How Are You Feeling About the Pelicans’ Off-season?

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Published: July 21, 2016

Jake Madison and Mason Ginsberg have differing opinions about the New Orleans Pelicans’ off-season. Personally, (it’s me, Jake. Hi, everyone!) I’m feeling rather lukewarm about it all. Mason is more optimistic. We emailed back and forth about it to try and illuminate the middle ground. Take a look! And let us know in the comments below how you feel about the Pelicans’ off-season. Good? Bad? What’s your grade?

 

Jake Madison: So, with Terrence Jones set to join the Pelicans it seems as if the free agent period is set to come to a close. Four new additions in Solomon Hill, E’Twaun Moore, Langston Galloway, Jones, join Buddy Hield and midseason addition Tim Frazier as the new(ish) faces on the team. The early reviews on the offseason seem to be overwhelmingly positive. But with Kevin Durant joining the Warriors, and none of the new signings being potential difference makers, I’m having trouble seeing it in such a glowing light. It seems like you’ve been happy with the offseason so far, what’s your take as everything winds down?

 

Mason Ginsberg: Being the “homerish super fan” that I am, of course I’m happy with the off-season! Seriously though, given the current NBA landscape, I’m not sure anyone could have realistically hoped for much better of a summer from a free agency perspective. The team didn’t “overspend” on any one player (Barnes, Mozgov, and Turner immediately come to mind) and added young, *healthy* (apart from Jones) pieces that can be plus players on both sides of the ball in their expected roles.

Regardless, though, I think it’s all about expectations at this point. If you set the bar at “Kevin Durant or bust”, then yeah, you’re going to be disappointed. One year ago, I know that you and I both thought that (while they would be significant long shots to sign him) New Orleans was on track to at least get a meeting with KD this summer. The Pels were a team coming off of a 45 win playoff season (on a ~50-win pace when healthy) with a 22 year old top-10 player in the league. Obviously, things went about as poorly as they could have, and here we are. But, as Zach Lowe said recently regarding the team’s chances of keeping Anthony Davis after his current contract, “this summer marked the starting point in making a better case later.”

What is bothering you about their summer?

 

JM: I was never looking at it in terms of Durant or bust, but the way I see it is none of these guys really raises the Pelicans’ ceiling. Yes, you have to think about the future, but you can’t take your eyes off the present.

Going back to the signings and the Pelicans off-season, to me it was perfectly adequate. Let me be clear that I’m not trashing any of the moves they’ve made, and I like the general plan of the off-season. But, personally, I don’t see their win total changing that much. None of these guys are borderline All-Star players or even solid starters. However, I do think they addressed holes/needs for this team and these guys will contribute.

So, perfectly adequate. The team didn’t overspend on a guy, but did many other teams? Not really. I’m not going to give the Pelicans exceptional marks for not being stupid. To me, that’s the expectation. It’s expected that you won’t cheat on your spouse; you don’t get bonus points for not doing it. That’s kind of my thought process here.

I wouldn’t say I’m bothered by the off-season, but none of these guys excite me a ton. I think I like the idea of what they’ve done more than the actuality of it.

Is there something I’m missing here?

 

MG: You make a couple of interesting points that I’ll address in order. First, about not seeing their win total changing – I actually disagree. If we look at it purely from a win shares per 48 minutes perspective (courtesy of Basketball Reference – for those unfamiliar, it’s a stat that attempts to attribute credit for influence on winning games), New Orleans is adding roughly 68% more wins per 48 minutes by replacing Anderson, Gordon, and Cole with Hill, Moore, and Galloway. Now, you may say that Hill’s efficiency may drop with a likely increased role with the Pelicans (very possible) but I would respond by saying that not only should he improve purely based on his age/experience level, but he is also much less of an injury risk than either player mentioned. That last piece cannot be understated – apart from their most recent no-risk signing of Terrence Jones at (or near) the vet minimum, the Pels just added a bunch of young, relatively injury-free players. Obviously, this is only one statistic, but I feel like it is a reasonable snapshot of each player’s overall contributions while on the court last season.

On not giving the Pelicans exceptional marks for not being stupid – I totally agree with you, and I don’t think that’s what I’m doing. The Pelicans sitting on their hands and not throwing a bunch of money at someone who didn’t deserve it would have been good for a “C” or “C-“ grade in my book. Not stupid, but not exactly genius either. Instead, they signed young, versatile players to deals that equate to anywhere from mediocre backup (Galloway) to good backup (Moore) to borderline starter (Hill) money within the new salary cap environment. Wise investments that help to build out the roster (and address holes, as you stated) that don’t cripple future roster flexibility.

On liking the idea of what they’ve done more than the actuality of it – now that “the idea” has become “actuality”, are they not the same thing? I’m a little confused about what you mean by that.

 

JM: It’s that I like the direction they are going but I’m not in love with the actual players signed. Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact they targeted defensive versatility guys who can switch and defend multiple positions. But I’m not sold that these players will improve enough on the offensive end to make a difference–especially with Buddy Hield set to struggle for a season or two.

E’Twaun Moore’s 3-point shooting improved dramatically last season, I’m not sure if that’s sustainable. Offensively, Solomon Hill was so bad he was basically out of Indiana’s rotation. Terrence Jones has regressed over two seasons. My favorite is Langston Galloway, but as you said, he’s kind of mediocre. Anthony Davis already receives a ton of attention from defenses, and struggled a bit last year because of it, I don’t see any of these signings taking that pressure off of him.

In an offseason where Utah, Memphis, and other (not you, Houston!) improved, for the Pelicans to make a run at the postseason, this defense may need to rank in the top 7 – especially since they might take a step back on the other end. I’m not sold they will do that based on their track record the past few years. I expect it to be improved, but will it improve enough?

Some of those guys regressing is due to injuries, but I’d rather have seen people with a more consistent upward trajectory. And keeping with the injury topic, I’m not factoring in previous health. This is the Pelicans. Pretty much everyone who comes here gets injured, regardless if they were healthy or not before.

 

MG: Starting at the end and working my way back this time – I think simply saying “everyone who comes here gets hurt” is a cop-out, but even if you truly believe that, then the Pelicans’ new roster should make you even more optimistic due to their new-found depth.

As for what the Pelicans would need to do to make the playoffs – their 2014-15 season 45 win playoff team (which, I should note, would have earned them the 5th seed this past season) ranked 9th in offensive rating and 22nd in defensive rating (15th in net rating – perfectly average overall). Last season, they ranked in the top half of the league in O-Rating before Davis was shut down in mid-March, despite all of the other injuries and Jrue Holiday’s various restrictions (they finished the season right in the middle of the league offensively). Hell, in the 2013-14 season (the one when Aminu, Rivers, Stiemsma and Darius Miller logged over 25% of the team’s total minutes played), they still finished in the top half of the NBA in offensive rating. So, based on past seasons, I find it hard to believe that a team led by AD and Jrue won’t be at least a league average offensive team. Therefore, I think all the Pelicans have to do to make a run at the playoffs (not necessarily get in) is get out of the bottom 10 in defensive rating. If they can get to a league average defense – by no means an easy feat – I think they’ll have a pretty decent shot.

Regarding specific players – E’Twaun Moore shot 38% from 3-point range in his four-year college career and is at 37% in the NBA on 545 attempts in ~5,000 career minutes. No one is expecting him to hit 45% again, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that he is a very good shooter from beyond the arc. As for Hill, he did the opposite of what you suggested; he started out last season playing sparingly, then saw his minutes increase as the season progressed (11 MPG pre-ASB, 18 MPG post-ASB, 28 MPG in the playoffs). Terrence Jones had a very injury-plagued season last year, and while there is no guarantee that he bounces back, he’s signed on such a cheap contract that there’s minimal risk (if any). I too have expressed my own concerns about getting open looks, but others have helped to comfort my concerns by explaining to me that the Pels added better passing, smarter players who can knock down open shots, thereby having the ability to execute Alvin Gentry’s offensive system far better than last year’s team.

 

JM: More meant the injury thing as a joke. However, I’m ignoring previous health when it comes to this team. The depth is definitely better than it has been in years, though.

We’ve been sold before on the best way to build around Davis, it hasn’t worked out. Now, it’s Gentry’s offense is the way to go. I don’t think it’s a terrible idea to put a skeptical eye on it all. So for now, I’m going to curb my expectations and be conservative until I see it actually happen. None of these signings have tremendous upside. Good, solid players, yes. But none of them have ever played the type of minutes, consistently, that they’ll be expected to for the Pelicans this season. And now the team will have to go through a new adjustment period. The type it was supposed to go through last year. It screams ‘Step Back’ and that is a concern. It’s why I grade the team out at a “B-” or “B,” which isn’t terrible. Perfectly adequate. But the ceiling hasn’t be raised above the 7th seed. Other teams in the West have improved, some of them significantly more than the Pelicans.

Maybe this is just the Warriors and Spurs making me feel like the rest of the league is rather pointless right now. I think some of it has to do with Anthony Davis and the expectations that were set when he was drafted. Transcendent talent. Championships. MVPs. And instead the reality is set for maybe making the playoffs. It’s kind of depressing.

That’s the present. But maybe the future will be different.

 

MG: There is more than one potentially successful way to build around a player as unique as AD; some skepticism is fine, but too much doesn’t make a lot of sense (especially given those team offensive rating stats I shared in my last message). Agreed regarding the adjustment period, but that would have been the case regarding any new players, so I’m not sure that can be an argument to lower the evaluation of the signings. And, quite frankly, I don’t think it is possible to “step back” from last year given all of the injuries; hell, the team didn’t even get a healthy training camp to practice together. Give these new guys that and the defense will already have a leg up on last year’s starting point.

I totally understand the sentiment regarding where the Pelicans are today relative to some of the other NBA teams. I’m with you. I just don’t think that it’s fair to grade the Pelicans’ free agency work with that reality in mind, because outside of Durant or maybe Horford or Batum, no free agency move was going to substantially raise this team’s ceiling for the 2016-17 season. I have the Pelicans as a fringe playoff team right now, but I think their ceiling this year is a bit higher than the 7th seed (the only seeding “locks” to me are Warriors, Spurs, and Clippers in the top 3). So, we can dwell on where this team is relative to the Golden State Warriors – arguably the most talented team in league history – or we can appreciate and get excited about the Pelicans finally putting together a group of signings whose collective versatility, motor, and on-court awareness signal a brand new era of Pelicans basketball. I choose door #2, and when opening night is finally here, I know you will too!

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