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So It Is a Center Pairing, Is It?
Amid recent reports around the Pelicans’ trade deadline activity is a message from the organization that they have made a decision regarding the future of the team: they are going to find a center to pair with Anthony Davis. Not a 4 willing to take on the duties of a 5. Not a stretch-5. A true 5, someone who will push Anthony Davis down to the 4 on both ends of the court. This is good news for Davis, who expressed numerous times which position he prefers.
Breaking this week was the story that the Pelicans were (and are) in advanced discussions with the Philadelphia 76ers for C Jahlil Okafor. Of course various other reports and speculations floated around in the aftermath, and amid the stream were the stories of talks between the Pels and the Nets and the Magic, with C Brook Lopez and C Nikola Vucevic as the targets.
Now, a move for the likes of Lopez or Vucevic would look completely different than a move for the maligned Okafor. Lopez and Vuc would be “buyers” moves, “win now” moves that would require assets moving out, where as a move for Okafor would be an asset-reshuffling move, involving a possible salary dumb and pick for a young, cost-controlled player. So while the reported interests vary in that regard, they do paint a picture of the where the Front Office is looking to improve the roster. Front Court depth has long been an issue for New Orleans.
Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca are simply not in the future plans of the team. Ajinca has been a healthy scratch for over a month now, and Asik has received less than 4 minutes in that same span.
Donatas Motiejunas, a mid season pick up, is seeing less than 15 minutes a night as it is, and in the 60 minutes he has shared the court with Anthony Davis the Pelicans have a Defensive rating of 124.3 and a Net rating of -17.7. It is fair to say that Motiejunas, while he has offensive skills one would like in a Center, is not he best pairing next to Davis.
That leaves the bulk of the Front Court minutes next to Anthony Davis to Terrence Jones and Dante Cunningham. The Pelicans have had success with small ball lineups, but they lack the flexibility to adjust when the small lineup is exposed, whether through a lack of rebounding or breakdowns and a lack of interior defense. This is the thing I want to emphasize. The Pelicans can still be a small ball team, but they need to have useful and useable bigs on the roster to compete. The flexibility to adjust would do wonders for this team, who is exposed for the same weaknesses again and again.
If anything should get done before the deadline, there will be plenty to breakdown. At the very least the Pelicans seem to have decided on some direction to go in.