New Orleans Pelicans Fill Final Roster Spot with PG Gal Mekel

Published: December 5, 2014

(Photo courtesy of Dallas News Photograpgy)

The Pelicans, likely in large part due their lack of guard depth after the injury to Eric Gordon, have signed 6’3″ point guard Gal Mekel to join Dante Cunningham in filling the two roster spots vacated by Darius Miller and Patric Young. Though terms of the contract were not announced by the team, both Roey Gladstone of Israeli Channel 5 and ESPN’s Marc Stein have said that his deal includes a team option for next season, with Stein adding that the deal is non-guaranteed. Mekel, 26, is the second player of Israeli origin to become a Pelican this year, although the first one (Omri Casspi) was only on the roster for a very brief time. Mekel played in the NBA for the first time last season, appearing in 31 games for the Dallas Mavericks and averaging just under 10 minutes per game. He played NCAA basketball for two years at Wichita State, afterwards leaving to head back to Israel to play professionally there. Mekel bounced back and forth between professional leagues in Italy and Israel before signing a 3-year, fully guaranteed minimum contract with the Mavericks last season. He made the opening day roster this season after a preseason which showed legitimate progress, but was the odd man out when Minnesota bought out J.J. Barea, who returned to Dallas.

Statistically speaking, Mekel averaged 9.0 points on 10.6 shots, 7.8 assists, 3.3 rebounds, 0.5 steals, and 3.8 turnovers per 36 minutes of play. The most impressive stat in that group is his assist numbers, as averaging over 7.5 assists per 36 minutes would rank him in the top 10 this season among starting point guards. (That list: Rubio, Rondo, Lawson, Paul, Wall, Westbrook, Curry, & Teague). Mekel averaged about as many assists per 100 possessions (11.1) and turnovers (5.4) as Jrue Holiday during his all-star season in Philly (11.3 and 5.3 respectively). Of course, Mekel was normally playing against opposing backups, unlike each of those players listed. He shot just 25% from beyond the arc, and his prior professional history doesn’t give much of a reason to think that percentage is an anomaly. No other type of consistent scoring should be expected, either, as Mekel averaged only one free throw attempt for every seven shot attempts, and only converts about two thirds of his free throws (very similar to Austin Rivers) when he actually gets to the line.

If in search of a comparison to a former New Orleans point guard, I think Greivis Vasquez may be the closest match when comparing rookie seasons. Mekel isn’t the same caliber shooter as Vasquez, but both players had somewhat comparable on-court production apart from Vasquez’s superior scoring ability. Both players are slow for their position but have above average size. Again, the #SmallSampleSizeAlert must be put in place for Mekel, as a 293 minute sample is minimal amount from which to draw any meaningful conclusions.

To date, no Pelicans player has stepped up to fill the backup point guard void, and given the time that Tyreke Evans has received with the starting lineup, deploying him in that role is not a currently feasible solution. Jimmer Fredette can shoot well and handle the ball decently enough, but is not a great passer and is a major negative on the defensive end. Austin Rivers is good at breaking down the defense, but hasn’t cured his case of tunnel-vision that he brought into the league two seasons ago. As a result, the Pelicans clearly wanted a player who could both competently defend the PG position as well as get teammates involved. Apart from Rivers, the team’s bench unit is largely incapable of creating their own shot.

Enter Gal Mekel. Will he be a savior to the Pelicans’ second unit? Unlikely, but he fills a role that the team desperately lacks right now: a passer and facilitator for that group who can help create open looks for teammates. The New Orleans bench has largely consisted of Ryan Anderson having to take difficult shots to bail out the rest of the second unit’s inability to generate any sort of reliable offense. Mekel’s passing ability should be able to help the shooters see more open looks. With a true point guard leading the way, Rivers may be able to get back to the spot-up perimeter shooting success that he experienced last season. The same should be true for Anderson, who has still posted a PER of 17.7 despite shooting a career low 33.0% from beyond the arc so far this year (Ryan has never fallen below a 3-point percentage of 36.5% in a season).

While our Bourbon Street Shots team collectively has not seen much of Mekel, I asked for a little help via Twitter from some of the Dallas Mavericks writers and asked them to give their quick take. Some interesting tidbits:


Mekel Tweets

Mekel Tweets 2

(Special thanks to Mr. Henderson, Karalla, & Brown for the valuable insight)

Mekel’s production throughout his professional career – links to which can be found below – seem to support these assessments from a few guys who watched him a lot over the past year, but still had a small sample size to work with themselves. Mekel’s biggest flaws seem to be his shooting and foot speed, but he brings a few skill sets that the Pelicans’ bench really lacks – passing, court vision, and defensive intensity.

Resources for Gal Mekel statistical info

Israeli Premier League
European Leagues

Here are some pretty recent highlights of Mekel in a preseason game just about 7 weeks ago; highlights include an alley-oop thrown over Roy Hibbert and a rare assist for an Aminu made 3-pointer:

Bonus clip: Doesn’t this look like a fun guy to have on your team?


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