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NBA AM: The Pelicans’ Quest to Build a Contender

The New Orleans Pelicans have the league’s next superstar. Can they put the pieces around him to contend?

Nate Duncan

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The Pelicans’ Quest to Build a Contender

With the ascension of Anthony Davis, the New Orleans Pelicans are suddenly at the forefront of the NBA discussion. By box score statistics, Davis has been playing about as well as any player possibly can over the 12 games to start the season. He has a 35.9 PER, 62 true shooting percentage, and is blocking 7.4 percent of opponents’ two-pointers. The Pels outscore opponents by 8.6 points per 100 possessions with Davis on the floor, and get murdered to the tune of -14.0 points/100 when he sits, per NBA.com. All of those numbers are almost certain to regress, if only because no player in NBA history has ever eclipsed a 32 PER over a full season, and the 10 seasons over 31 all belong to LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. Regardless, the Pelicans may already have the best player in the NBA on their hands, one who might be the favorite for MVP without accounting for team performance.

But it is that team performance that must worry Pelicans fans. Despite Davis’ otherworldly and likely unsustainable heroics, the Pels are only 7-6, good for 10th place in the brutal Western Conference. While they have done well with Omer Asik out of the lineup during their recent road trip, Eric Gordon is now out indefinitely with a torn labrum. Missing even one starter can be fatal for the Pels, as only Davis, Asik, Gordon, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson have any kind of track record as productive NBA players on this roster. At fourth in offense and 15th in defense through 12 games per Nylon Calculus, New Orleans has the overall statistical resume of a lower-rung playoff team. Yet even if the Pels can sneak into the playoffs as a lower seed, I don’t think anyone sees this core as a future championship contender. Holiday, Evans and Gordon add up to basically an average perimeter starting group despite raking in eight figures a year each in annual value over their contracts. They are all old enough that we should not expect massive improvements at this point. Evans is (rightly) starting at the three, but that is because there is not an NBA-quality small forward on the roster. He is not an adequate long-term solution at the position if the Pelicans are to improve defensively.

The Pels could potentially look to upgrade at coach from Monty Williams, although there is no guarantee that is a panacea. His rotations have been questioned at times,* and he needs to find a way to make a team with Asik and Davis outstanding defensively. But Williams is well-liked by his players and by all accounts an extremely high-character coach, so moving on from him may not be something the team is willing to contemplate unless they really crater.

*For example, with only three decent perimeter players on the roster, one should be on the floor at all times. And if the three good big guys are healthy, there’s little reason to play anyone else up front.

Regardless of the coach, it is hard to imagine that this team has the talent on the perimeter to truly be a championship contender. So this team needs a personnel upgrade. How can they do it? Here is a projection of the Pels’ current salary situation. Note that Gordon is almost certain to exercise his 2015-16 player option for $15.5 million.

Pels Current

The main offseason priority will be re-signing Omer Asik. The Turkish center is one of the league’s best rim-protectors, and re-signing him will be imperative if the Pels hope to compete in the near-term. They can exceed the cap to re-sign him using Bird rights,* but if they do so it will likely be the end of any major additions. Unfortunately, if he leaves they will have only about $10 million in cap room. A contract starting at $10 million likely will not be enough in this market to sign a replacement player of Asik’s quality, especially if the Pels want him to commit past 2016 when the cap is set to explode to as much as $90 million. He would likely require a four- or five-year commitment starting at around $12 million per season with the maximum 7.5 percent annual raises.

Moreover, re-signing Asik will keep the Pelicans over the cap, allowing use of the $5.5 million mid-level exception (MLE) and $2.1 million bi-annual exception (BAE). If they have to replace Asik, they will have only the $2.8 million Room Exception and minimum contracts with which to work.

*No doubt the Pels would love to reach an extension agreement with Asik now, but that is impossible because only contracts of four or more years can be extended—and those only after the third anniversary of the signing of the contract. Asik is finishing a three-year, $25 million deal signed as an offer sheet with the Rockets in the summer of 2012, so he will have to become a free agent.

Re-signing Asik will also be an organizational priority because they surrendered a protected first-round pick to the Rockets to acquire him. That pick is top-three and top 20-30 protected, so it will almost certainly be conveyed this year unless the Pels really turn it on to finish with over 50 wins. That means 2015 will likely mark the third consecutive year New Orleans has not used its first-round pick.* The lack of picks in recent years is a big reason the Pels have such little depth. More importantly, it is the reason they have little hope of attaining the necessary improvement through internal development. Aside from Davis, they really have no young players who could realistically become a key part of a Pelicans contender.**

* To refresh, they traded their 2013 pick (number six overall—Nerlens Noel) and their 2014 pick (number 10 overall—Elfrid Payton) to Philadelphia for Holiday.

**Some might note that Austin Rivers has been better this year, but he had about as bad a first two years as an NBA player can have. That led to the decline of his fourth-year option, so he will be a free agent at the end of the year. If by chance he plays well enough to look like part of the future, the Pels will be limited to offering him a contract for what he would have made in his fourth year, about $3.1 million. Due to his performance and the fact he will likely leave if he improves significantly, he cannot be projected as a rotation piece going forward.

Even worse, while re-signing Asik would allow the Pels to retain their exceptions, acquiring a quality starter is rather difficult with those at this point. Unfortunately, as the cap grows those exceptions do not grow with it, as those were negotiated under previous CBAs. The type of player one can attract with those exceptions is much worse than a few years ago, when the cap was stagnant and fewer teams had cap room with which to trump the exceptions. What’s more, Asik’s cap hold (essentially a placeholder for the salary he is projected to sign for) is large enough that the Pels cannot add any further talent before re-signing him.

So 2015-16 will likely see the Pelicans with the same cast, plus another wing rotation player or two acquired with their exceptions. It is hard to imagine that squad moving beyond a ceiling of lower-run playoff team next year unless the West gets significantly worse or Holiday or Evans unexpectedly ascends to All-Star status.

So the Pels would have to target the summer of 2016, when Gordon comes off the books and the cap could be up to $90 million. The problem is that Davis’ five-year designated player max extension, which would be agreed to in the summer of 2015, will kick in by then. Ordinarily a player with four years of experience is limited to the “25 percent” max.* But Davis will very likely benefit from the Derrick Rose rule, which allows a max player to receive up to 30 percent of the cap if he 1) is voted MVP, 2) is voted in as an All-Star starter twice, or 3) makes two All-NBA teams in his first four years. Teams sometimes try to obtain a discount on this 30 percent max, but with a player as good as Davis the Pels would likely be foolish to seek any such concession.

*It is known as the “25 percent max” from previous CBAs, but it is now about 23.5 percent of the cap. The “30 percent max” is actually about 28.3 percent of the cap.

Davis’ 2016-17 salary is therefore projected at a cool $25.4 million if the cap is $90 million. Throw in re-signing Ryan Anderson (who will have a $12.7 million cap hold), the players signed for the MLE and BAE in the summer of 2015, and the 2016 first-rounder, and the Pels likely will not have cap space for a difference-maker even in the halcyon summer of 2016. They would project at only around $5 million in space.

Pels Re-sign Asik

What’s worse, New Orleans would need to replace Gordon, who while overpaid is still a competent two guard when healthy. It is difficult to imagine the Pels coming out of that summer with a potential championship contender as Davis approaches his prime.

With staying the course unlikely to yield a contender, the Pels will have to get creative. One option might be doubling down on the future asset expenditures in the summer of 2015. Once the 2015 pick is conveyed to Houston, New Orleans can try trading its 2016 pick for the privilege of offloading Gordon’s contract a year early. That maneuver would leave it with around $12 million in cap space even after re-signing Asik.

Trade Gordon

They might focus on a 3-and-D wing like Danny Green, another quality backup wing and a reasonable backup point guard with the $2.8 million Room Exception. That still is not necessarily a championship contender, but with the right coaching one could construct a scenario in which that team becomes a dominant defense and still scores effectively enough to get into the mix with a few breaks. Of course, giving up a first-rounder four straight years is extremely concerning, but New Orleans’ management may decide more high-risk strategies are needed since they are already pot-committed.

Another potential strategy is even more fraught with disaster: New Orleans could wait to sign Davis until the summer of 2016 rather than giving him a maximum extension immediately, while swearing up and down to Davis and his representation that he would be taken care of with a five-year max once their free agency moves were complete. The benefit would be having his $14.1 million cap hold on the books instead of his $25.4 million salary. If they avoided using the MLE and BAE in the summer of 2015 for longer than one-year deals, the Pels could garner up to $23.7 million in cap space in the summer of 2016 by waiting to re-sign Davis until after they acquire free agents.

Davis Cap Hold

The risks would be astronomical though, because Davis would be a restricted free agent. If he were alienated, he could sign a three-year, third-year player option Chandler Parsons-style offer sheet and potentially leave New Orleans after the 2018 season once they matched. Potentially losing him three years too early to facilitate free agent signings would be quite the gambit, and one that would probably require an unrealistic amount of trust between the parties.

These scenarios do not represent the entire universe of alternatives.  And it is difficult to project any NBA scenario two years out.  But they do illustrate the type of gymnastics that will likely be required to add star talent around Davis. At one point New Orleans could have played it conservatively, sought to build around Davis in the draft, then added the missing pieces in free agency before the draft picks got expensive. Instead, they obtained those more expensive pieces in trades, used their free agent room in the process and lost the draft picks in the trades. Now, they have solid but expensive veteran talent, but no cheap depth and no apparent potential for acquiring a second star to pair with Davis in the foreseeable future. While we marvel at Davis’ incredible skills, we must also face the reality that assembling a contender around him could prove difficult indeed.

Nate Duncan is an NBA analyst and attorney. He writes regular features for Basketball Insiders and chats weekly at 11 Eastern on Tuesdays.

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NBA Daily: Why Teams Should Think Twice Before Tanking

Making up for the loss of a superstar is not a cut and dry, writes Spencer Davies.

Spencer Davies

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Making up for the loss of a superstar is not a cut and dry affair.

If it happens, ownership and management have to choose between two options.

1) Attempt to stay competitive
2) Blow everything up and go for a high draft pick

The second choice seems to be the favorite path for executives to take as of late. After all, just look at the job the Philadelphia 76ers have done with perfecting the art of the aptly named process, “tanking.”

Former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie’s three ultra-quotable words have turned NBA fans on to see the bigger picture. Who cares if a team has to suffer through multiple seasons of losing? If it takes a couple of years, so be it. In the end, we’ll reset with younger talent to build around. Trust The Process.

Philadelphia lost a lot of games between the 2013 and 2017 seasons. It was flat out brutal to watch. With that said, it did give the organization the opportunity to draft the likes of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and acquire a young international talent like Dario Saric.

They were extremely patient throughout this whole operation. Brett Brown remained the head coach through thick and thin. Players swore on buying into what was being preached.

Last season was a breakthrough for the Sixers. They won 52 games and made the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 campaign. Two of the guys they drafted turned into recognizable names with their play and have sky-high potential to break through in this upcoming season.

But is this really what it takes to achieve relevancy and perpetual competition in the NBA now? Do you really have to wipe the slate clean entirely and put out an unacceptable product year-in and year-out for half a decade so that there’s a possibility of one day becoming a winning franchise?

It’s obvious that Philadelphia did its homework, but who’s to say that other front offices can function like that? The Sacramento Kings have been in the doldrums for 12 years. The Orlando Magic have missed the playoffs for six straight seasons and the New York Knicks haven’t made an appearance in five.

What it comes down to is hitting on draft picks, plain and simple. You don’t hear often about the missteps of the process. Nerlens Noel was supposed to be a key piece of the Sixers core, as was Jahlil Okafor. Both of those players were top six selections in their respective drafts.

In order to acquire Noel (along with New Orleans’ 2014 first-round pick), Philadelphia sent Jrue Holiday, Pierre Jackson and the 42nd overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft to the newly branded New Orleans Pelicans.

In hindsight, this was an awful move—no bones about it. Holiday had been coming off an All-Star season. He stood a head above the rest on a roster mixed with veterans and middle-of-their-career players. Most impressive of all, it was only his third year in the league.

The Sixers picked a gamble that did not return the results they were hoping for. Michael Carter-Williams won Rookie of the Year and Noel had his moments, but there’s no way it was worth losing a player the caliber of Holiday. But they had to abide by the process by any means necessary, right?

Philadelphia hasn’t won a championship, yet they’re heading in the right direction. They were able to overcome those bumps in the road. The three teams in Sacramento, Orlando and New York to this point have not.

Tanking may not be the wrong answer. It’s not always the right one, though. It all depends on timing. Take a different approach of re-tooling in lieu of rebuilding.

A prime example of this viewpoint is the Utah Jazz last season. After Gordon Hayward signed with the Boston Celtics, many pundits stuck a dead duck label on the Utah Jazz. Those people said that in spite of the fact that the organization was on the rise with a brilliant head coach and an up-and-coming center bordering on best defensive player in the league status.

General manager Dennis Lindsey made a few moves here or there, but did not even think about giving up on the overall progress the Jazz had attained. He kept Quin Snyder and Rudy Gobert, drafted Donovan Mitchell and began a new chapter in the same book instead of writing a different novel.

Utah opened a ton of eyes last season, not only making the playoffs—competing until the very end. And even that was fluky when injuries came into the picture.

They never had to go into the gutter. In the four straight years the Jazz missed the playoffs, it wasn’t because of a set strategy to take a nosedive. They had the wrong coach the first two and were learning how to play winning basketball under the right leader the next two.

It seems as if the Cleveland Cavaliers are taking that route instead of the usual cry to “blow it up.” This isn’t comparing the impact of losing Hayward to LeBron James. That would be irresponsible. But they’ve clearly formed a strategy for all of this and were much more prepared the second time around.

Their true plans were revealed on July 24 when Kevin Love signed a four-year, $120 million extension to stick around with the wine and gold. Confusion surfaced all around. Nearly everybody in the NBA world expected general manager Koby Altman to trade him and stock up on future assets. After all, the Cavaliers’ first-round draft pick next season only conveys if they finish as a bottom 10 team in the league. If they do not, the selection goes to the Atlanta Hawks.

While that’s a true statement, nothing is guaranteed. Anything that happens in a season can be unpredictable. Anything that goes on in a draft is unpredictable.

In one timeline, Cleveland could be as bad of a team as some are predicting with Love. In another, they could make the playoffs and shock their doubters.

We don’t know what Collin Sexton will be in this league yet. We do know that experience is irreplaceable. Why not surround the young man with talent for him to breed confidence in himself and others? It’s better than losing a ton of games because the front office is waiting for the next guy to pair him with, right?

The Cavaliers are keeping their head coach. They’re acquiring players aching for an opportunity. They’re altering their direction, but keeping the same focus.

With LeBron James, Cleveland made four straight NBA Finals. In doing so, they’ve set a standard for the organization. Even with The King going west, why would it make any sense to change that message?

Considering the talent this league already has and the “super teams” that are being built among them, there is a difference between a ball club that wins 20 games and one that wins 35. They both miss out on the postseason and have a lottery pick, however, Team A silently creates losing habits while Team B tries to instill a culture of winning.

There is no perfect method for filling a void left by losing a superstar player. Nobody is a psychic.

Maybe it’s naïve to criticize “The Process” for not wanting to be in NBA purgatory—usually somewhere stuck between a seven seed in the playoffs and the 10th team in the conference standings—but tanking is a tricky game. Precision is necessary to pull it off. If it isn’t there, you’ll be in a world of hurt.

At least when you’re in NBA purgatory, you can add to what you have or try a different coach. Championship or bust is a dangerous mentality in the current landscape of sports.

Of course, that’s always the goal, but very few understand what it takes to get to that point. It all starts with a winning attitude, a quality of most teams that have tanked do not possess.

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NBA Daily: The Summer’s Most Impactful Coaching Hires

There have been a lot of coaching swaps this offseason, but there are only a select few that should impact what happens next year.

Matt John

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Building a successful team is like cooking a meal. The players serve as the ingredients, while the coach serves as the cook who stirs the ingredients. A championship team requires the right ingredients just as much as it requires an adept cook.

Take the Warriors for example. Mark Jackson played an important role in putting Golden State back on the map in 2013. However, after it was clear that he wasn’t capable of pushing them much further the following year, they replaced him with Steve Kerr.

That made all the difference. The Dubs went from pseudo-contender to legitimate contender, thanks to their new coach revolutionizing the team’s offense. The team went from the league’s 12th-ranked offense in the league the previous season (107.5 points per 100 possessions) to its second (111.6). Stephen Curry’s evolution into a basketball supernova led the way of course, but it was Kerr’s revisions to the team that pushed them to another level.

It all started with how he handled his rotation. Making Draymond Green a full-time starter while also transitioning Andre Iguodala into the sixth man made the Dubs all the more lethal as a team. The final touch was forming the “Death Lineup”, which consisted of Curry, Green, Iguodala, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes, that made Golden State nearly impossible to stop.

Golden State had a roster built for a title. All they needed was a coach who could get them the best results. Kerr was the man for the job.

That goes to show how vital a coach is to a franchise that has high aspirations.

Because of success stories like Golden State, we saw quite a few coaching changes this summer from teams hoping to have a Hollywood ending much like the Warriors.

Milwaukee Bucks – Mike Budenholzer

Poor Coach Bud. It’s not his fault that the Hawks team that he guided to 60 wins in 2015 slowly disintegrated over the last three years. Luckily he got out of there to avoid having to take on a rebuild. So now, he gets a fresh start in Wisconsin.

Budenholzer’s stock has gone down considerably since winning the Coach of the Year three years ago. That being said, he’s shown that when he has lemons, he can make lemonade. Now that he is running the show in Milwaukee, he is coaching one of the more unique situations in the league. Coach Bud now has a superstar at his arsenal in Giannis Antetokounmpo, which is something he never had in Atlanta.

It’s true that Milwaukee has been one of the league’s frequent underachievers since they kicked the tires of the Greek Freek era, but their talent cannot be understated. Remember that Coach Bud once made the likes of Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver All-Stars, statuses that they’ve never come close to regaining since. If he can do that with guys like Teague and Korver, imagine what he can do with Giannis and Co.

Milwaukee has also done a solid job building a team that fits Budenholzer’s emphasis on floor stretching. Adding Brook Lopez and bringing back Ersan Ilyasova should give a team that ranked 21st in three-point percentage more spacing. That’s quite impressive since Milwaukee had the ninth-best offensive rating in the league (109.8).

Milwaukee’s been trying to find their big break for a while now. They may have found theirs in Coach Bud.

Detroit Pistons – Dwane Casey

Nobody had a harder spring than Casey. Usually, winning Coach of the Year would be a moment worth treasuring, but in Casey’s case, it was far from it. Leading up to getting the award, Casey and the Raptors were swept by the Cavs for the second consecutive time, then he got fired shortly afterward. Casey getting Coach of the Year this season was pretty much like Dirk Nowitzki getting the MVP in 2007 after getting upset by the Warriors in the first round.

Thankfully, Casey’s illustrious resume was good enough for him to land on his feet just about anywhere. That anywhere happens to be Motown, where he’s replacing Stan Van Gundy as head coach. Detroit also has not had the most success since they’ve turned to Andre Drummond. That could be attributed to the unfortunate injuries that they’ve had to deal with in the last two years.

Despite having the persistent monkey on his back come playoff time, Casey has improved his craft in response to his failures. The Raptors saw improvement every year when Casey ran the show, and now Casey has the chance to show he can do the same in Detroit.

It will be an interesting transition going from the Raptors to the Pistons. Though not as talented as Toronto’s, Detroit’s strength should primarily come from their frontcourt. Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond should be one of the league’s best frontcourt pairings on paper. Casey has a reputation for making things work, so now that they will have a full season together, they may shine more than they did last season.

One particular question that should be answered is if Toronto’s problem was Casey or his roster. That may be answered by how Detroit does this season. Oh hey, speaking of Toronto…

Toronto Raptors – Nick Nurse

There seems to be a fair amount of optimism surrounding Nurse. Supposedly, he was the reason why the Raptors’ offense improved so much last season. Casey executed it to perfection, but Nurse was the one who designed it. Now, he’s at the forefront on a team that is desperate for success now more than ever.

This is Nurse’s first gig as a head coach, and the pressure is going to be on. It’s not just that Toronto’s been trying to get past its playoff demons. Now that they have Kawhi Leonard, they have to do everything in their power to keep him around — tall order given he seems hellbent on going to L.A.

Still, Leonard is an upgrade over DeMar DeRozan. Acquiring him, along with promoting Nurse, shows that the Raptors aren’t playing around. Being the head coach for one of the league’s powerhouses is a big break for Nurse. This may be his only to chance to prove he deserves a spot in this league.

James Borrego – Charlotte Hornets

Another Popovich protegee moving up through the ranks! Borrego has had some head coaching experience, though it was with the Orlando Magic, who were not going anywhere, three years ago. Now he’s going to Charlotte, a team that’s in a pretty tough situation right now.

Right now, Charlotte is hard-capped on a roster that does not have much room for improvement. The team has not made the playoffs in two years, and it’s hard to imagine how they improve from where they currently are. However, that might be why they hired Borrego.

Instead of going for a known name like Stan Van Gundy or Jeff Hornacek, they went with a guy who has learned under the NBA’s best coach for several years. Coach Bud became a great coach after learning from Pop, so perhaps Borrego may follow in his footsteps. This is a pivotal year for Charlotte since Kemba Walker’s bargain contract is expiring. If Borrego can help Charlotte return to the playoffs, then that could do wonders for them.

Note that David Fizdale, Lloyd Pierce, and Igor Kokoskov weren’t named. It isn’t fair to include them because the teams they are running are currently in the rebuilding phase with little expectation. They could be very impactful hires down the line. Just don’t expect a lot from them right away.

Same goes for J.B. Bickerstaff, but that’s because he already was the Grizzlies’ head coach. Now he’s full-time instead of interim. Call it cheating if you want to.

As for those who have been named, these hires should have a significant impact on what happens in the Eastern Conference playoff race this season. One of these hires could very well put their team in the finals, while another could put them in the NBA lottery.

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NBA Daily: Five Second-Rounders Looking For Rookie Season Role

Although far from guaranteed, there are five recent second-rounders who could work themselves into important roles in 2018-19.

Ben Nadeau

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After months of speculation, rumors and workouts, the NBA Draft and their respective summer leagues are finally well in the rearview mirror. With training camps up next, franchises can begin to flesh out their rotations and decide the early season fates of their newly-arrived rookies — even if their selection didn’t come with as much fanfare or hype.

And although draft day studs like Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III are nearly guaranteed to contribute immediately, much of the class’ future is still up for grabs — a statement particularly true for those that followed the first round. Whether it was a strong summer league showing or a picture-perfect landing spot, here are the five second round draftees poised to leave a mark in 2018-19.

Kostas Antetokounmpo, Dallas Mavericks
2017-18: 5.2 points, 2.9 rebounds on 57.4 percent shooting

Much as been made of the youngest Antetokounmpo’s controversial decision to come out this spring, but his faith was rewarded by Dallas with the draft’s final selection. Back in June, our Spencer Davies dove into Antetokounmpo’s time at Dayton and it’s not difficult to see why the Mavericks took a swing on the raw 6-foot-11 prospect. Over four games in Las Vegas, Antetokounmpo averaged five points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks per game on 58 percent from the floor — which, of course, is not eye-popping but could foreshadow a role moving forward.

Between Dirk Nowitzki, Dennis Smith Jr., Harrison Barnes, DeAndre Jordan and the ever-talented Luka Dončić, Antetokounmpo will not be called upon to carry the scoring load at any point. On a two-way deal, the Mavericks have the luxury to develop the Greek-born stopper in the G-League until he’s ready to make a difference — but for a defensive-minded Rick Carlisle, that day could come sooner rather than later. With Dwight Powell and Ray Spalding fighting for minutes at power forward, Antetokounmpo could be an option at the three, where Barnes has just Dorian Finney-Smith behind him.

For a franchise that ranked 18th in DEF RTG (107.4) last season and will strive for their first postseason berth since 2016, giving spot defensive specialist minutes to Antetokounmpo seems like a win-win partnership.

De’Anthony Melton, Houston Rockets
2016-17: 8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.9 steals on 43.7 percent shooting

After missing an entire season due to an improper benefits scandal at USC, Melton serendipitously fell to the Rockets way down at No. 46 overall. At 6-foot-3, Melton has a shot to contribute on both ends immediately as an above-average defender and a microwavable scorer. During his Las Vegas debut, Melton tallied 16.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, four assists and a summer league-leading three steals across five contests — albeit at an improvable 38 percent from the floor. As a tenacious playmaker, Melton should get ample opportunity to impress with a franchise looking to avenge their brutal Western Conference Finals defeat last spring.

On top of learning from one of the best point guards in league history, there also happens to be little competition for Melton in the rotation. In July, the Rockets signed Michael Carter-Williams, a former Rookie of the Year winner that averaged just 4.6 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists in 52 games for Charlotte in 2017-18 — and, well, that’s it. For a three-point bombing franchise like Houston, neither guard fits particularly well in that regard, but Melton’s 28.4 percent clip in one season as an 18-year-old still projects better than Carter-Williams’ 25 percent mark over five years.

Chris Paul missed 24 regular season games last year, but the Rockets are still willing to head into training camp with a second-round rookie and Carter-Williams holding down the backup point guard slot — that alone says far more about Houston’s faith in Melton than anything else.

Élie Okobo, Phoenix Suns
2017-18: 12.9 points, 4.8 assists on 39.4 percent from three

Outside of Džanan Musa and the aforementioned Dončić, the Phoenix Suns’ Élie Okobo entered draft night as the most promising overseas prospect in the bunch. Okobo, a 6-foot-2 Frenchman, could feasibly become the Suns’ franchise point guard by season’s end. The playmaking 20-year-old has just Brandon Knight ahead of him on the depth chart, a formidable NBA point guard, but one that does not fit Phoenix’s current rebuilding plan. Admittedly, his statistics won’t jump off the page just yet — 2.3 points, 3.5 assists in four summer league contests — but the potential for Okobo is certainly here.

While it’s worth noting that Okobo didn’t score in three straight contests after his impressive debut, he appears to be a suitable backcourt partner with franchise cornerstone Devin Booker. Whether he’s connecting with a backdoor cut in stride or hitting difficult running floaters, there are plenty of positives to take thus far. With a postseason appearance looking unlikely for the Suns, it’ll make sense to give Okobo the reins before long — even if they can’t move Knight’s contract worth $15.6 million in 2019-20.

Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks
2017-18: N/A

Needless to say, Mitchell Robinson could be an absolute treat for the New York Knicks.

For much of the pre-draft process, it looked like Robinson was a shoo-in first rounder, with many speculating that he even received a promise from the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25 overall. Once the first 30 picks came and went without Robinson — who elected to pull out of the draft combine in May — the Knicks were more than happy to scoop him up. Across five summer league contests, Robinson averaged 13 points, 10.2 rebounds and a competition-leading four blocks per game on 67 percent from the field.

On a team-friendly four-year deal worth just $1.8 million in 2021-22, Robinson already looks like a bargain. But beyond his first-round talent at a second-round price, there’s a real chance that Robinson can contribute for New York right away. Following the recent news that Joakim Noah will be stretched if the Knicks can’t find a suitable partner by training camp, that leaves exactly two centers left on the roster: Enes Kanter and Robinson. The 7-foot-1 prospect is a natural replacement for the departed Kyle O’Quinn, while the newly-minted David Fizdale should love Robinson’s shot-changing impact defensively.

Even if Robinson shuttles back-and-forth to and from Westchester throughout the season, he could still seamlessly slide into the Knicks’ rotation from day one.

Jevon Carter, Memphis Grizzlies
2017-18: 17.3 points, 6.6 assists, 3 steals on 39.3 percent from three

Earlier this week, Matt John put forth an excellent case for what should be a comeback season for the Grit-And-Grind Grizzlies — but there’s one second-rounder still currently flying under the radar. Despite a stellar final season at West Virginia, Carter dropped into Memphis’ lap and there are few that so elegantly fit the franchise’s identity without effort. As the reigning back-to-back NABC Defensive Player of the Year, Carter should split the backup point guard minutes with newcomer Shelvin Mack, if not more by season’s end.

The additions of Jaren Jackson Jr., Kyle Anderson and Omri Casspi, along with renewed health from Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol, will have Memphis eying the postseason once again — but Carter will likely be a fan favorite long before then as well. During his lengthy summer league initiation, Carter pulled in 11.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.1 steals over seven games. Although his 35 percent clip from the floor could use some restraint, he won’t need to shoulder offensive responsibilities with the Grizzlies.

Carter’s hard-nosed style of play will enhance an uncharacteristically poor Memphis defense from last season, with his years of extra experience allowing the bullish ball-stopper to drop into the rotation from the get-go.

With franchises focused on their high-ranking lottery picks, many second round draftees (and their often non-guaranteed contracts) will never carve out a consistent NBA role. But from backing up future Hall of Famers to filling a hole in the rotation, it should surprise no one if Antetokounmpo, Melton, Okobo, Robinson and Carter earn some big-time opportunities in 2018-19. Last year alone, Semi Ojeleye, Dillon Brooks and Jordan Bell all quickly found their niche at the professional level — so who will it be this year?

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