New Orleans Pelicans MLE Tournament: Andray Blatche vs. Jordan Hill

Published: June 20, 2014

Andray Blatche (3 years and $15 million)

by Jake Madison

I’m going to reiterate what I said about both Emeka Okafor and Andray Blatche in the first round: Monty Williams wants a center for the Pelicans. Whether you agree or not it is what he wants. The team views Anthony Davis as a power forward, and if they don’t sign a quality center this offseason we’ll be stuck with Greg Stiemsma-esque types to fill the void.

And we all saw how terribly that worked out.

Now, despite what Mason said in Hill’s first round win, Jordan Hill is not a center. listed his playing time at 37% power forward and 21% at center. Those are slightly confusing because they represent the percentage of the team’s total minutes the player was at that position. shows hill playing 73% at the 4 spot and 21% at center (and 6% at small forward).  The season prior: 85% PF. Does that scream center to you? In fact, Hill’s PER only took off once he started playing power forward. Want to know his PER during the seasons where he spent more time at the 4? 15.0, 13.0, and 15.8. So right about average.

As for what Mason has to say about power forwards, let me quote him for arguing against Kris Humphries in the first round:

As for his opponent, Kris Humphries, my only question is – why? Another power forward? At least some of the other PFs in this tourney are hybrid bigs who can play center as well, but Hump is strictly a 4. Or at least, he was until this past season, when he saw a considerable amount of minutes as the team’s center; unfortunately for him, that didn’t go so well. Per 82games, he allowed a PER of over 20 and an effective field goal percentage of over 60% to opposing centers while filling that position for the Celtics. I’ll be the first to say that he is solid on the offensive side of the ball, and his rebounding is borderline elite. The problem is that signing him would be a poor usage of very limited cap space, as he can’t effectively play the 5 and he is behind both Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson at the 4.

Even if you consider Hill a hybrid, and I wouldn’t because he’d need to be closer to 50-50 to really be, he’s terrible at defending other centers. say he allows a PER of 19.6. Yeah, I’m not excited about that.

But let’s focus on Blatche. This dude IS a center. The past two years he has posted a PER of 18.8 and 21.9. Those two years he played center 81 and 93 percent of the time. Yes give me that guy.

Blatche would certainly see an increase in minutes with the Pelicans and with how his game has improved since signing with Brooklyn I’m excited to see that. His per 36 minute average over the past two years: 18.9 points, 9.2 rebounds, .50 eFG%. Give him the minutes allocated to the Stiemsma, Ajinca, and Whithey center-by-committee and all of a sudden the Pelicans have an incredibly nice complimentary big man on a reasonable three year contract.

Offensively, Blatche would fit in well. He likes to play in the low post. Playing down there forces defensive to either double or send a help defender to take away the easy looks. Well, the defender most likely to help out would be the guy defending Anthony Davis, which frees the franchise to do whatever he wants. We decry Monty for wanting a center, but in terms of game planning it makes a lot of sense.

Honestly, there is no denying that Hill’s stats are better than Blatche’s. But, this debate isn’t about comparing the same thing. It’s Power Forward to Center. Or apples to oranges if you will allow me to be clichéd. Comparing their stats doesn’t explain the same thing since they are playing different positions.

A center is what makes the most sense for this team. You know, I know it, and Monty Williams wants it. Please don’t make us sit through another season of a guy like Greg Stiemsma: Vote Blatche.

Jordan Hill (2 years and $8 million)

by Mason Ginsberg

In the first round, I dove heavily into why Jordan Hill’s skill set is exactly what this Pelicans team needs from a third big – one who has evenly split his career minutes between PF and C since entering the NBA (per, indicative of his coaches’ confidence in him to be effective at either spot. His front court “position” has really been more a function of his teammates’ ability than his own (thanks to his flexibility), and Monty Williams wouldn’t think twice about using a player like Jordan Hill as his center, as his skill set complements both Ryan Anderson AND Anthony Davis very nicely. Before moving on to my new topic which I promised to cover last week (his elite rebounding) and dispelling the notion that Blatche could in any way be a smarter signing than Hill, let’s recap last week’s column.

  1. He can flat out score, and efficiently, too. Hill’s per-game stats have never jumped off the page because he has never averaged more than 21 minutes per game. However, he averaged 16.7 points on 12.5 shots (along with 12.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks) per 36 minutes last season, and THAT has to catch people’s eyes, as should his PER of 19.3. This isn’t just a one- season spike, either; Hill’s win shares per 48 minutes over his last three seasons are .118, .147, and .141, with the most recent number being particularly impressive given the Lakers’ poor record in the 2013-14 season.
  2. His defensive skill set aligns perfectly with the Pelicans’ defensive needs. Hill is far better defensively than people may realize, and his best defensive skill has been the achilles heel for New Orleans centers for a little while now – pick and roll defense. His lateral agility and overall awareness when forced onto a guard in pick & roll situations is not matched by many. Additionally, he isn’t bad at protecting the paint, as his opponents’ FG% at the rim ranked among the top half of the 91 players who had at least 4 shots at the rim attempted against them per game (minimum 45 games played).
  3. Rebounding. Let’s jump into it.

Over the past three years (among regular rotation players), only ten players have finished a season with a total rebound rate of at least 19%, a block rate of at least 3% with a PER above the league average. Only two of those players were able to do it in all three seasons – Dwight Howard and Jordan Hill. Simply put, the guy is a rebounding machine. But it’s more than just the raw data. The MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference has a research paper competition each year, and the 2014 award for the top submission went to this paper called “The Three Dimensions of Rebounding” by Rajiv Maheswaran. In this fantastic analysis, the author breaks down rebounding into this simple formula:

Rebounding = (Positioning + Hustle) x Conversion

If you scroll through the paper, you’ll see that Maheswaran provides charts for the top players in each dimension on both the offensive and defensive glass. Hill’s name is all over the place on both ends of the court, as he ranks among the top 10 in offensive rebound positioning, offensive crashing and blocking out, defensive rebounding hustle, offensive rebound conversion, and offensive rebound crashing and conversion combined. While Maheswaran notes that the positioning dimension could be due to multiple factors (skill, luck, design), the other two are largely explained by talent and skill. This paper is really a fine work, and I encourage everyone to read all seven pages if they have time; for now, the simple realization of Hill’s extreme effectiveness on the boards will suffice. As for Hill’s opponent today, Mr. Blatche, the argument is really quite simple – in every single area of need for the Pelicans out of the center position, Jordan Hill is the statistically better player, and for a cheaper price tag than Blatche.

Hill Blatche comp

As you can see, the only areas in which Blatche outperformed Hill last season are total minutes, assist rate, and steal rate.  The minutes difference is pretty much irrelevant since both played over 20 minutes per game in over 70 games, and while the assist and steal rate differences certainly matter, those categories are secondary to the core of what is expected from the team’s third big man. In every single other measure listed – all of which are largely more important – Hill is the better player. He scores much more efficiently, gets to the line more frequently, rebounds much better, blocks more shots, turns the ball over less, and uses fewer of his team’s possessions (given the Pelicans’ roster, I view this as a good thing). Open and shut case.



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