Pelicans Secured Aaron Nelson, Now They Have to Use Him

Published: May 6, 2019

Every franchise in the NBA has strengths. Some have more than others, but there are advantages that each franchise has that they need to leverage for maximum impact. Texas teams have no state income tax, Miami has South Beach, Milwaukee has solitude, and LA has the allure of Hollywood. New Orleans now has a massive advantage as well, and that advantage is Aaron Nelson and his progressive training staff. And they need to utilize that advantage for all that its worth.

New Orleans is one of the smallest media markets in the league. They have not paid the luxury tax since the Bensons took ownership. The weather isn’t bad, but its not Miami or Phoenix. The city is incredibly unique and fun, but it doesn’t offer the chances to build connections in other fields that help a players post NBA career like LA or Silicon Valley do. And these reasons, amongst others are why New Orleans has never landed an elite free agent and has struggled to keep its elite players.

But now the Pelicans do have a clear advantage in Aaron Nelson. He and his staff have taken players that others did not want to dedicate significant resources to, and got the absolute most out of them – notably Steve Nash and Grant Hill. In a league that is more ‘win now’ than ever, teams tend to move away from guys with injury issues or concerns. They don’t want to invest time and resources into a guy who might not be on the court. The saying goes that ‘the most important ability is availability’ and with that in mind, teams shy away from guys who might not be available on a regular basis.

The Pelicans need to do the exact opposite.

The Pelicans need to seek out guys who would have infinitely more valuable in a NBA 2K world where we can shut injuries off. Think of a guy like Danillo Galinari circa July 2018. Everybody acknowledge that he was incredibly talented, but he was coming off a season in which he played just 21 games due to multiple injuries and had missed 214 games in the previous 5 years. In a world in which injuries were off, Galinari would be a ‘B’ value, even with his large contract. Last summer, he would have been a D or D- asset, because we live in a universe where injuries do happen.

This year, we saw a relatively healthy season from Galinari, and the result was a Los Angeles Clippers season that exceeded all expectations. In the NBA, exceeding expectations is all about getting individual results that appear as outliers against a players past. Aaron Nelson is a master at the health outlier game. In addition to the guys he revitalized, he also kept other guys from falling apart when they should have. See: Shaq and Amare, amongst others.

The Pelicans need to go all in on this advantage. They need to realize that these guys with injury concerns are more valuable to them than they would be to other teams, and prioritize accordingly. While other teams look at an injury riddled player as a guy with X and Y pluses but a Z negative, the Pelicans needs to erase that negative from their board and assume good health once Aaron really gets a chance to work with them. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at some guys that David Griffin should target this off-season.


Draft Prospects

Bol Bol, C, Oregon

Imagine a 7’2” three-point shooting, shot blocking big with better than expected fluidity and ball handling skills. Now, imagine that guy with no health concerns and a staff that will help him fill out his body properly. That guy would be a top three pick, right? I mean, you could be looking at Rudy Gobert, but with the handle and outside shot making of a wing.

The reason Bol won’t go that high, however, is because of both current and future injury concerns. Bol had a nondisplaced fracture of his navicular bone, which is more common than it used to be, but is still very scary for NBA teams. There is legitimate concern that it can be an issue for the rest of his career or that it could cause other issues to flare up.

Again, if injuries are off, Bol is being called a Unicorn in this draft and is being compared to Porzingas. He is going top 5. But because of the injury, he might fall to the end or even out of the lottery. The Pelicans, if they really believe in Nelson, should ignore this injury all together and evaluate him as if he were completely healthy.

Jontay Porter, F/C, Missouri

If there is a guy who has even a 5% chance of becoming the next Nikola Jokic in this draft, it is Jontay Porter. He is a good shooter for his size, and more importantly, a very good passer with high basketball IQ. The downside of Porter, however, is that he has torn his ACL twice in the last year. He missed all of last season, and is likely to miss his entire NBA rookie season as well.

If he never gets injured, he is probably a top-10 pick in the 2019 NBA draft. With his second ACL tear, he might fall completely out of the first round. Porter’s game was never dependant on athleticism or explosiveness anyway, so there should not be fear of these injuries taking away from his game. With several young guys to develop, and possibly more if they trade AD to Boston or another team that gives them a bevy of picks, it would be wise to take a guy they could redshirt and develop at a much slower pace. Porter could be that guy.

Chuma Okeke, F, Auburn

Okeke was already undervalued, even before he got injured in the NCAA Tournament. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t being talked about as a sure-fire lottery pick. My belief is that he was well on his way, especially as we saw him dominate North Carolina in Auburn’s upset of the #1 seed in the Sweet Sixteen. He had 20 points, 11 boards, 2 steals, and a highlight reel block before suffering a torn ACL with 8 minutes left in that game. It is easy to envision a world in which he followed that with a few more amazing tournament games, blew up the scouting combine, and went on to be a top-10 pick in June.

But that won’t happen in this universe because of his injury, and it is entirely possible he could fall to the end of the first round, or out of the first round entirely due to the injury. If that does happen, the Pelicans should pounce and redshirt the dynamic wing. Let him work with Nelson for the whole year, and it will be like adding a top-10 pick in the 2020 draft when he is fully healthy.


Free Agency/Trades

Blake Griffin, F, Detroit Pistons

Yes, Griffin played 75 games this year but he was hurt when the Pistons needed him most in the postseason, and he only played 58, 61, and 35 games in the previous three years. Combine that with his massive contract (3yrs/$109 mil), and he is a neutral or negative asset despite the fact that he is an All-NBA player when he is healthy. Many assume he will continue to go downhill while his contract goes up, but what if Nelson can get to him and he can have a Steve Nash-like second half of his career, where it’s actually better than the first half?

Kevin Love, F, Cleveland Cavaliers

After three straight 75+ game seasons, Kevin Love has played in just 60, 59, and 22 games in the past three seasons. Combine that with 4 years and $120 million on his contract, and many would argue that he has a bottom 3 contract in the league. But Love is only 30 years old, which is two years younger than Dirk Nowitzki was when he started the season when he won an NBA title and a Finals MVP. Like Nowitzki, it is not about athleticism with Love. He is incredibly skilled and intelligent, and can be an All-NBA level player if injuries aren’t a concern.

Mo Bamba, C, Orlando Magic

Less than a year after being drafted 6th overall, the Magic might already be willing to sell low on Bamba. In addition to his injury concerns, Orlando is likely to commit big money to Vucevic, so Bamba could be had. Because of a tibia fracture, Bamba played just 766 minutes in his rookie year. He also had some toe problems in college and just seems to have the potential for leg and foot problems moving forward. But if Nelson can get his body right, he could also be a Unicorn in this league, with the ability to defend at all levels while dominating from behind the arc and at the rim offensively. Classic buy low candidate.

John Wall, G, Washington Wizards

On the surface, this seems insane. Wall is without question the worst asset in the league, as he is out for next year as a 4 year/170 million dollar contract is about to kick in. But what if absorbing Wall’s contract can help you land Zion or other assets that can land you a star? What if the Wizards get the #2 pick and will give it to you for #7, Solomon Hill, and E’twaun Moore if you take on Wall? Yes, you would have to swallow next year’s hit on the cap (insurance will pay the actual money), but if Nelson gets him right in that year, he is just 30 and could be a great fit next to Jrue Holiday.

Chris Paul, G, Houston Rockets

Speaking of contracts that people think will age poorly over the next few years, Chris Paul is atop this list. He will be making nearly $125 million over the next three years and is clearly on a decline. But he will be 34, 35, and 36 in those three seasons. Steve Nash (working with Aaron Nelson) in his 34-36 year old seasons played 74, 81, and 75 games. He made All-NBA second teams two times in that span, led the league in assists 3 straight years, was an All Star twice, and got the Suns to the WCF one of those years. And you can argue Chris Paul is starting with a higher baseline than Nash had prior to working with Nelson, as Nash himself has said that he was not the picture of health prior to going to Phoenix. He barely worked out and ate terribly in Dallas, but then got to Phoenix and became an MVP, before eventually breaking down the second he left. Could CP3 have a career resurgence with Nelson in his corner?

Demarcus Cousins, C, Golden State Warriors

While we are talking crazy, why not consider Boogie? His issue was with Dell Demps and Demps is now gone. The city loved him and he loved the city. He was a fit for Gentry’s offensive system, and while the learning curve was steep on the defensive end, he was finally getting to figure it out on that end before he got hurt. Cousins will be a free agent this summer and it is hard to imagine a team really investing in him after another devastating leg injury. But Nelson would be the perfect guy to make his body better than it has ever been and if he does that, you are getting a dollar player for the cost of a dime.

Others to Consider: Andre Roberson, G, Thunder, Dante Exum, G, Jazz, Derrick Rose, G, Wolves, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, F, Hornets, Harry Giles, F/C, Kings, Denzel Valentine, F, Bulls, Jabari Parker, F, Wizards, Allen Crabbe, G/F. Nets

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