Season in Review: Alexis Ajinca slipped a bit

Published: April 27, 2016

Outside of a few exceptions, almost every Pelican had a down year this season. Alexis Ajinca, signed to be a solid back-up center after last year, was no exception. Much has been said on the podcast about Ajinca’s fouling and limitations that make him hard to play in some match-ups.  However, if you step back and take the macro view, you realize that as far as back-up NBA centers go (stiffs generally), the Alexis Ajinca we saw last year was pretty good. He posted a very nice PER, his rebounding numbers were very good, his true shooting % was nice – especially for a center who took jump shots – and his defensive numbers, on a poor defensive team – were respectable. Even his passing numbers were slightly above average for a big.

With all of that, the contract Alexis got last summer wasn’t a bad one. Then, this season happened, and Alexis was slotted into a system that did marginalize a few of his prime abilities. That in itself isn’t a condemnation – no team in the league adjusts their system to suit their back-up center – it did, however, result in less production from Alexis.

The Good

The new system did take advantage of two of Alexis Ajinca’s strengths: Defensive rebounding and his strong mid-range game.

For the second year in a row, Ajinca posted a good defensive rebound rate(25th in the league) – with his numbers even increasing a little from last year as the team focused on trying to clean the defensive glass. Using NBA’s advanced stats tools, he was in the mix more too, fighting for more contested defensive rebounds than last year – and snagging them at about the same rate overall.

On the offensive side, Ajinca had a more defined role – getting a significantly larger portion of his shots around the rim off pick and rolls – and spot up jumpers between 15-19 feet. He finished both of those at high rates – and his catch and shoot jumper was elite for the second year in the row, hitting better then 47% of those shots – a number in the top 10 for big men in the league.

The Bad

There were other places, however, that Ajinca declined this year – and it’s hard to point at the system, the injuries, or just settle on him struggling a bit.

While he took a larger percentage of his shots from midrange and at the rim than the previous season – the shots he did take between 8-14 feet were disasters. A season ago, he hit those 49% of time. This season he hit them 38% of the time. Now – that 38% is actually the league average on those kinds of shots – so maybe the season before was a fluke – but this(and a slightly lower FT rate) was the major contributor to Ajinca’s True Shooting percentage plummeting 8% – from a little above average to well below.

Defensively Ajinca was a slight negative last season because of his fouling and the easy free throws he gave up.  This year, Ajinca continued that trend, averaging 7.5 fouls per 48 minutes (it was 7.6 last year) but slipped badly in his ability to contest shots. Last season, opponents he defended when taking a shot inside 10 feet of the basket shot almost 6% worse than they normally average on those shots. This year, they shot only 1% worse, meaning the 7’2″ tower guarding them pretty much didn’t impact them at all.

The Ugly

And then we turn to the real bad.

The Pelicans system eschewed the offensive rebound in favor of getting back on defense. (which didn’t help that much, of course) This focus, however, had a major impact on Ajinca – who two seasons ago was a very good offensive rebounder. Ajinca dropped from a 13% offensive rebound rate to a 9% rate  – and even more, he got even fewer of those contested offensive rebounds he did try for. So he tried a lot less often – and got them at even a lower rate when he did try.

The offensive rebounding, however, wasn’t the only disaster on Ajinca’s score card this year. As the league transitioned even more to the perimeter, Ajinca ended up in responsible for defending a guy at the three point line about 15% more often than he did last season. And he was terrible in that situation. Players shot 10% better with Ajinca guarding them at the three point line than they did on average. Yikes.

Passing-wise, Ajinca also took a big step back, though I have a feeling that this has a lot more to do with the system he was in than in any failing on his part. In the previous season, Ajinca passed the ball to a non-point guard about 45% of the time. This season he did it only 30% of the time on a much lower volume of passes. Essentially it meant he wasn’t being used to move the ball much at all – instead just being a hand-off or outlet guy after a rebound. When it came to side to side movement and using him to facilitate pretty much anything, Ajinca just wasn’t used that often. It cut his assist rate by about 40% – and his overall passing volume by about 30%.

(Side note: Ajinca got as many assists this season from Ryan Anderson as he did from Nate Robinson. One.  300 minutes with Ryno, and one assist from the dude.)


In all, the season from Ajinca wasn’t a disaster – but neither was it good. It was more in line with a minimum backup center than a good back-up center.(which is what his salary reflects) I fully expect that he will be back next year – and I’m alright with that. I find it hard to believe he’ll continue to slip from where he was this year – and though I doubt he can bounce back to previous levels since this system doesn’t emphasize his rebounding and passing abilities – his defense could easily rebound to it’s previous decent level with non D-League talent around him.

What do you think? Are you happy with Ajinca at back-up center?

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