New Orleans Pelicans Season in Review: Luke Babbitt

By:
Published: May 1, 2015

At the age of 25, Luke Babbitt is by almost all standards a young guy. Of course, it is a bit different in the NBA. After 5 years, most would agree that we pretty much know who Luke Babbitt is as a player. Still, I wouldn’t call him old, but I would call him mature. That is, some elements of his game are set and unlikely to change.

Still, he is coming off his best season as an NBA player, and despite what you may here from talking heads, he did show growth in some key areas. The question going into next season and beyond is, what exactly is Babbitt worth to this team both financially and basketball wise?

But this post isn’t about the future. It is about Luke Babbitt’s 2014-15 season. Let’s take a look back, before we look ahead.

 

The 2014-15 Season

Babbitt joined the Pelicans in 2013-14. He played in 27 games and started 2 that season. The Pelicans retained Babbitt for 2014-15 on a veteran minimum contract, which given his years of NBA experience totaled out at $981,084. Considering he played in 63 games and started 19, that can easily be seen as quite the bargain.

However, most of Babbitt’s contributions came early in the year. Before the Quincy Pondexter trade on January 12th, Babbitt had played in 32 of 37 of the Pelicans games. After the trade, he only played in 31 of the remaining 45 games, and he wouldn’t start again. Nevertheless, occasional injuries to guys like Ryan Anderson kept Babbitt in a sort of understudy role. He wasn’t necessarily a key feature of the rotation anymore, but he still had several games with 20 minutes or more of playing time in February and March. He didn’t see any playoff action against the Warriors.

Offense

As mentioned in the introduction, Babbitt had his best statical season as a professional. Among player’s who attempted at least 100 3’s in 2014-15, Babbitt led them all in 3 point percentage at 51.3% (59 FG out of 115 FGA). It is hard to ignore such a performance, but Babbitt’s incredible numbers were definitely overshadowed by guys like Kyle Korver, Stephen Curry, and even Eric Gordon, who had much larger roles and took a lot more shots than Babbitt. Also, We’ve always known that Babbitt is a great shooter. For most fans and commentators, this performance wasn’t anything new. In fact, it was what most of us had expected since he was drafted. Somehow, it became easy for us all to be almost blasé about this guy shooting over 50% from beyond the arch.

Digging deeper in to the numbers, we see that it isn’t just volume of shots that separates Babbit from the great shooters. First, Babbitt didn’t take a lot of shots when the defense was right on him, according to NBAstats.com. Only about 8.7% (10 shots) of his 3 point attempts were 3 pointers with very tight to tight defense. Granted, he made 4 of those 12 shots, but most of his looks were open to wide open attempts (105 out of 115). Also, only 6 of his 3PAs saw him take one or more dribbles. While numbers are fun, this isn’t telling us anything we wouldn’t expect. Babbit is most effective as spot up 3 point shooter, when someone else is drawing the defense away from him. Take a look at the play below to get a perfect example of Babbit at his best.

 

First, notice where Babbitt starts the play. As the ball moves away from him, he sneaks to the far corner, the defense loses track of him, and he hits the big 3. It is simple and effective. This is what he does well. Around a third of his 3PAs came from the left or right corner, and he shot 56% on those attempts. That’s incredible.

Rewind that video, but this time take a look at his shooting form. There is no doubt that Babbitt is a incredible shooter, but notice how little lift he gets on his jump shot? I mean you could barely slide a magazine under his feet. This isn’t something that every casual observer notices, but it is pretty important when we talk about shooting against tight defense. See, he might be 6′ 9″, but if you can’t get off the floor, it is easier for defenses to challenge your shot. This really puts him at a disadvantage when the defense is in the same area code. In other words, Babbitt will always be a guy that needs someone else to create his looks for him. That didn’t change this year, and I don’t think you ask a guy who hit over 50% of his shots to change his form. So I don’t see that changing in the future. Like I said in the introduction, he isn’t old, but he is mature. Some elements of his game are set.

Limiting Babbitt’s contributions on offense to his 3 point shooting alone is a bit unfair, in my opinion, and Monty Williams agrees with me.

“You know [Luke] is shooting the ball better. He is making better decisions off the dribble” – NOLA.com

That quote is obviously small and easy to overlook, but I think coach is on the money. This season Babbitt did a better job of finding guys after he pump faked and took a couple of dribbles. It doesn’t show up in the stats, because it isn’t his role. Still, it is an area where I feel he improved this season.

Defense

This is where Babbitt comes back down to earth. Despite his great size for a small forward, his lack of athleticism really limits him as a defender. Having said that, part of me did really enjoy watching Babbitt play defense early in the year and last season. He wasn’t often perfect position to make a play, but the guy did work his butt off. Say what you want, but you could tell he wanted to stay in the NBA.

Unfortunately, the NBA’s tracking data doesn’t reward effort the same way I do. Take a look at how defenders faired against Babbit and the average NBA defender.

Screen Shot 2015-04-30 at 1.16.53 PM

Woof, those are some ugly numbers. Regardless of where your shooting, you want to be defended by Luke Babbitt. When he was on the court this season, opponents saw their offensive rating rise by 3.5 points. We can talk about data quality, sample size, and another statistics buzz word you want, but those are ugly numbers. There is no way around that.

On the other hand, no one has ever asked Babbitt to be a defensive stopper. He is out there to stretch the defense, make shots, and make good decisions. Babbit is the type of guy where you have to sacrifice some defense to reap the benefits of his shooting. Still, that is tough for a team like the Pelicans, who can’t put four solid defenders around Babbitt. He was just difficult to hide this season.

Everything Else

Though I did say this was his best season, Babbitt didn’t really make a major impact outside of his scoring. His rebounding, assist, and steals numbers all went down this year, but they were never very high anyway. The difference is pretty minimal so it is hard to say that the change is statistically significant.

Babbitt’s rebounding and passing is just like his defense. That is why he is on the floor. I hate this phrase so much, but he is truly a 3 point specialist, who can occasionally do a couple of other things. It is condescending to pigeonhole a player like that, but in this case, it is the truth.

Looking Forward

Babbitt’s contract is up with the Pelicans, and there are some questions about whether he will be brought back or not. Shooters are always in high demand, and I think Monty, Dell, and co. really do want him to be a Pelican in the future. The problem is simply resources vs. role and the other 29 NBA teams.

For a healthy Pelicans team, Babbitt is nothing more than an end of the bench guy. He is buried behind guys like Pondexter and Cunningham, not to mention any possible new additions. Also, if Gordon comes back healthy and continues his hot shooting streak, then it is really hard to justify giving minutes to a 3 point shooter when other guys are already filling that role.

Now, when Ryan Anderson is hurt, Babbitt can come in and fill his role admirably. But how much are you willing to pay for an insurance policy you may not use? Also, consider the other teams that could use a 3 point splasher like Babbitt. It isn’t hard to imagine that some team comes in promising slightly more money and a much more significant role than the Pelicans can reasonably offer. If that happens, then we have likely seen the last of Babbit’s beautiful locks in a Pelicans jersey.

At any rate, Babbitt exceed our expectations this year, and we should all be grateful that we got to see a Pelican absolutely destroy it from beyond the arch this year. Also, add Babbitt’s name to the list of unheralded player’s that we have watched Dell Demps and Monty Williams haul in off the scrap heap, dust off, and turn into legitimate contributors in the NBA.

 

 

6 Comments

  1. Pingback: Playing Keep or Cut with Each of New Orleans Pelicans' Free Agents - Distinct Athlete

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.