The Top Free Agent Target for the Pelicans Should Be Obvious

Published: October 19, 2020

Last offseason, everything was on the table. David Griffin was essentially building a roster from scratch, knowing he had to trade his cornerstone Anthony Davis while simultaneously building around his new franchise player Zion Williamson. This offseason is a little different, as Griffin knows what he has in guys like Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart, and probably has more realistic expectations for Jrue Holiday than he had last summer.

At this point, Griffin needs to keep building the edges of this roster while looking for opportunities to be aggressive when a star comes available on the market. And as he looks at the edges of this roster, what he will see is a need for defense, particularly on the perimeter. In a vacuum, the defense was bad and it failed to produce turnovers for a team that loves to get out an run. But step outside that vacuum and you will see that over the next decade or so, the Pelicans will have to go through some fantastic guards to get out of the Western Conference.

Luka Doncic, James Harden, and Ja Morant are all in the division. The Spurs have quietly been collecting quality guards as well, and Donovan Mitchell, Devin Booker, SGA, and D’Aaron Fox are here for the long haul. For the next half decade or so, you still got Lillard, Steph, and Kawhi to deal with too. The Pelicans primary objective this offseason should be to get more bodies to throw at these top level playmakers so all that responsibility does not go to Jrue Holiday.

Enter free agent Kris Dunn, a 26 year old former top five pick who was tied with Patrick Beverly as the top guard defender last year, according to DRPM. A 6’3″ guard/wing with long arms and a very physical build, Dunn can defend 3 positions and he creates turnovers at a high level. His 3.8% steal percentage was, by far, the highest in the league last year – 20% higher than the runner up, Dejounte Murray. He was 2nd in the NBA in defensive box plus/minus behind only the DPOY Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Plain and simple, he is an elite defensive player who does have some holes in his offensive game, for sure. But imagine a top 5-10 offensive player on the FA market, who had some holes in his defensive game. That guy would get the max, without question. Dunn helps the Pelicans out on the side of the ball where they need it the most, and does it by defending the most loaded position in the league, the conference, and maybe most importantly, their division.

We all saw what Lou Dortz did in the playoffs against Harden, and how valuable the guy who hounds the oppositions primary ball handler is in this league. The Pelicans would be best served to add a bevy of guys who they can throw at these elite playmakers over the course of a game, in an effort to wear them down.

Another shooter would be nice, and a rebounder wouldn’t hurt either. But we have seen teams with dynamic offensive players manufacture shooting by having their stars get them open looks. Rebounding can be patched up via a team effort in crashing the glass. But containing those ultra elite scorers and playmakers is the hardest thing to do in this league, and with a bevy of them in the conference, it needs to be the primary objective for the Pelicans moving forward.

Of all the players capable of doing that in this free agent class, Kris Dunn stands head and shoulders above the crowd. Elite defensive players like this don’t come around very often and when they do, their price tag is often higher than what the Pelicans would need to spend to acquire Dunn (see: Pat Bev’s 3/40 million dollar deal last offseason). A full MLE offer for Dunn should do the trick, and make Dunn a Pelican for the next 4 seasons. And if you don’t know whether it is a good idea, just ask Luka, Ja, and others how much they would absolutely hate it.

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