The Pelicans are an okay team. Despite what their record indicates, the Pelicans have been perfectly average since Jrue came back on November 18th.
Given that Vegas had the Pelicans around 37 wins this offseason (before it was known Jrue would miss significant time), we are basically seeing the Pelicans perform as expected. However, because Anthony Davis is lighting the world on fire while this is happening, there are rightfully a lot of questions about why we can’t even be a good team.
It’s crazy that we are spending over 25 mill per season on the two biggest needs on this franchise, a competent big to pair with Davis and a decent wing. So far, there has been little to show for it, though Solomon Hill is beginning to overcome his horrible start to the season. Asik is usable, but only in certain circumstances. Ajinca is unplayable. Terrence Jones has his days, but is still flawed on defense and does no good standing on the perimeter because he can’t shoot.
This draft class is loaded at the top, particularly with Fultz and Jackson, two franchise-changing talents. However, there is no option of tanking. The Pelicans can maintain the status quo and still finish with one of the worst records because of their awful start, but they aren’t bad enough to finish at the top of the tankathon. And more importantly, I don’t know you tell AD to suck it up for another season. The new CBA’s designated player provision may make it easier to retain AD, but short of him getting injured, the team at least has to try to win while developing Hield and its new players. And as crazy as it sounds, I think Diallo helps us win as much as Ajinca and Asik right now.
This is a harsh judgment, because Diallo is very raw. He’s a skinny big who just turned 20 and whose skills are just starting to develop. But he also has a 7’4-7’5 wingspan, a 9 foot standing reach, outstanding mobility, great shot-blocking/rebounding instincts, and the best motor I’ve seen in a New Orleans big.
In his extremely limited time on the floor, Diallo is averaging 17 points, 11.5 rebounds (4.2 offensive) per 36 minutes. Given his raw pallet of skills, I sincerely doubt he’d continue to score at the rate he is now, but he’s already more of an offensive threat than Ajinca and Asik have been due to his ridiculous effort and mobility. And he’s a one man offensive rebounding crew who can size up opportunities to create extra possessions while having the mobility to recover to his man in transition.
Play 1: Diallo sets a screen for Jrue to free him of excellent/pesky defender Patrick Beverley, Jrue gets open shot
Diallo’s mobility/willingness as a screener allows him to set a solid screen on Beverely and force a switch onto Anderson, a much slower defender who Holiday can exploit. Holiday misses the shot, and Diallo is actually in great rebounding position, though the long rebound sails over his head.
Play 2: Flop on Anderson Drive
Right Here we see some of the bad. Diallo actually does a fantastic job to sprint back in transition and then get back to Anderson.. but with slight contact, he pays tribute to his opponent James Harden with an awful flop. Less of this, please.
Play 3: Poor Awareness, Frantic Closeout
This 9 second clip doesn’t show it, but on this play, Diallo unnecessarily decides to help on a cut and leaves Anderson wide open.. then loses track of where Anderson is, performs a frantic closeout, and Anderson gets a clean look from 3. It is also worth mentioning how ridiculous this closeout is, as Diallo covers an amazing amount of ground to even get a hand up in Anderson’s face.
Play 4: Diallo sizes up an opportunity to run in transition, gets an easy dunk
Back to the good stuff. Diallo waits to see that we secure the rebound on a missed shot, then sprints up the floor and gets an easy dunk. Easy points for an offense who has struggled all year.
Play 5: Diallo is that annoying guy in pickup who makes you try way too hard
This is where you see Diallo do what he can right now — be that guy who consistently makes opponents work harder than they want to. There is something to be said about players who force you to be aware of what they are doing, and because Diallo is so mobile and long, opponents have to account for him on the offensive boards and on cuts. This has a bigger effect than one might realize, because the more another team has to concentrate on grabbing defensive rebounds, the less effectively they can get out in transition. With some players, like Asik or Ajinca, who are less mobile, offensive rebounding comes at the expense of transition defense. With Diallo, this is not the case.
Play 6: The moneymaker
This play is where you can see what Diallo could develop into. He is currently shooting well from midrange, but it’s really hard for a rookie big to consistently make midrange shots. For a one and done big who barely played in college, it’s even harder. Even if Diallo’s short-term FG% from midrange dips, which it likely will, it’s easy to see him becoming a decent midrange shooter.
Diallo is still skinny, which means that there will likely be times in games where he has no business being on the floor, particularly if he is asked to guard bulky 5s or if it forces AD to sacrifice his body and defend them. He’s not defending DeMarcus Cousins or Jusuf Nurkic. That’s asking for disaster.
Once again, Diallo is also raw. Expecting him to not make a lot of mistakes is setting yourself up for disappointment. But he also makes plays out of nothing, is a good rebounder and shot-blocker, and someone who could actually have some long-term value for the franchise. Given what we are getting out of our other bigs, we need to find 15-20 minutes a night for Diallo.