Pelicans Scoop: Priorities, Guards, Aminu, and the Division System

Published: December 11, 2013

We are Nineteen games into the season and it’s still unclear who we are.  Heck, we’re multiple years into Aminu’s New Orleans career and it’s still not even obvious who he is. Some nights he’s sitting the first half, and others he’s looking like the best player on the floor for us.

Ah, life as a Pelicans fan…

1. What should the Pelicans number one priority be for the rest of the season?

Mason Ginsberg: The Pelicans’ priority should not have changed from the start of the season until now. Injuries happen, and it’s not like this team is suddenly bad enough to realistically compete for a bottom-5 pick (in which case the team would get to keep their pick this season). Roll with the punches, play as well as you can while learning as much as you can about the group from a management perspective, and build for the future. Winning builds character.

Jason Calmes: The top priority for the Pelicans is to determine which of their high dollar players (Anderson, Evans, Gordon, Holiday) are the best running mates for Davis compared to what they can do for the roster in trade. Everything is about Davis at this point, and building the best team for him is the most important. The players that you can’t get via free agency when you are over the cap are the ones that are hardest to get, so we have to get these guys sorted out first.

Michael McNamara: Experimentation. Play with it all. This is the same thing that I said in the season preview, and I haven’t changed my tune one bit. Mess around with pace, with lineups, with sets, with the defense – just mess around with everything. Put guys in different situations and see how they respond. Do it now, so that you are certain about what specific elements need to be added to put this team over the top.

Michael Pellissier: Find out what you have on the roster. The Finishing 5 has looked great in its brief stint, but at some point, this roster will change, and at least one of these players will be gone.  Figure out which combinations work with Anthony Davis, which ones don’t work, and how they can be improved going forward. The playoffs are unlikely, and that is disappointing, but there are still things that can be salvaged from the season.

Nick Lewellen: In addition to what everyone else has said, I want to see the team go with the younger guys. Give the minutes that Roberts and Lou may have gotten and give them to Rivers and Withey. Since the playoffs seem out of reach due to injuries, let’s be honest about what this season was about, growth, experimentation, and development. Obviously, those changes won’t making a huge difference either way, but like Pellissier said, maybe we will find a good combo with Davis or a sweetener for a trade down the line.

2. Fact or Fiction: Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday are all on the team when the season concludes

Ginsberg: Fact. I think it’s fairly certain that Holiday and Evans are both on the team at season’s end; the only real question is in regards to Gordon. In terms of fit, I think Gordon may be better suited for this team than Evans due to his superior shooting ability, but Gordon’s injury history brings with it a variability that the Pelicans may feel the need to try to shed themselves of. If one of those players were going to be moved this season, Gordon would likely be the one, but at this point I think they’re all here at season’s end.

Calmes: Fact. Gordon will likely not be able to fetch on-the-court talent until this season ends with him playing well over 60 games. He’s also playing to well at this point with too many years left of his deal to be a pure salary dump. Holiday and Evans need at least a year of evaluation here before they get shipped out, plus their deals are hefty with 3 years left after this season.

McNamara: I say fact. This is basically an Eric Gordon question, because I can not remember a player acquired in the manner Jrue or Tyreke were that were traded that same year. And for the same reason Jason stated, I don’t think the Pelicans move Gordon. Maybe they can get a package similar to what the Raptors got for Rudy Gay, but I don’t think Dell will give him away for expiring contracts.

Pellissier: I’d be shocked to see Jrue traded and don’t see Evans getting traded this season. As for Gordon, it obviously depends on what value they can fetch in return. Even if they can just shed long-term salary by dealing Gordon, I think they do it.. the question is if there are any takers.

Lewellen: Fact, and I’m not sure how you could say fiction. I don’t think Jrue is going anywhere. I’m not sure why the team would trade Evans after making such a push to sign him. I’m not even sure there would be all that many teams falling over themselves to get a crack at him anyway. I could see an Eric Gordon deal happening this offseason after he has shown he can stay healthy, but not before that point. In my opinion, we won’t see any major changes to our guard rotation until then.

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3. Fact or Fiction: Eric Gordon can be the second best player on a championship team

Ginsberg: Fact, but this is a tricky and highly conditional question, because it all depends on who else surrounds him. While he may be the second best player on this Pelicans team right now, there are at least two – possibly three – other players who come very close to that same level. As long as Anthony Davis reaches that superstar level, and the rest of the talent within the team’s “finishing five” (Gordon included) not only remains high, but also continues to gel together, then  the answer is yes.

Calmes: Fiction. He doesn’t do enough stuff. He’s the third leading scorer on THIS team per game and per 36 minutes (though he’s scored the most points because he’s been available for each game), and this is not a title team. his offensive toolkit (today) is limited. His STL% is highest on the team (2.8%) and he’s about as efficient a scorer as Holiday, but Holiday is a much better rebounder and defender. He’s a great outlet guy who gives you a few great scoring options, but comparing him to someone like Dwyane Wade is more than a stretch, even Summer 2013 Dwyane Wade, and that is what this question does.

Pellissier: Second best scorer, possibly. Second best player? I don’t think so, because I don’t think he’s the player he once was. I have done a lot of my work for this site watching Gordon, and though I think he has undoubtedly regained some of his effectiveness, I don’t know if he’ll ever be the player he was for that first Hornets game versus Phoenix.

McNamara: I agree with the two gentlemen above me here. The second banana on a championship team is usually a guy who can impact the game in multiple ways. I don’t know how Gordon impacts the game outside of scoring, and he doesn’t even do that at an elite level.

Lewellen: Fiction. When we first acquired him, I thought his ceiling was second banana on a championship level team. I really don’t see him reaching that potential here or anywhere else. Like everyone else said, he is a good but not great score and average defender. I think he could be a very good third banana, for what it’s worth.

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4. It’s been a while since he got here, but what do you make of Aminu?

Ginsberg: I answered this question in depth this past spring, and my answer is largely the same. With the loss of starting center Robin Lopez this past offseason along with Anthony Davis’ recent injury, Aminu’s value to this Pelicans team has increased due to his knack for rebounding. That being said, it is becoming more and more clear that he’ll never develop the outside jumper or all-around offensive skills that would truly turn him into a real difference-maker, so his role will always be one of a weak starter or an energy player off the bench.

Calmes: I also answered this question, but it was after the season. Two points of interest there: “He’s become a mid-pack NBA player, though probably a below-average starter” and “He still, however, elite rebounding included, has not reached that oh-so-discussed potential.” After watching him this season both in games and in practices, I agree with this. I think his shot can improve, and I can see that it might. He’ll never set the NBA on fire, but he can become an MLE sort of guy if he finds that shot.

Pellissier: It’s hard to make any definitive conclusion about Aminu, whose spurts of productivity have been such a tease. He’s a fantastic rebounder for his position and he runs the floor well, but he is simply lost in a half-court offense. I like him as cheap player that comes in for specific situations- namely, guarding long, athletic wing players or playing as a small-ball 4 on a team that runs the floor at a lightning-fast pace.

McNamara: I think we all have a fear that he will go elsewhere and reach his potential, so that fear keeps us wanting to bring him back. But if he doesn’t produce for you, who cares what he might do elsewhere? He has one elite skill that will keep him in the league, but he is not a starter. I would love to see AD moved to Center full-time, and when that happens, a backup PF spot will open behind Ryno. That is the role for Aminu. Anything else is asking too much.

Lewellen: Aminu is simply the biggest tease on this team. Like Pellissier said, he is a great rebounder, good in transition, and a good defender, but he doesn’t have quite the full range of skills to make him an anywhere near complete player. I think his value is determined by his role. In the right situation, he could be one of those role players on a very good team that comes off the bench in a big game and gets you a couple of easy points in transition, some rebounds, and guards the other team’s best forward. I’m getting more and more comfortable saying that is Aminu’s long term value and ceiling.

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5. How do you feel about the NBA switching to a strictly conference system as opposed to a divisional system?

Ginsberg: I’m pretty indifferent in this regard. I assume that this question is being raised due to the Atlantic Division’s 10-12 division leader, but let’s be real here – whoever wins that division is making the playoffs in the horribly top-heavy Eastern Conference anyway. After some of these teams in this conference play each other more, the records will inherently improve, and that division’s winner should end up at or above .500. If you want to argue that a division winner shouldn’t be guaranteed a top-4 seed, then fine, but I think that’s splitting hairs at this point; it’s going to take a miracle to keep Indiana and Miami out of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Calmes: I could not care less. The system that determines who causes the Pelicans not to win a title or that allows the Pelicans to pretend they are closer to winning a title than the really are is of no consequence. You are good enough to win a title or not. Sometimes a deserving team is left out in the cold (e.g. Spurs), and sometimes a team that is less deserving wins (e.g. Mavericks), but fretting about the matchups for those who are not there? C’mon! And for anyone who wants to blather about matchups: If a team needs a cheap path to get to a title, a real contender should take care of them.

Pellissier: I don’t really care. I’m more concerned with the talent disparity in the East and the West. It might not be as big of a deal (for the league) as some make it out to be, but as a Pelicans fan, it irritates me.

McNamara: It is a good start. Long term, I want a schedule strictly based off location, no divisions, no conferences, and best 16 teams in the playoffs.

Lewellen: I actually do care about this. If I were made Czar of the NBA, one of the first changes I’d make would be to go to a best 16 team playoff format. In such a system, I don’t see a use for divisions, but we could keep conferences for scheduling, tradition, or whatever. As a pelican fan, I actually don’t care for the reasons Jason stated, but as an NBA fan I do care quite a bit. The playoffs are all about the fans. The best team doesn’t always the championship. 7 game series are just too small to determine anything. It is for our enjoyment, and I want to see the best product and best series. For example, I watched almost every playoff game during my last semester in college before graduating like an idiot. My roommate, who had only shown a weak interest in sports up until then, sat down and started watching one day. He is now all about league pass and texts me almost every days about the NBA. The intensity and quality of the playoffs lead to him becoming a fan. All I’m saying is I’m very pro putting the best games on my television come playoff time.

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