane / circle jumpers, plus you can use either one of them in pick and roll play calls. If need be you can match Smith vs a 4 or a 5 . . . with both of them on the floor you have:

  • A long ball splasher
  • Two pick-and-roll bigs
  • Mid-range scorer / post player (Smith)
  • Smith as a `rim runner’ in the break
  • Defender vs 4 or 5 (Smith)
  • Work hard defender(Smith)
  • Improving “off the ball” big (Anderson)
  • Two hard working players

Stiemsma is a serviceable BIG who can provide some needed “bench minutes” who can be paired with either Smith or Anderson. Anderson, of course, would create more offensive spacing for you . . . Steimsma will give you hustle defending the lane / rim area . . . just don’t ask him to cover too large of an area. Effort rebounder . . . results to be determined.

Withey: You want me to fill up some space here or be blunt? He needs work and seasoning which will only come with time.

Jason: I agree that the bigs can work together in many ways, but the squad lacks some aggregate talent, even with Davis (and Stiemsma) available.

I am shocked that they are not being hurt as badly by opposing bigs as I expected, but the rebounding just is not enough, even if it is not as bad as I, perhaps naively, expected.

Defensively, it seems more like an issue with lapses (see: Amundson) than just a lack of capability. Do you agree? Is this just the price of having low dollar veterans getting significant minutes?

Also, Smith has been able to stay on the court because he is not fouling as much (lowest rate of his career… Per 36 minutes), but it seems his role as energy guy has changed… Is this the best Jason Smith? Kudos to him for stepping into the role the team needs, but can this lead to him being starting quality (say, top 20) in the NBA once he comes back from injury?

V: The collective defensive performance has its moments. The backside (weakside) of the defense is where my eyes gaze and seek out answers. The ‘step slow reaction’ to ball swings and coverage vs pick-and-rolls has, at times, pained my pupils . . . . When teams ‘space out’ the Pelicans and force them into long closeouts (locating 3-ballers and running them off the line) problems emerge. That’s why teams get open looks from that area . . . Defenses look slow when there is “having to think” where and when a player must cover . . . . Teams are getting those mid-range openings vs the Pels . . . .

I like Jason Smith as a player . . . he is more suited as a ‘off the bench” type who can just be allowed to “get after it” . . . play with energy in bursts. When players find themselves in a starting role, they have to adapt to pace . . . added minutes can affect a player’s performance as they are more comfortable playing with energy bursts coming off the bench. What you see with him now is what you get . . . will always hustle and bust his ass for you . . . mid-level big . . . he is what he is . . .

Jason: Stiemsma is slated to return to land of the available in the next couple of weeks, Davis is back, then Jason Smith left the rotation. The Pelicans added Alexis Ajinca after cutting Josh Childress to short up the talent and availability of big bodies. I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. He was `in his head’ after just a few games, which is a good thing, at least from where I sit, provided he comes out of his shell. What are your thoughts?

V: I observed Ajinca during the Denver game and chartered his “action” to get a feel for his game and skills. I’m sharing the notes I jotted down over the course of the game.

  • Not a bad pick-and-roll player. He’s a roll guy and seems to understand

    • What to do when he gets the ball out of this action
    • What to do when he does not

    Will seek position and block out assignments out of the play or will leave the area so as not to clog the area

  • When the ball is in the air, he will seek out a block out assignment . . . wish he was stronger, but he does a decent job in this area of play
  • From the elbow or high-post area, he will look below the offense for cutters . . . delivered two nice passes to moving targets . . . one led to a score, the other a missed shot
  • Decent screen setter . . . will post up and “show hands” as a target. Needs a little more strength to hold off defenders and when defending the post.
  • There was one certain play that was impressive as he set three different screens
    • A down screen and opened to the ball
    • When he didn’t receive the pass, he proceeded to set a back screen as he moved up the lane, opened up to the ball
    • As the shot was taken, he ran down the lane and put his body on an opposing player for the block out

    Was a nice series of offensive actions

  • Nice job changing ends of the floor, understands going from offense to defense. “Off the ball,” he seems to understand the concepts of help/rotate . . . a little hesitant . . . makes him appear a step slow at times. Again, his lack of lower body strength doesn’t help his post defense.
  • Decent rebounder when ball is in his area. Lack of strength makes it tougher to “shed block outs” but gives good effort . . . better offensive rebounder vs defensive rebounder . . .
  • Offensive game is about put-backs, little floaters, turnarounds . . . footwork isn’t bad . . . caught what was thrown to him . . .
  • Nice timing as he opened up to the ball for a weak side lob for a dunk
  • Footwork in the post could use some polishing, same with defending the post (struggled vs Howard at times in the Houston game . . . Howard too strong for him)

Summary: Like his feel for the game . . . nice court vision for a “big” . . . nice rebounder from his area . . . has hands . . . will change ends of the floor (not a flyer) but nice gait allows him to cover ground. From what I have seen so far, he appears to be a “good get” for the Pelicans as a backup frontline player. When paired with Davis, he allows Davis to roam as “4,” etc. Ajinca needs more GAME CONDITIONING for the NBA level . . . that should come with time . . . not a rugged banger type, but for a player to give you minutes (and the frontline needed another big), he gives you decent enough contributions.

These observations are based on observations from the Denver game as i compared them to previous performances. I grade players 1-5 . . . a 5+ rating is a STAR . . . Ajinca is a 3+ for now…

Jason: Thanks, Gerry. Let’s see how these guys play tonight against Robin Lopez tonight.

Gerry V is a 21-year NBA analyst, 17-year talk radio host, a 16-year coach, and current anchor for “Fox 8 New Orleans Morning Edition”, 5 a.m. – 9 a.m. Check out Gerry V’s Sports Editorial “I’m Just Sayin” on Fox 8 “Morning Edition” at 7:50, 8:50am Mondays & Fridays . . . also hosts “Gerry V’s “Talk Back Live on 99.5 WRNO New Orleans right after every Saints Sunday Game…. Follow Gerry V on twitter (@GVTalk).


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