Handicapping the Race for the Final Two Spots at the End of the Pelicans Bench

Published: September 18, 2015

With Norris Cole finally signing his qualifying offer, the Pelicans have 13 guys who are a lock to make the final roster – barring a trade between now and the beginning of the season. That means there are (at most) two spots left up for grabs, and at least five players who will be competing for them at training camp. The Pelicans have extended training camp contracts to a slew of guys who play different positions, who have different skill sets, and have different levels of NBA experience. Basically, they are open to any kind of player to take those spots and it will be a healthy competition that should produce better quality at the back end of the roster than the Pelicans have had in recent years.

For the purpose of this piece, I want to take a look at what each player might bring to the team and also look at what this team needs from those two positions, if they do in fact decide to carry 15 players on the roster. With that in mind, let’s start with the foundation and work our way to the window dressings.

What the Pelicans Currently Have

Rather than label guys by basic positions, I like to think of a roster in terms of skill sets and what each player can defend. Offensively, you are what the range on your shot is, and you are either a shot creator (for yourself and/or others) or you are not a shot creator. This separates a guy like Quincy Pondexter from Tyreke Evans, in my opinion. Both are listed as ‘G/F’ on the program, but one can regularly create for himself and others and the other guy cannot.

On defense, you can defend in space or you can not. You can defend ball handlers or you can protect the paint/rim. The elite ones (hint: one eyebrow) can do both. With that in mind, this is what the Pelicans currently have:

Shot Creators: Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson (in a different way), and Norris Cole

Guys with Deep Range: All the guys above plus Quincy Pondexter, Alonzo Gee, and Luke Babbitt

Guys with Medium Range: All those above plus Ajinca and Cunningham

Low Post Scorers: Maybe Anthony Davis

Guys who Can Defend Ball Handlers: Jrue, Cole, Tyreke, Gordon (average), Quincy, Gee, AD

Guys who can Defend in Space: All of the above, plus occassionally Cunningham

Guys who can Defend the Rim: AD and Ajinca, and Asik (if he returns to form)

So, what is still needed on this team? It appears that a low post player on offense and a rim protector on D would be ideal, though those guys cost a pretty penny and aren’t going to be available on a minimum contract. You can argue that in Gentry’s system that more shot creators are needed. When you factor in the injury histories of Jrue, Gordon, and Tyreke, it would not be insane to assume two of those guys are out at the same time at some point in this season. If that happens, you are left with Cole and whichever one is still standing as your backcourt creators for 48 minutes. In addition, how many guys on this roster do you trust to stay in front of a top-level point guard? And now, how many if Jrue is limited or out?

Last season, Festus Ezili and Justin Holiday were end of the bench guys for Golden State who ended up giving the team nearly 1200 combined minutes, so it is not unreasonable for the final two roster spots to have a minor contribution this year. Injuries and Gentry wanting to play 11-12 guys a night in the regular season rotation could mean that these spots actually matter. So who should get them? Who will get them? Let’s take a look at that right now.

The Candidates

Sean Kilpatrick, Guard

Why He Makes the Team: You want a guy who can create for himself and has the confidence to defend top-level point guards? Kilpatrick is your guy then. Kilpatrick is an aggressive guy on both sides of the ball and that fits with the mindset Gentry wants this team to play with. When you watch him play, you see a poor man’s Leandro Barbosa – a guy that Gentry has coached twice now and seems to have an affinity for. Kilpatrick is lightning quick and loves to attack in the open court. He looks to be improving his outside game as well, going from 27% in his first D-League season to over 40% in year 2 on six attempts per game. He is also an excellent FT shooter, and that has shown to be a better predictor for NBA 3-point shooting than college or D-League 3-pt percentage.

When looking at the roster, Kilpatrick wouldn’t get a sniff if Jrue Holiday was healthy, but let’s say Holiday goes down again for a stretch. Yes, Tyreke handles the ball more and Cole’s minutes go up, but who do you trust to defend opposing point guards or push the ball in the open court beyond that? Basically, if Kilpatrick makes the roster, he is Jrue Holiday insurance and perhaps a guy they want to take over Cole’s spot next year. The Pelicans could have Kilpatrick locked in for a measly 980K next year and just $1.2 million the following year as the cap soars. When you compare that to some guys he is competing with, who are only locked in for 1 year, that is a huge advantage.

Why He Doesn’t Make the Team: Backup guard types that like to shoot but aren’t great distributors are a dime a dozen. In fact, I would go to say that there are more of them than any kind of player in the world. You can pull them in the draft, out of Europe, out of the D-League – wherever, any time you want. That fact is the reason why Mo Williams didn’t get any decent contract offers and why Cole wasn’t a hot commodity this summer. There are literally hundreds of guys around the world right now with that skill set that don’t have guaranteed NBA contracts. If Kilpatrick is not special, the team can just let him walk and he or somebody like him will be readily available to sign if the worst does occur.

Odds: 3 to 1

I think it is more likely that Kilpatrick gets cut than he gets retained, though I can see a scenario in which the Pelicans hold on to him. Again, he has an amazing long-term contract and he does have some of the skill sets that Gentry values and the Pelicans will need if Jrue is out. But we have seen Dell recycle backup guards last season, and if he doesn’t love a guy, it is on to the next one. Kilpatrick’s salary won’t be fully guaranteed until January 10th, meaning that the Pels can give him a trial run until then and kick him to the curb with no penalty if he is not developing. Only 50,000 is guaranteed if he makes the opening day roster. So, based on his level of play compared to some of the other guys, I would consider him an underdog, but his contract structure makes it a real possibility.

Bryce Dejean-Jones, Guard/Forward

Why He Makes the Team: Jones played in an uptempo system at Iowa State, and then had some success with the Pelicans Summer League team in Vegas. He will already be ahead of some of his competitors when it comes to terminology and system, and he showed the coaching staff a terrific outside stroke in those games. Jones shot 62% overall in summer league and 50% from deep while playing solid defense and he had the ability to guard multiple positions. And like Kilpatrick, he has an amazing contract that does not become fully guaranteed for the first year until January 10th and allows the Pelicans to keep him at a bare bones cost for three seasons if they so choose.

With Quincy Pondexter still recovering from offseason surgery, Jones could be seen as insurance, and also a guy who could replace Alonzo Gee as a bit player next season if Gee chooses to bolt. Jones is also a guy that the Pelicans can choose to put in the D-League for some seasoning, trying to develop their own personal Danny Green the way that the Spurs did. Throughout college, Jones was one of those guys who did everything well but nothing great, but if he can continue to develop the deep ball, he could be a contributor on a Gentry coached team at a bargain basement price.

Why He Doesn’t Make the Team: The Pelicans are loaded at the 2 and 3, and it would be hard for Jones to ever see the court. And things are unlikely to change in future seasons, as the Pelicans look to continue to upgrade those spots with high level talent. Jones is a dependent offensive weapon who might be average on the defensive end in the NBA. Might be. He has no elite skills of which to speak of and doesn’t seem to have a tremendously high upside either. Maybe in 2 or 3 years he is Alonzo Gee, but it would be hard to see the Pelicans using a roster spot on such limited potential.

Odds: 6 to 1

It is going to be hard for Jones to make this team considering what the Pelicans already have on the roster and the guys he is going up against. He would need to show that his 50% shooting from 3 was not a fluke and convince the team that he can be a specialist in that area – basically a wing version of Luke Babbitt. Maybe he has made a huge jump in that department, and if he has then he has a chance. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Chris Douglas-Roberts, Guard/Forward

Why He Makes the Team: At his best, Roberts can get out in the open court and score the basketball. At his worst, he is a complete non-factor. Two seasons ago, it looked like CDR was finally on the verge of breaking out for Charlotte after showing so much potential in college playing for Coach Cal. It looked like he had finally developed a three-point shot (39%) to go along with his open court abilities, and he actually looked like a real NBA player. Then, the offseason came and few teams had interest. He landed with the Clippers eventually, playing just 103 total minutes last year, but we saw what he could do in 2013-14 when given a chance.

He was a consistent double-digit scorer for a playoff team just 16 months ago, and also played solid defense while dishing out assists and grabbing some boards. In March and April of a playoff run, he put up nearly 15 points per 36 mins as a 7th man for a team that needed scoring punch. And he did it rather efficiently, with a TS% of 59%. All this for a team who played a slow tempo and didn’t have half the talent the Pelicans do on their current roster. If THAT guy comes to training camp, he has a shot to make the final roster.

Why He Doesn’t Make the Team: Outside of those two months, CDR’s NBA career has been rather uneventful. He was a mid-2nd round pick in 2008, and has had far more downs than ups in the league since then. His overall body of work suggests that he isn’t a good shooter and that there isn’t one skill that would even be considered above average in the NBA, let alone great. His contract also isn’t as friendly as Kilpatrick’s and Jones’s, as he is basically on two minimum deals that guarantee at an earlier date and don’t include a 3rd year option.

Odds: 10 to 1

Roberts has had plenty of chances in the NBA, most likely due to his incredible performance as a college player on an all-time great team. But the truth is that he really hasn’t lived up to the reputation he has carried over from Memphis, and there is no skill that he brings to an NBA team that can’t be easily replaced by someone else. He is truly a replacement level player, save for those two months in Charlotte. His only chance is if he can recapture that magic for training camp. Otherwise, he will simply be a footnote in the Pelicans 2015-16 season.

Corey Webster, Guard

Why He Makes the Team: Webster is probably the hungriest out of all these guys, and you can never count out a guy like that. He has been playing in the Australian League since 2008, and this might be his one and only shot to make an NBA roster. Webster is a good shooter who can get hot and change a game with open looks. His contract is the same as Jones should he make the team, so that is another thing he has going for him, and the fact that he has been a top option on a professional team for the last few years doesn’t hurt either. He has put up good numbers with the opponents top defender checking him, so life should be easy as the 4th or 5th option who simply spots up.

Why He Doesn’t Make the Team: The jump in competition is going to be massive for Webster. He played at a small college level, and has spent his entire professional career in Australia. That isn’t Double-A to the Majors, that’s like going from your dad’s softball league to the majors (no offense Kiwi’s). He has a solid stoke, but hasn’t shown much anywhere else to get excited. He will be a great story to follow, and there will be a whole nation rooting for him, but it’s a long shot.

Odds: 50 to 1

Webster looks strictly like a camp body, and it would take quite a bit for the Pelicans to even consider using a roster spot on him. Maybe they can stash him in the D-League if they like what they see, but the most likely outcome is that Webster is back in Australia by late October.

Jeff Adrien, Forward

Why He Makes the Team: This team wants to get tougher, and Adrien brings that. The Warriors were known more for their flash, but they had some hard-nosed guys on that roster too, and Gentry and Demps want to bring that year, as evidenced by the signing of Kendrick Perkins. Perkins doesn’t fit the system necessarily, but he brings physicality and leadership, and the Pelicans can choose to double down on that with Adrien. He is a dirty work guy that has shown the ability to score around the rim and dominate the glass for stretches, which is something guys like Ryan Anderson and Dante Cunningham would not call strengths.

Yes, the Pelicans will play a lot of pace and space, but there will be some teams that they will have to get physical with and you can see a scenario in which Gentry would like to have a guy like Adrien for those situations. He could be the power forward version of what Festus Ezili was for the Warriors was last season. A guy who they never draw up a play for, but can score, and who has enough NBA experience that you have no worries about putting him in if an injury occurs or if someone is causing a matchup problem for you.

Why He Doesn’t Make the Team: Lack of upside. Unlike most of these other guys, we know who Jeff Adrien is at this point. His skill set is well-defined and we know the best of what he can be. He is on a one-year minimum deal, giving Dell less options that he has with some of these other guys, and he also plays a position that the Pelicans are stacked at. It is hard to see Adrien playing anywhere other than the 4, and the Pels have AD, Ryno, DC, and Babbitt there already. If you are going to use a roster spot on someone who isn’t likely to play, the argument might be to give it to a young guy with upside that you can develop.

Odds: 2 to 1

Despite all that I said in the paragraph above, I still believe Adrien is the guy most likely to make the team. Gentry will love his toughness and experience and will trust him from Day 1. That is huge for a coach. The NBA season is long, and Adrien will be able to eat up minutes if an injury occurs, and if he never has to play, you know he will maintain a professional attitude and work ethic in practice and in the locker room. He is the safest bet of all these guys to give this team something, even if he never plays.


As you can tell by the odds, I think that the most likely scenario is that only one of these guys makes the team and stays on the team. If that. Dell has structured the contracts so that he can effectively get a cheap look at them in training camp, and three of them (Jones, Kilpatrick, and Webster) until January before really committing. And even then, it is a cheap commitment.

Adrien and CDR’s contracts would be guaranteed for the year if they are on the final roster, so the one thing I can feel safe in saying is that there is no way that those are the two guys the Pels go with. Dell loves to keep flexibility, and those two would kill his flexibility if someone becomes available to sign or if he wants to make an uneven trade. The most likely scenario is that Dell and Gentry choose one of those guys and one of the three partially guaranteed contract guys. They give that guy until January to show progress, and if he doesn’t, they let him go and scour the trade market. For now, I am betting on Adrien and Kilpatrick, with Jones right on Kilpatrick’s heels.



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