Pick and Roll Engine Wanted

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Published: May 26, 2017

Jrue is a good player.  He can shoot a bit.  He can dribble a bit.  He is one of only a handful of point guards who have a real impact on the defensive end per ESPN’s DRPM.   I like Jrue fine.  You probably like Jrue fine.

The problem is his potential price tag and the one glaring hole in Jrue’s game:  He’s not good in the pick and roll.

The league is a Pick and Roll league, and Alvin Gentry’s system is generally a long string of different pick and rolls and pseudo pick and rolls set up in different places on the floor.  With the mid-season trade, the Pelicans now sport two finishers in Cousins and Davis who can do a lot of damage, but aren’t completely versatile in every place on the floor.   The Pelicans also have some limited shooting, and a couple guys who can escape dribble a bit.  These are all limitations and things the team has to work around to become really good offensively, and having Cousins’ passing and off the dribble juice can help.

But what would really help is excellent pick and roll play from the lead guard.  Jrue was in the top 10 in number of pick and roll plays per game last year, but he finished in the 55th percentile for that sort of play.  In other words, half the PnR guys in the league were better than him.  Not guards.  Not point guards.  Everyone in the league.  That’s not good.

Compared to his peers, he’s an okay PnR shooter, but as a ballhandler, he’s just poor.  He ranks near the bottom in turnover rate, coughing up the ball 18% of the time.  This wouldn’t be so bad if he was using his handles to draw free throws and get to the line like other high-turnover PnR guys (Harden, Rubio, Dragic) but he also ranks near the bottom there too, drawing FTs on only 7% of his plays – about half what his peers are doing.

That is probably the best reason to not pay Jrue sacks of money.  He’s not suddenly become a pick and roll maestro and the team has no other skilled PnR players on the roster.  Tim Frazier is worse.  Cousins and Moore are better, but on really limited attempts and both are usually operating in a secondary PnR.  Tyreke Evans, who two years ago was actually really good (and awful last year) is gone.  If the team re-signs Jrue to big money, they are essentially punting on getting a high-functioning Pick and roll guy.  It doesn’t mean they’ll be bad, but it will make it harder to be offensively elite.

The Pelicans need to think long and hard about this.  Will they be satisfied locking into a strong defense and limited offense?  Or should they look at other options?

Other options I say?

There are a few, with the chance of landing them ranging from silly to moderate.  I’ll run through a few of them here:

Kyle Lowry

Toronto flamed out again in the playoffs in spectacular fashion, and Toronto is being confronted with a huge payday for a 32-year old Kyle Lowry.  The Pelicans would need to be willing to overpay, find ways to move half the team and/or perform a sign and trade with Toronto to land Lowry.  Why would they consider it?  Lowry holds the title of best PnR finisher in the league last year, with an eFG% of 58% and the ability to get free throws on 15% of his attacks.  His defensive numbers are also equivalent to Jrue’s.  As a player, he’s close to ideal.  As a contract, he’s old and scary.

Eric Bledsoe

Bledsoe is  an odd fit for Phoenix, who are going through a pretty lengthy-looking rebuild process.  It also won’t be easy to put together a package for Bledsoe without some serious draft compensation leaving New Orleans.  So why do it?  Bledsoe is a foul-drawing monster while sporting a low turnover rate.  Only Harden and Jimmy Butler drew a higher rate of free throws on pick and rolls.  The idea of putting him next to Davis and Cousins should terrify you because you’ll be watching a lot of damn free throws.  Maybe not great to watch, but great for winning.

Jeff Teague

A free agent this summer, Teague is kinda ‘meh’, and in most places he’s mentioned as an option 3 for any team’s off-season.  Why should the Pelicans think more highly of him?  In the Pick and Roll, he’s essentially Bledsoe with a higher turnover rate.  Now, he’s not quite as competent at getting into the pick and roll, sporting a lower number of them than Jrue, but he’s still pretty darn good at it.  What is Teague’s market value?  I’m not sure, but it’s possible the team could put down a competitive offer after only sheding/stretching a contract or two.

Evan Fournier

Double the free throw rate of Jrue and a 5% lower turnover rate.  About the same shooting effectiveness.  Sounds pretty hot, right?  Fournier could be the answer, but it’s hard to tell since he was the ballhandler in only half as many PnR possessions as Jrue last year.  The question is if he could take a heavier load and still be as efficient.  That, and Orlando has all new management, Fournier is a nice, reasonably priced piece and they wouldn’t give him away without a pretty attractive offer.  Do the Pels have that in them?

Reggie Jackson

You’re starting to get out of elite Pick and Roll territory here, but Jackson did draw a few more free throws and turned the ball over a lot less than Jrue in an awful injury-ridden season.  Who knows if he’ll bounce back, but he can be easily gotten, and if he does return to form from two years ago, the team would have a pretty good penetrator.

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