Finding The Missing Piece(s): A Return of Sorts

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Published: January 2, 2016

Three years ago, I did a weekly series titled ‘The Missing Piece’. It was based around the premise that the Pelicans had some foundation pieces in place and they were just searching for the right guy to tie it all together. At the time, they had Davis and Anderson as the big men of the future and Eric Gordon locked in, along with a promising young guard in Austin Rivers. All they needed was the 5th guy to bring it all together.

Flash forward a couple of years and we’re not even sure if anybody on this team is a long-term piece, save for Anthony Davis. Monty Williams is out and Alvin Gentry is in, and with that coaching change there is a philosophy change when it comes to how Gentry wants this offense to run. He wants a faster pace and more ball movement. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to have the pieces in place to achieve his vision. Because of that, he has three choices:

  1. Coach up the current roster until they become the types of players who can give him what he wants
  2. Change the scheme to fit the current personnel
  3. Beg GM Dell Demps to get him some new pieces

He has tried both #1 and #2 with little success so far, so this piece will look for guys that the Pelicans could get if they decide to take the third route. Again, Gentry wants guys who can both move the ball, and move themselves off the ball. Look no further than his ideal weapon Stephen Curry, who leads the NBA (by quite a margin) in hockey assists. For those who don’t know, a hockey assists is when you make the pass before the pass that leads to an assist. Curry does this quite a bit, often hitting Draymond Green, who swings to an open three-point shooter. He does this while having a relatively low pass to assist percentage. Meaning, he doesn’t just pound the ball and pass it once he created an advantage. He is passing the ball for a multitude of reasons, and that keeps the defense on its toes.

Curry also moves a lot, covering nearly two and a half miles per game, with nearly 1.4 of them coming on the offensive end. Both those numbers put him in the top 10 in the NBA, and in the top 5 amongst guards. You’ll have to scroll down quite a ways until you find the first Pelicans guard (Eric Gordon-49th) and go to the next page before you see Tyreke Evans name (63rd). And even when the Pelicans guards do move, it isn’t that fast. They aren’t even the leaders in their team when it comes to average speed offensively. That honor goes to Dante Cunningham. Jrue runs at a solid speed, but Tyreke is one of the slowest guards in the league, and basically plays at the same offensive speed as Rodney Hood, a spot-up shooter who spends a lot of his time standing still.

So, who are some guys that move the ball and who move themselves, that (perhaps most importantly) might be available some time soon? After all, we could all just pray for Steph Curry, but that isn’t happening. However, other guys could come available that could get this offense playing the way he wants it to. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some guys Dell should be targeting.

Jeff Teague, Hawks

Is there any chance that Atlanta will choose Schroeder and therefore move Teague if they get a good offer? Unlikely, but it’s possible I suppose, and if I am Dell Demps they are the first team I am calling. When it comes to secondary assists, total passes made per game, and distance covered, Teague is the closest guy in the league to Steph Curry. He is 2nd in the league in secondary assists and has an almost identical number of passes per minute and pass to assist percentage.They also have the exact same time of possession per game with the ball in their hand.

Like Holiday, he is not a prototypical point guard, nor is he a shooting guard. The two could be fantastic together and would theoretically fit perfectly in Gentry’s scheme if they could get a knockdown wing shooter the way Steph has in Klay and Teague currently has in Korver.

Matthew Dellavedova, Cavs

Delly actually comes in third in the NBA in hockey assists per minute, and he doesn’t without dominating the ball. He also has the catch and shoot ability that Gentry wants in a guard and the defensive awareness Darren Erman is craving. Dellavedova is on a one year deal, and if Lebron truly is the GM in Cleveland, there might be a way to get him for the low, low-cost of Norris Cole. Dellavedova would have to have quite a supporting cast around him to start 82 games on a contending team, but at worst he could be a third guard in a Gentry offense who could understand the principles of the offense and makes sure his teammates execute them.

Darren Collison, Kings

You can find Collison’s name right next to Curry’s and the two above when you sort by things like secondary assists per minute, speed, tie of possession per game, and number of passes per minute. His highest win shares per 48 and VORP came in his lone season with Alvin Gentry, and he could be a guy that could ease into Gentry’s offense without costing Dell too much in a trade.

Nicolas Batum, Hornets

Amongst guards and wing players that touch the ball more than 65 times a game, Nic Batum averages the fewest seconds per touch in the NBA. 2nd is Paul George, and 3rd is Steph Curry for references. Once the ball gets in Batum’s hands, it either goes up if its an open look or it goes to an open teammate. He is also in the top 5 in the NBA in distance traveled on offense. ¬†Batum is a free agent this year, and is likely to get a maximum salary, but the Pelicans have the ability to clear the deck and bring him in at any cost.

Joakim Noah, Bulls

Not surprisingly, Noah is second amongst bigs (behind Draymond Green) in hockey assists. Gentry’s offense benefits from a good passing big man (Green in Golden State, Blake in LA) and Anthony Davis is simply not there yet. Noah would allow the Pelicans to do some creative things out of the high post, and would likely even get AD some lobs from a big man, the way DeAndre Jordan gets them from Blake when he and CP3 go into the pick and roll. Noah is also incredibly familiar with Erman’s defensive schemes and would provide the vocal leader that this team seems to so desperately need.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Pistons

At some point, the Pelicans might have to take a chance on somebody who has failed to live up to expectations so far and hope they turn him into a stud. It’s rare, but when it happens, it can turn a franchise around (see: Pistons signing an underwhelming Chauncey Billups). KCP has not progressed much over his two and a half years, and is actually shooting worse than he ever has from deep, but the guy keeps popping up when I look at distance traveled, speed traveled, fewest amount of seconds per touch, etc. He can be the Klay in this system, but he just isn’t shooting like Klay right now. But for those with a short memory, Klay wasn’t KLAY until Gentry and Kerr arrived. He had kind of leveled out in Jackson’s offense, and then emerged once the new system was in place. Dell has to find somebody whose value isn’t incredibly high right now and hope to strike gold. Of all the guys possibly available, I think KCP would be the one I would take a flyer on.

Jerami Grant, Sixers

The Pelicans also need to try and find a poor man’s Draymond Green, and of all the obscure guys in the NBA right now, the numbers say that Jerami Grant might be that guy. He is always moving, moves the ball when he gets it, and has some nice secondary assist numbers per minute despite playing on a terrible offensive team. He is raw right now, but that is no different than where Draymond Green was as a 21-year-old. He is the son of Harvey Grant, and nephew of Horace Grant, two hard-nosed, smart NBA players. Jerami plays a similar game with more athleticism, and with some patience and coaching, could give you 80% of what Draymond does 2-3 years down the road.

Conclusion

If a guy is everything you need right now, you probably can’t get him. Especially not for what the Pelicans have to offer (outside of their first-round pick). What you need to do is find a guy who might not be in another team’s long term plans for any number of reasons, and envision him in your system. Just like we have seen some Pelicans fare worse in Gentry’s system, there are some players out there whose skill sets would be a perfect fit for what he wants to do. You are looking to trade for a B- player who becomes a B+ in your system. This is how you extract value while not giving up the farm.

Teague is the pipe dream, as is Batum in all likelihood, but what Dell needs to do is start shedding the guys who do not fit. From there, you can offer opportunities to any number of players and hopefully you find a few that fit long-term. Unfortunately, it is still impossible to truly measure basketball IQ, but with the ability to track movement – both of the ball and of the player – we can get much closer to finding the type of players that Gentry’s system can incorporate.

Now, it’s just a matter of getting them to New Orleans.

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