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Is a Low Post Defender Really Needed?
Listening to Monty and Dell in the end of season press conferences, it was hard not to notice how often they mentioned putting a big man next to Anthony Davis (especially Monty!). They talked about the nights that guys like Nene and Al Jefferson tore us apart, and Monty talked about how it “wasn’t fair” to ask AD to cover guys like Andrew Bogut and Robin Lopez because they have 30-40 pounds on him. Thankfully, both men did acknowledge that they can’t just add another offensively challenged player just because he happens to be 7-feet tall. That’s nice and all, but if you want a big low post defender who is also solid on the offensive end, he is going to cost you a pretty penny, and its not like Dell has a ton of room to play with.
Would it be nice to add another big body who can defend? Of course! But is it a priority? I don’t tend to think that it is. First of all, Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis are going to finish games. They are just too talented not to. And when you watch NBA playoff games, you see that 80% of teams tend to go small late anyway. Beyond that, Davis and Anderson figure to get 70-75 minutes a game. Unless Monty goes with a short rotation – only playing three bigs (unlikely) – then you are probably looking at 15-18 minutes for the big man that Dell is searching high and low for.
Lastly, I am here to argue that defending opposing bigs in the post should not be a high priority. Look, no defense is going to be perfect. You won’t be able to protect the rim, defend the low post, and lock down the perimeter; And if you can do all those things, your offense is probably going to be terrible because you have so many one-dimensional defensive minded players (see: Memphis, Indiana, and Chicago). You just can’t afford to assemble a perfect roster in the NBA. So the question is: What weakness is the easiest to cover up? To me, the answer is low post defense.
At the end of the day, the Pelicans are going to have to get through the Western Conference in order to make their way to the Finals, and while this conference is terrific, it is not loaded with guys who can destroy your team in the low post. Demarcus Cousins is obviously the most dominant 260+ pound big out West, but c’mon – Are you worried about the Kings becoming a perennial playoff contender? And even if they do, does anybody remember how the Pelicans defeated the Kings when the team was relatively healthy? They put Ryno on him and occasionally doubled; forced him into a bunch of turnovers and then drew him out to the perimeter on the other end with Davis and Anderson launching jumpers while the other one crashed the rim.
The fact is that offenses run through perimeter players now, with teams driving to the bucket and/or kicking out for threes. This describes literally every team currently in the Western Conference playoffs not named Memphis. To further emphasize the point, take a look at the chart below featuring the primary low post bigs from each team.
|Player||Pts/Possession||# of Possessions||FG%||Assists||Sec. Assists|
For those who don’t know, a secondary assist is basically a hockey assist. If a guy passes it to another player who swings it to the shooter (who drains it), he gets a secondary assist. In addition to points per possession, I wanted to list assists and secondary assists because a common argument is that when a big man gets doubled, he creates offense for others. I grew up watching Hakeem Olajuwon, and believe me, when a guy is a terrific low post scorer and a good passer, this is definitely true.
But we don’t have those guys in the league anymore. Marc Gasol is a terrific passer, but more often than not it is out of the high post. And he is not a physical or dominant enough low post player that you have to double him anyway. You have to double someone like DeMarcus Cousins, but you know what happens when you do? The guy turns the ball over. Cousins has had more turnovers than assists every single year he has been in the league. Cousins had 70 turnovers this season out of his 508 low post possessions. He turned the ball over more often than he drew a shooting foul in the low post.
I am not picking on Cousins here; I am just showcasing him because he is the BEST low post player in our conference. This is a guy we are supposed to be worried about enough to bring in another big so that either Anthony or Ryno can take a seat on the bench while some mid-level big man defends him. Or how about Dwight Howard? A guy who turns the ball over more than 20% of the time on his low post possessions! A guy who you can always just wrap up if he gets to close and send him to the line. Are you really going to go out and make sure that you have someone to defend a guy who averages 0.76 points per possession on his low post shots? A guy who creates 4 or 5 points a game for his teammates on kickouts, and turns it over so often with his back to the basket?
Dwight Howard gets the Rockets 0.76 points on each post up possession. James Harden averages 1.02 points per possession. Chandler Parsons averages 1 point per possession. Heck, Jeremy Lin – who didn’t have a good year by any measure – averaged 0.9 points per possession. So why in the world would you want to discourage the Rockets from dumping the ball down into the post? I would hope for just the opposite. Keep dumping it down to Howard down there while Howard tries to cover either Anderson or AD on the other end.
And the funny thing is if we go back to those games Dell and Monty keep bringing up – the Bobcats and Wizards – the Pelicans only gave up 90 and 94 points in those games. They accomplished what they wanted to on that end. Yes, Nene and Jefferson went off, but those teams went a combined 6 of 29 from three and the Pelicans lost those games because of their inability to put up points on the other end. In those two games, Monty played one of the 7-footers every minute and they combined to go 6-15 from the field, scoring just 16 points. In two full games!
Look, I am not totally against adding another big body if the Pelicans don’t have to give up too much to get him. I have advocated for a low price vet like Kosta Koufous for a while, and would give up an asset like Pierre Jackson to get him. But, I don’t think that the team needs to go out and target a low post defender, simply because we have beasts like Andrew Bogut and Samuel Dalembert in our conference. If the team wants to save AD’s body, I get that. That would be smart over the course of the regular season. All I am saying is that if we are talking about simply winning or losing a game, this is not something the Pelicans need to rush out and fix.
Re-sign Smith for a year and bring back Withey and Ajinca. You need to reduce the wear and tear on AD’s body, then play those three 15-20 of the minutes that the opposing brute is on the court. But don’t dedicate too many resources to locating what basically amounts to a middle reliever in baseball. Because that is all this team needs – a guy to eat up innings (or minutes in this case) that can keep your more valuable players fresh. And if the Pelicans do target a big man in free agency or via trade, it should not simply be a big body who can defend the low post, but rather a big that can defend the pick and roll and who can rebound. That is what is truly missing from the collection of big men on this roster.
This isn’t the 90’s anymore (something I think we have to continually remind Monty until he believes it) and the reality is that low post scoring simply does not beat you anymore. You don’t need a guy to combat Shaq, Mourning, The Admiral, Hakeem, and Ewing like you did back then. This league has 3 or 4 good low post centers and a couple above average ones. But even when you have good low post bigs, the perimeter guys are still more efficient and are the options teams go to when the game is on the line. Bigs only seem to make an impact when they can crash the offensive glass and get an easy two. So yes, go get a guy who can corral misses, but don’t waste your time looking for a low post defender.
Totally agree, if you add 15-20 minutes a game for Jason Smith, and Withey improves to grab some minutes, this team is only one player away from competing.
We have to find a way to get Carmelo here. Im personally not a huge fan of his, but think he's the missing link to this team.
I agree with this completely! I actually like the idea of keeping Ajinça, WIthey and bringing back Smith on a one yr deal. I'm a big Smith fan and would love for us to keep him around to kind of be our Nick Collison. Having 3 decent bigs will give us depth and Davis and Anderson will absolutely be closing!
I think that after another full offseason with the Pels that Whitey will probably be the starting center, or at least will earn that spot by the end of the year. He has great defensive instincts and gets BLOCKS. With a little more seasoning he could be a great defender and a great compliment to AD!
Alright, to play devil's advocate and to mention who I think is the most obvious name the pels fans want to try for this summer at center, what about Greg Monroe? If the pels stretch Gordon would they have the space for that presumable max salary? I love the idea of Monroe and Davis together. Also will Ryno will 100 percent next year?
Great piece. Completely agree with everything you said. It is nuts that a legit center seems to be the priority.
If we look at the Al Jefferson game that is bugging Monty, Jefferson had 33 pts on 30 FGA, 6 FTA, 1 assist, and 4 TOs. Perhaps he had some hockey assists, but the Pelicans played good defense on him that night. That Monty doesn't acknowledge his inefficiency on that night is VERY troubling.
The more he talks, the less confidence I have in him leading this team forward.
I wonder how much of Monty's need a 'big man' comments are a message to AD saying 'we will make sure you don't get beat up in the post'? We will see how much action the team takes in this area.
I guess this is assuming Jason Smith won't be kept by the team? Because the way I'm seeing it, (with a healthy team) next year, our bigs could be Davis, Smith, Anderson, Ajinça, and WIthey. And I don't really see a problem with that if the rest of the crew can stay healthy. As you said, Davis and Ryno would likely be finishing games anyway and getting the most minutes.
Great article Mike. Unfortunately I don't think Monty Williams will ever change his perspective on this. The first thing he said after the season was that they needed a center. Then in passing he mentioned we needed a wing. It's just the most frustrating thing listening to Monty talk this way considering that your best two front-line players are already on the roster.
Pelicans should bring in a big body guy who can rebound and defend....not another 7 footer, but a energy guy like Jeff Adrien or another undersized height wise, but a solidly built guy .....SF is the biggest need for the Pelicans ....I think Monty handled Withey the same way he handled AD is his first year. I wouldn't be surprised if he is in the starting line up next season.......
if the pacers do fall...i think dell should offer EG for Hibbert....both salary is a match....and i think they cannot re-sign stepehenson this summer....so they get a replacement and finally EG is back home....
Good article. After Dell, Monty, and the TP I think it's clear that the Pels need a wing before another big. I hope they don't eat up the remainder of cap space with a Steamer type signing.
Your article outlines the problem the franchise finds itself in. They have gone with the "one more year" approach for Monty and probably Dell too (I happen to think Dell is less of a problem). Monty wants a big man to defend the centers they may face <25% of the time instead of lining up wings who create matchups for your OPPONENT every game. All reactive. Same ol'Monty.
Where is the benchmark with this "one more year" approach? Is it the playoffs? The western conf playoffs have been phenomenal. If they make the playoffs, is all forgiven and Monty gets an extension? Does Dell make GM panic moves? This approach has worked in the past. It's also resulted in having the wrong guy for too long. Important offseason. Can't wait to see how it plays out.
It all comes down to the fact that the matchups are reactive to what the other team is doing.
Let them feed Cousins in the post. After he makes a layup Brow will destroy him streaking back to the offensive end. When Demarcus is winded he'll be benched.
We NEED to run. This is where our strength lies.
I really enjoyed this, and I agree on almost all points. I think the reality is that the team takes protecting Davis much more seriously than the fans do. I'm not sure I agree with that, but I think they are going to pursue a big body until they feel they have found their guy or Davis is big enough to take the beating himself.
I completely agree with this article. I've been saying that we don't need to worry about too many changes this year, but just run with our healthy squad. I may be delusional, but I don't think that Ajinca and Withey were all that bad given the circumstances. Ajinca, who obviously doesn't know many techniques and moves on defense yet, was able to hold his own when he wasn't fouling. And Withey, who got PT a year early before he could hit the weight room, also held his own. I don't believe we have to be dominant in low post defense, just be able to compete with guys. I also think our help defense got better towards the end of the season with big men. Looking for a solid season from Ajinca and Withey next season. If they improve at all, I think they'll be a couple of very serviceable big men for us.
@Jason Quigley I personally think Smith comes back on a cheap 1 yr deal. And I think our bigs are enough, but again, Monty and Dell dont seem to agree
@mojart You can't be serious.
@Caffeinedisaster And floor spacing is probably our next biggest advantage. We could have four 3-point shooters on the floor at all times, and AD, who can shoot from anywhere inside the 3-point line. Penetrators like Evans and Holiday couldn't ask for a more perfect situation for their styles.
@Steven J I agree with you. And they both look to only get better.