Season in Review: Quincy Pondexter

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Published: May 13, 2015

A Summary

Quincy Pondexter is one of 4 players on the Pelicans who is under contract beyond next season (the other 3 being Evans, Holiday, and soon to be Davis). He was brought in for his second stint in New Orleans on January 12th, 2015 in a 5-player trade that sent out Austin Rivers to Boston and Russ Smith to Memphis. The Pels were looking for a solution to the hole at the small forward position that had, up until that point, been filled mostly by Luke Babbitt and then Dante Cunningham. Pondexter’s familiarity with Monty Williams (having played for Monty his rookie season, coincidently the last New Orleans team to make the playoffs) made him an attractive mid-season trade target.

It was a perfect time to buy low on Quincy. He had the potential to be the prototypical 3&D wing for the Grizzlies, shooting just under 40% from 3 in his first full season in Memphis (’12-’13); and he has always been a smart and athletic defender. However, injury, a coaching change, some added wing depth, and a slow return from injury closed the window of opportunity he had there. His start to this past season was just about the worst of his career: before the trade he was averaging just 4.5pts and 1.9rebs in 18 minutes a night. He couldn’t find his shooting touch, making just 35% of his shots, and just 17 of his 73 attempts from 3.

To most, Pondexter seemed to be added depth, a stop-gap answer; and his initial play somewhat reinforced that thinking. In his first 16 games in a Pelicans uniform he improved his offensive play from earlier in the year to an acceptable mark, making a little over 40% of his shots, and 34.8% of his 3’s for 7.4pts and 3.1rbs in 25 minutes a night. However, the timing of his acquisition couldn’t have been better in hindsight: The trade was announced January 12th, the same exact day starting point guard Jrue Holiday suffered a stress reaction causing him to miss the next 42 games. His addition stabilized the biggest positional hole on the roster and provided enough depth at the position (with Cunningham and Babbitt) to allow Tyreke Evans to focus on the singular role of point guard. His addition also made John Salmons expendable, and he was later moved for back up Norris Cole (who made a huge impact on the season as well).

His defense and especially leadership were a welcome addition to a Pelicans team that had a defensive rating of 105.8 as they went into the All-star break, 25th in the league. But after the break, that potential seen in ’12-’13 came back around and Pondexter showed why he could be more than just a stop-gap. He is due plenty of credit for being an essential cog in the Pelicans’ first playoff birth.

Over the break Quincy lived on a diet of “MJ’s secret stuff,” and sure enough, he came out a new man. He stepped into his role with the vigor of a rookie given the green light in a starting spot, but with the poise of a young vet knowing the importance of simply working to make yourself available to shoot. Post All-star break Pondexter shot 47.3% from the field and 46.4% from deep, the biggest improvement in the league. In fact, he was the 6th best 3pt shooter in the NBA post All-star break among players who took more than 50 3’s.

His efficiency in those 29 games (.636 TS%), as well as his tenacious defense while often drawing the hardest assignment on the floor (New Orleans posted a 102.9 defensive rating over that final stretch), was huge to the Pelicans playoff push. But more importantly, and something that the numbers will never show, and before he even found his groove offensively, Quincy Pondexter stepped into a role that the Pelicans desperately needed filled, and performed consistently. I’ll quote Michael McNamara here,

“His real impact is felt in the other 40+ possessions where he never shoots…His on and off ball defense was much needed, as was his ability to defend multiple positions and pick up almost any defensive scheme instantly. Pondexter, like [Norris] Cole, expects to win every game after winning so many the last few years and that carries over to the rest of the guys.”

That last bit about winning so much in the last few years—in his five-year career, Quincy Pondexter has never missed the playoffs, he expects to be there every year. His motor, Bball IQ, and locker-room presence are all things that provided an immeasurable boost to an inexperienced team battling for a playoff spot.

Offense

The willingness to shoot —Since his first game in a Pelicans uniform:

49.1% on 163 attempts with a defender within 4 feet. From deep, 13/30 with defenders within 4 feet (43.3%).

One of the issues with Luke Babbitt and even Dante Cunningham was that they would not shoot unless open, and in Babbitt’s case, wide open. It wasn’t exactly 4 on 5 basketball on offense but it would come close to it at times. Defenders could sag off them knowing that as long as they closed out they didn’t even have to worry. The spacing with Pondexter was much better because defenders could not leave him. He wasn’t afraid to pull the trigger even on a decent close out (he actually made more of his shots when a defender was within 4 feet than when they were further away).

Here are all of Pondexter’s 3’s this season if you wanted to take a look.  Something you’ll notice just 30 seconds in: he isn’t just a spot up shooter; he’ll hit them coming around screens and he’ll hit them after one, two, three, dribbles.

When he couldn’t get his 3pt shot off, Pondexter actually wasn’t half bad putting the ball on the floor. The overwhelming majority of his shots were 3’s, but the next closest shot was within 5 feet of the rim, where he converted 57.8% of the time. He is after-all a smart player who understands his strengths and weaknesses; he won’t break out of the offense to jack up ill-advised shots, so when his shot isn’t on, he looks to make the smart play….. whether it be driving, swinging it around the perimeter, or simply finding Anthony Davis:

It didn’t take him long to figure out that a lob to Davis is never, ever a bad option, even if he has a man literally on him:

Without the ball he just did a good job of making himself available, scoring 1.15ppp on cuts, 1.12ppp on spot ups, and 1.53ppp off screens (though spot ups were the overwhelming majority of his shots).

Quincy is a low usage player who, at his best, is a viable 3&D wing.  He may be right between starter and sub, but what he provided this season, especially post All-star break, was exactly what the Pels needed.  Who knows if he’ll continue to be a 40% from deep shooter, he’s had a lot of ups and downs in his short career; but so long as he has been healthy and had the support of his coaches and teammates, Pondexter has proven he can be an important piece on a playoff team.

Defense

I mentioned earlier how Quincy affected New Orleans’ defense overall, but just to reiterate: the Pels had a 106.0 defensive rating before the trade (a net rating of -.1). From the moment Pondexter joined the team to the end of the season they had a 103.7 defensive rating (+1.4 net rating).

Now, just looking at how the team did with and without him doesn’t paint that accurate of a picture because of how much the team changed due to roster changes and injuries (both before and after his acquisition, don’t forget Norris Cole was added after Pondexter, undoubtedly helping that defensive improvement). Let’s be clear, Pondexter is not a lock-down defender; he’d probably be better described as simply a “good” or “above average” defender. But what he provided to the Pelicans was versatility: the versatility to not play a very below average defender. Pondexter himself can guard multiple positions, and guard them well, unlike John Salmons, Jimmer Fredette, Gal Mekel, Nate Wolters, and many others who found themselves in and out of the rotation before Pondexter and Cunningham were acquired.  He isn’t the toughest or the longest or the most athletic, but he adds a never-ending hustle to the athleticism and length he does have. He is someone who can annoy opposing players simply because he is always active and works to challenge every single one of your shots:

The importance of being able to step in after the Holiday injury and cover the best opposing wing player at least competently can not be stated enough here, and I’m running out of ways to say it anyway, but beyond what he did on the court, Pondexter brought a toughness, a mentality of accountability on the defensive end, something that was lacking earlier in the season. The team would feed off his energy at times. He wouldn’t make the flashiest of plays, but he’d make the right one, and his team would notice. He believed the team had something special, he knew it, so he had to provide everything he could to help out, and everyone responded.  That is not something easy to find. Not a lock-down defender, but still one that makes a difference (for under 4 million a year as well).

Clutch

4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points: Offensive Rating of 121.4, Defensive Rating of 102.8.  He also shot 48.2% from deep on the road as opposed to 38.4% at home. I just wanted to throw this out there.

Conclusion

Can the Pelicans find an upgrade over Pondexter both offensively and defensively? Of course. I have written a lot of positive things here about Pondexter, mainly because he filled his role so well and stuck to it. There are two main questions that come up in regards to Pondexter and his role with the Pelicans:

1. The obvious, will he continue to be the 3pt threat he was this season for the Pelicans? He has been described as a streaky shooter before.

and then 2. Do the Pelicans need more from the small forward position and could Pondexter handle an increased role? Personally, I think we saw the best of Pondexter in the 45 games in New Orleans and we saw the right role for him.

If the team does decide they would need a little more from the position, Pondexter would still serve as a great role player off the bench, he has earned his spot in the rotation. He is someone who can step in and make an impact on both sides of the court simply because he is smart and willing to work hard to do it. I don’t think he is someone who needs the ball in his hands more than we saw this year.

Unfortunately he has now had a procedure on another injury; and with the recent firing of Monty Williams, someone he believed had a lot to do with his turnaround in play this year, he’ll have to endure another coaching change. Hopefully Pondexter comes back next year just as motivated (and healthy) as he came to us this year, because without him, there certainly would not have been any playoffs for this New Orleans Pelicans team.

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