Replacing the Major Minute Getters in Free Agency

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Published: June 24, 2016

 

Norris Cole, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, and Alonzo Gee could all wear a different uniform come next season. That is a lot of minutes to replace. Drafting Buddy certainly helps replacing the guards, but the Pelicans need to do more than replace those guys’ production, they need to improve on it. Guys like Dante Cunningham and Toney Douglas need to be further down the pecking order for the Pels to get back to the postseason. As we approach the start of this crazy free agency, I will post a couple pieces about potential free agent fixes to the roster, and I will start today by talking about the wings.

Improving from Dante Cunningham and Alonzo Gee, who played the 3rd and 5th most minutes on the team this past year, will be particularly important for the New Orleans Pelicans and here is why:

 

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Pelicans host the Cavaliers, December 4th, 2015. Down 11-4 with the ball, the Pelicans swing the ball to Alonzo Gee. Lebron James shoots out trying to tip the pass away, but misses and finds himself way out of position (see above). With the floor spread and acres of space, Alonzo Gee passes on the 3 and takes a step inside the 3pt line. Still in space with a 7 footer slowly closing out, Gee takes a second to look at his defender. Clearly not comfortable enough handling the ball to drive at his defender, Gee passes it out to Omer Asik, who then has to swing it back to Tyreke Evans, where the ball came from to begin with, and with the defense now set again. Evans turns it over.

For about 5 years running now, The Pelicans have been playing one way players on the wings, and it has to be addressed. The rotating door of players filling the void next to the primary playmakers includes such illustrious names as Al-Farouq Aminu, Darius Miller, Xavier Henry, Luke Babbitt, John Salmons, more Luke Babbitt, Dante Cunningham, Quincy Pondexter, and Alonzo Gee. Quincy Pondexter was the best of the bunch because he is the only player who was competent enough of the time on both ends of the court. They may have just stuck him in the corner on offense, but at least he could hit a shot from the corner. You would be surprised how important that is.

League average on corner 3’s was 37.7% this season, 2.3% higher than the total 3pt average of 35.4. The top offenses in the NBA all either shot well from the corners, shot a lot of their 3’s from the corners, or a healthy combination of both.

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This isn’t to say that shooting from the corners is a must for a good offense, rather just a reflection of the fact that good offenses get or try to get good shots. Corner 3’s have to be “manufactured,” but they are statistically the most open and efficient shot in basketball and having the threat of making them spreads a defense out. 

90% of all of Alonzo Gee’s 3’s (on the occasions he did decide to shoot) and 61.5% of Dante Cunningham’s 174 3’s came from the corner. Gee shot under 30%, Cunningham 33.6%. Gee in general can’t shoot. He had one of the worst catch and shoot FG%’s in the league (31.3%), and most of those you can bet were open looks because opponents were happy to give these two all the space in the world.

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Here Tyreke Evans draws 3 defenders while Gee stands in the corner praying that he doesn’t have to shoot it.

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Here Davis has the attention of both Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, while Courtney Lee has cheated off Gee to cover Omer Asik under the basket. Gee again sits in the corner praying Davis just decides to shoot the contested jumper instead of passing it him.

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Here, again, the defense has just ignored Gee, who is hoping Holiday will ignore him as well. Curry, the Warriors worst defender, is on Dante Cunningham because come on, is Cunningham really going to do anything either?

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And here we have Cunningham who has made himself available in the corner, stretching the floor nicely. The only problem is he doesn’t really stretch the defense out. They just ignore him because he won’t make them pay anyway.

Just going by these pictures you would think the floor is spaced properly, a guy is wide open for an efficient shot. But really it isn’t, it is 4 on 5. Whether it was Tyreke Evans, Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, or even Eric Gordon drawing a crowd, Cunningham and Gee couldn’t and wouldn’t do anything with the space given to them. Neither Gee, with an astounding 9.2 usg% (lowest in the league for players with 20mpg), nor Cunningham (4th lowest) is good enough on the defensive end to make up for their offense. Their teammates ignore them almost as much as the opponents do: Gee was the 4th least passed to player in the league to get more than 15mpg, and Cunningham was 8th.

This season Dante Cunningham had an offensive real plus-minus of -1.13, 256th in the league, and Alonzo Gee had a -2.81, 437th out of 462 players. In the short ~month and a half from December-January when the Pelicans were healthiest, Gee and Cunningham had two of the lowest offensive-ratings on the team.

Getting Quincy Pondexter back from injury will be a nice addition for next season, but it isn’t enough. The Pelicans will need to add some talent that can play major minutes in the NBA. One name to keep an eye out for wouldn’t make any more corner 3’s for the Pels, but might help create them.

Evan Turner (UFA)

Yes I know I just finished a whole spiel about spacing and corner 3 shooting, but hear me out. Evan Turner will cost more than the Pelicans save with Davis’ All-NBA snubbing, but he won’t cost so much that the Pels can’t sign more talent. He’ll get less than the other wings in this Free Agent class, like the 3 B’s (Bazemore, Barnes, and Batum), precisely because he’s got no range. But when asked about offseason needs in his end of the season press conference, Alvin Gentry didn’t mention anything about shooting. “I think in all honesty, I think we need that 6-7 athletic guy that can be somewhat of a facilitator.” Turner fits that role perfectly. He might not shoot 3’s, but he demands the defense’s attention, making it so the Pelicans aren’t playing 4 on 5 on offense anymore, and his skill set makes him a fit for Gentry’s system. It isn’t about 3pt shooting, it is about creating, finding, and using space.

Turner is a lot like Tyreke Evans in that his negatives can be so frustrating that it can be hard at times to see what he brings to the table. He has the tendency to force plays (through his own shot selection or passes that aren’t there), and “hero ball” has come up in his career a lot as well. But it is his strengths that interest me, not his weaknesses. He’s a very competent and versatile defender, standing at 6’7”, 220lbs, with about a 6’8” wingspan. His body type is such that he can be one of those guys who can effectively switch onto anyone on the perimeter. He’s never had the label of an “elite” perimeter defender, nor will he, but it is hard to imagine that he wouldn’t positively impact this New Orleans squad on that end.

For one thing,- Turner is very good at challenging 3pt shots, and this past season he held opponents to 30.4% from the 3pt line. Remember the preseason when everyone was talking about how Gentry and Darren Erman were running fundamental defensive drills on closing out all the time? Need I remind Pels fans how bad the team was in that regard? I will anyway, 24th in the league in opponent 3pt%.

He isn’t the most athletic guy in the NBA by any means, but his competitive ability to be a two-way player would be invaluable to a team that hasn’t had an effective wing for years.

On the offensive end he is an endless stream of confidence who can do a little bit of everything: the past two seasons in Boston he has averaged 10-5-5 in less than 30mpg. He has a real ability to get his teammates involved and could be another guy who can handle and push the pace next to Jrue Holiday. If you are looking for a 6’7” facilitator, there is no better one on the market. Imagine, instead of Cunningham and Gee standing uselessly in space while others toil to create, Turner and Holiday take turns creating for Hield, Pondexter, and Davis, who are all finding space much easier to come by.

The top 6 forwards in assist% this past season (that is the % of a team’s field goals that a player assisted when on the floor) were as follows:

Assist% AST/TO USG% PACE
Tyreke Evans 36.6 2.25 25.4 95.42
Lebron James 33.9 2.06 31.1 95.84
Draymond Green 27.7 2.31 18.6 103.2
Nicolas Batum 26.2 1.97 21.5 97.83
Blake Griffin 25.8 2.05 29.2 99.04
Evan Turner 24.7 2.12 18.7 101.21

 

Notice how Turner has the 2nd highest pace and the 2nd lowest usg% of the group (both to Draymond Green). He gives you a lot of the production that Tyreke Evans does without using so many possessions on himself. His versatility on both ends of the floor would allow him to fit seamlessly into Alvin Gentry’s play style. Take a look for yourself at his creative passing and playmaking and compare it to what Alonzo Gee can do with the ball in space:

Evan Turner’s “competitive passion” helped established the identity of the current Celtics squad. For a Pelicans team that has struggled to find an identity (and at times had effort issues) that can’t be overlooked. He can hit the midrange shot as well as anyone, he can play with his back to the basket, moves well off the ball and around screens, is good in transition, and sees the floor. As he pointed out himself:

“I can defend, I can pass, rebound, score. You got guys that all they can do is shoot and nothing else. Like, how a– backwards is that?”

Even better for the Pels, Turner has missed just 2 games in the past 4 seasons. He isn’t someone you have to start, but he is someone you can plug into multiple roles on both sides of the floor. Versatility is the name of the game nowadays, and Turner certainly brings that to the table. He wouldn’t break the bank and he would increase the overall IQ and skill of the team. Checks a lot of boxes for me, what about you?

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