Finding Front Court Minutes

Published: June 24, 2016

You might not think it, but a very good argument can be made that the Pels’ #1 offseason need this year is another big. With Ryan Anderson potentially gone and Omer Asik fitting out instead of fitting in, the Pels will need to find Anthony Davis a front court partner. We’ve seen the pairing with a stretch big who could only shoot and a defensive big who can only rebound, and both had huge flaws. Asik made the Pelicans statistically better defensively when he was on the court, but that was about the extent of his impact. He didn’t give you anything on the offensive end, and while Anderson was perceived to be an ideal floor spacer for a high octane offense, his presence would often stagnate the offense instead.

30.3% of Anderson’s offensive plays this year were either spotting up or coming off a screen. 26.7% of his plays came from either post ups or isolation (he was 2nd among the major pieces on the team in frequency of isolation plays to Tyreke Evans). That’s almost 60% of his plays where the objective is simply to get him the ball where he wants it. That’s not a such a bad thing for such an offensive weapon as the flamethrower, but the team has gotten too accustomed to throwing him the ball and watching. It shows in the fact that the % of his FGs that are assisted has dropped every single season he’s been in New Orleans. Over the past two seasons the team’s assist% jumped an average of 6.3% when he was off the floor. Anderson doesn’t always take the look to move the ball, and everyone knows it. Why move off the ball if the ball won’t move?

There is one name out there that the Pels should aggressively pursue because he can give you a little bit of what both Asik and Anderson do, plus he’ll keep the ball moving.

Jared Sullinger (RFA)

Jared Sullinger is a guy that brings a little more to the table than Anderson or Asik as a higher IQ player. He might not be quite the defender Asik is or exactly the scorer Anderson is, but he can do both of those things and more.

After seeming to be an integral part of the Celtics’ future, Sullinger took a step back this season, registering his lowest minutes/game in 3 years (23.6). His end of the season play had his stock falling hard entering restricted free agency, so this summer would be a perfect time to buy low on the 24 year old as the Celtics look to add some big money talent.

Sullinger’s not a particularly efficient scorer. His jump shot is still a work in progress. The previous two seasons in Boston he really tried to be that stretch big that can knock down 3’s, but it didn’t work out so well:

2013-14: 26.9% on 3.7 attempts/36
2014-15: 28.3% on 4.2 attempts/36

That’s a lot of attempts for someone who can’t hit them close to a league average rate. But this season he took a couple steps in and started taking long 2’s. He made them at an “ok” rate, but the result was a horrible looking TS% of 47.6%. For a  young big man trying to increase his range, jumping straight to the 3pt line was probably a mistake. But hindsight is 20/20, and from a development standpoint, getting that midrange down could prove very beneficial.

He may not score very “efficiently,” but he can score in a variety of ways.

You only need to watch the first 2 minutes of that video to get an idea of his versatility on offense. He can post up, face up, spot up, pull up, and whatever other “up” you can think of. This past season he took almost 300 of his 806 shots within 5 feet of the rim, but the rest of his attempts were distributed all over the court:

102 FGAs from 5-9ft on 44.1% shooting
58 FGAs from 10-14ft on 32.8% shooting
147 FGAs from 15-19ft on 33.3% shooting
136 FGAs from 20-24ft on 44.9% shooting
65 FGAs from 25-29ft on 27.7% shooting

“Analytics say shoot the three. But I threw analytics out the door and said, ‘Wherever you pop, if you’re open, shoot it. If you’re not, move the ball.” – Jared Sullinger

That is exactly the type of play and mentality that could fit next to Anthony Davis under Alvin Gentry.

Sullinger’s father and coach raised him to see the floor like a guard, and it might not be such a bad idea to have another big on the team who was taught to see the floor like one. He’s great at creating passing lanes and not too shabby at passing himself, averaging 3.5 assists/36 minutes this season, in the top 20 of big men. New Orleans has never had a big man that could post assist numbers like that. Just check out this 7 assist performance against the Clippers. Anthony Davis has struggled developing his own passing and playmaking abilities. Having a big that can make plays in and passes out of the post would help this Pelicans team in their motion offense immensely.

He’s got strong hands that help with his rebounding and rolling to the basket (picture Asik catching a ball when you read this), and his huge body really helps him on the boards. He posted a career high 18.7 TRB% this season, which was among the best in the league. His 194 offensive rebounds ranked 20th in the league despite the fact that he only played 23.6mpg.

He isn’t too shabby on defense either. He isn’t an athletic rim protector by any means, but he has been part of a stingy, physical defense in Boston for the last 4 years (and is familiar with Darren Erman). The main thing holding him back as a pro has been his conditioning, but when he is active on both ends, he has the ability to really impact the game. At just 24 years old, Sullinger’s game could grow to compliment Davis’ very effectively, and he could be an impact player for years to come. He might not come too cheap, but he could very well be worth it.


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