New Orleans Pelicans Season In Review: Alexis Ajinca

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Published: May 6, 2015

Alexis Ajinca is not a core player to the Pelicans. But he is a rotation guy, a bench big, and during the 2014-2015 season the New Orleans Pelicans relied on their bench quite a bit to step up when starters went down with injuries. Did he do an admirable job? Does his performance this season mean he’ll earn a new contract with the Pelicans? Let’s dive in.

Offense

A lot of people want to focus on the per 36 minute stats with Ajinca. I don’t. Ajinca isn’t a starter and he’s not going to average close to 36 minutes per game. But Ajinca played well in the minutes he was given, proving he belongs in an NBA rotation.

Running with the Pelicans’ bench unit, which could go ice cold at times, Ajinca was the guy who could be relied upon to get just get some damn points. Ajinca put up a career high in FG%, points per game, and got to the line more than he ever averaged before. And as the icing on top he shot over 80% from the stripe.

You could see the maturation in his offensive game. His hook shot became his go to move, but more than that he established he could be a mid range threat as well. Between 3-10 feet Ajinca shot 55.2% and 50.8% from 10-16 feet. While not Anthony Davis levels (I mean, who is?) this makes him fit in more as a role player. If Davis needs a breather, or out with injury, the Pelicans’ offense can still function as normal. For a team that has lacked consistency throughout the past few seasons, this is big.

He had all this improvement in fewer minutes than he played last season (dropping to 14.1 from 17 per game due to Asik/Cunningham being brought in). It’s a reason his PER rose to 19.9.

And you know how I said ignore the 36 minute stats? The number I want you to look at is 20. Ajinca appeared in 18 games in which he played 20 or more minutes. In those games he averaged 13.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 1 block. Based on those numbers alone, without digging any deeper, you’d take that every time from a role player.

Defense and Rebounding

Ajinca’s main plus on defense is his rebounding. In 2014-2015 Ajinca pulled in 25% of defensive boards. Second on the Pelicans only to Asik (and ahead of Davis!). Ajinca used his height this season better than before, throwing his arms straight up to alter shots without fouling.  The Frenchman isn’t a standout defender, as a starter you’d be worried, but he’s respectable coming off the bench. He fills what’s expected of his role acceptably on the defensive side.

Going Forward

It’s also worth noting he averaged 3.3 minutes in the playoff series with Golden State. It was a bad matchup, but that’s also telling on how the coaching staff feels he can contribute. And this is where things get murky.

Demps looks like he may have to make a choice between bringing Ajinca or Norris Cole back next season if the team wants to steer clear of the luxury tax. However, while perimeter defense is a worry for the Pelicans, a good backup big man is hard to find.

Ajinca is a natural sub for Davis on offense. $4.5 million seems like a reasonable amount per season for Ajinca, especially when you consider he could be playing 20 minutes per game next season. And with the production we saw at that level it would be a steal.

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