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New Orleans Pelicans 2017-18 Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the New Orleans Pelicans, who are looking to prove the Anthony Davis-DeMarcus Cousins duo can be successful.

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Entering a pivotal year for the franchise, the Pelicans are a fascinating study in the true power of stardom in the NBA. Their biggest names are some of the most recognizable in the league: They have likely the game’s starriest frontcourt in Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, plus a near-max-level point guard in Jrue Holiday squarely in his prime.

At the same time, their depth after these three is almost startlingly weak, particularly on the wings. With Cousins able to walk for nothing at the end of the season and whispers about Davis’ future free agency starting to grow louder, GM Dell Demps needs the group he’s put together this season to gel and put forth a product that encourages the big stars about the future – and if not, the Pelicans may have to contemplate life without at least one.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

What we saw of DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis a year ago wasn’t awesome, and it’s not like the Pelicans had the money to add a whole lot to their roster over the summer to make massive improvements. Still, arguably the two best big men in the league are on the same team, and it’s hard not to see some measure of promise in that. That’s not going to stop the Anthony Davis trade rumors, unfortunately, but the better they play the less likely it is they’ll have to deal with that particular drama this year. Bottom line: New Orleans needs to make the playoffs. It’s time for them to make that happen, and that means finishing at least third in Southwest to sneak into the bottom of the Western Conference’s postseason picture. Anything less and Davis’ time in the Big Easy really could be running out.

3rd Place – Southwest Division

– Joel Brigham

While the rest of the NBA is zigging towards playing smaller and faster, the New Orleans Pelicans are zagging the opposite direction with a huge frontline featuring Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. These two talented big men form arguably the most interesting and unique frontcourt duo in the NBA, but last year’s results didn’t give us reason to believe it’s a match made in heaven. Finding out how to maximize the considerable skill sets of Davis and Cousins is an imperative task for Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry. If Gentry can find a way to maximize his talented frontcourt tandem, the Pelicans could exceed all reasonable expectations this upcoming season. However, wing depth and perimeter shooting are going to be issues that will likely plague this team unless they pull off some serious deals to bring in more talent on the wing.

3rd Place – Southwest Division

– Jesse Blancarte

As far as top-end talent goes, the Pelicans can compete with just about anyone. They have the most talented frontcourt in the league with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, plus a guy in Jrue Holiday whose talents complement the two big men very well. That trifecta can hold up to nearly any in the league outside Golden State and a couple other markets – but the question marks start immediately after that. With Solomon Hill’s recent injury that could keep him out for much of the year, the Pelicans are now dangerously thin on the wing – guys like Jordan Crawford and Ian Clark may have to play important roles there. The acquisition of Rajon Rondo after Holiday had already re-signed seemed curious, and still does. Depth in the frontcourt behind Davis and Cousins is a question mark. With some decent injury luck for their big three and some solid cohesion, this could absolutely be a playoff team. But the floor is also very low, especially if any of the three has to miss any time or Cousins becomes volatile like he has in the past. We’ll pencil them in for third in the Southwest for now, but they could easily be fourth or even fifth if things go badly.

3rd Place – Southwest Division

– Ben Dowsett

When you look at Anthony Davis’ numbers, one would figure it would only be a matter of time until the Pelicans take flight and find themselves out of the doldrums in the Western Conference—especially with a talent like DeMarcus Cousins added to the fold.

As he entered the final year of his contract, Cousins is the player to watch this season in New Orleans. It’s amazing to think that a player of his talent has yet to play in a single playoff game. If things break right in the Big Easy this season, though, a postseason berth may be possible. With Zach Randolph headed to Sacramento and Tony Allen not having re-signed with the Grizzlies, the door does seem to be a bit ajar for the Pelicans. That, however, will depend upon their ability to stay healthy, and Solomon Hill’s torn hamstring isn’t a positive omen.

Still, with Ian Clark and Rajon Rondo added to the fold, the Pelicans have brought in a few winners. A re-signed Jrue Holiday should also contribute positively to what these guys have going on this season, as well. They’ll be pulling up the rear out West, but if they manage to leapfrog the Grizzlies in the Southwest, they’ll be in the fight for the playoffs. I just wouldn’t bet on it at this point.

4th Place — Southwest Division

– Moke Hamilton

After trading for DeMarcus Cousins halfway through last season, the New Orleans Pelicans are hoping a full offseason and training camp together can mesh arguably the top two bigs in the game enough to warrant their first trip to the playoffs in three years.

With a healthy Jrue Holiday and some chemistry between Cousins and Anthony Davis, the Pelicans could be in a position to make some noise this season. However, if the two former Kentucky big men don’t produce what New Orleans is hoping they will on the court this season, it will be interesting to see how Cousins handles his free agency next summer.

3rd place – Southwest Division

– Dennis Chambers

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: DeMarcus Cousins

This one is a dead heat between Cousins and Davis, but since the Brow gets the nod in our next section, Boogie gets his time in the spotlight now. Cousins was a pretty similar player last year after being traded to New Orleans, posting similar shooting numbers while seeing some of his midrange game move over to Davis, replaced by a few more looks near the hoop.

Logic would suggest some staggering of minutes between the two to leave at least one on the court as often as possible, but this might be tough – the Pellies were destroyed last year in the minutes Cousins played without Davis, and Boogie’s own numbers showed a huge gap. He was lethal from three with Davis out there, and was able to draw more fouls and average higher rates in nearly everything across the board. These two will look to improve their on-court partnership even more with a full offseason (they trained together at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas over the summer), but how they play separately, and particularly while Cousins is the lone star on the floor, is also cause for concern.

Top Defensive Player: Anthony Davis

There was a time when Davis’ defensive potential widely eclipsed his actual value there, but the last couple years have mostly put that to rest. Davis was one of the league’s 10 most valuable defensive players last season, per ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus, and he’s become far more than a freak athlete who blocks a lot of shots. His timing has really improved along with his ability to be that anchor a defense needs. A full season of Cousins in town should ostensibly remove just enough of his offensive burden for him to perhaps chase some defensive honors if things go well.

Top Playmaker: Jrue Holiday

There’s a temptation to say newcomer Rajon Rondo here, and Rondo is likely still the better passer in a vacuum. But “playmaker” and “passer” aren’t the same thing, and especially for a team that looks likely to have spacing concerns all over the place, Rondo might not have the kind of success some expect while he’s on the floor. It will be very hard for him to generate consistently good looks for himself, and defenses know they can play his passing lanes and dare him to shoot the ball.

Holiday, on the other hand, has the chops as a scorer from multiple areas of the court to keep the defense honest. As nearly a 37 percent career three-point shooter, teams can’t simply sag away from him and clog things up when someone like Davis or Cousins has the ball. He’s posted solid passing figures for several years in a row, and seems to have put some of his worst health concerns behind him (fingers crossed). He’s also a far more consistent defender than Rondo at this point, which matters for his ability to stay on the floor.

Top Clutch Player: Anthony Davis

Especially for a big man, Davis’ 42 percent from the field in clutch time last year actually represents a very solid number, and one of the best on the team. He’s able to play both one-on-one and as part of the two-man game, and with another brute in Cousins around to soak up help defenders and provide a solid secondary option, look for much of the crunch-time offense to flow through the frontcourt (just like the rest of the offense).

The Unheralded Player: E’Twaun Moore

Moore is a limited player in certain areas, but as one of just a few guys on the roster who can credibly play at least one wing spot, he also fills an important role that the Pelicans badly need: Spacing. Moore has shot 37 percent and 45 percent from three over the last two years respectively, and he’ll be one of the few guys New Orleans can rely on to keep the defense honest while their primary cogs work.

Best New Addition: Tony Allen

On the flip side of that coin is Allen, whose signing for one year was reported Monday. Allen is nothing close to a spacing threat, but he’ll step in immediately as the team’s top wing stopper. He may not quite have the legs left in him to make the overall impact Davis does defensively, but his addition all but guarantees that the Pelicans will have an above-average defense, and likely a top-10 unit.

-Ben Dowsett

WHO WE LIKE

1. The Frontcourt

As we noted above, there are definitely some concerns when only Cousins is on the floor without Davis. When they play together, though, no team in the league truly has the personnel to effectively guard them. Cousins sees his three-point rate and efficiency skyrocket with another post behemoth sharing the court with him, and the Pelicans were a solid playoff team based on per-possession figures when they played together last year. The first month or two of this year will be huge for building their chemistry.

2. Healthy Jrue Holiday

After years of struggling with his health, Holiday finally was able to stay on the court last season. He missed a chunk to start the year, but that wasn’t an injury – he was caring for his wife. After that, Jrue would play in all but three games for the Pelicans, shooting a career-high from the field and showing off the kind of high-level defense that makes him such an attractive player. He’s the perfect complement to a Davis-Cousins frontcourt, and the Pelicans need another healthy year from him after signing him to a big contract this summer.

3. Darren Erman

After coming aboard as an assistant with head coach Alvin Gentry to start the 2015-16 season, it took Erman – a defensive whiz who is well-respected around the league – a full season to leave his mark. The Pelicans were bad defensively in his first year, but took a giant leap into the league’s top 10 last year after a year to digest his concepts. They did so with arguably only a few true plus defenders on the roster, and mostly through a solid scheme with smart tenets. Some have labeled Erman the next big thing as an NBA head coach, but while he’s in this role, expect the Pelicans to play smart, disciplined defense.

4. Tony Allen

He doesn’t necessarily solve some of their spacing issues, but Allen was the best of a relatively limited bunch late in free agency. He fills a need for bodies on the wing and should still check in as an elite-level perimeter defender, the kind of guy who will take the toughest matchups every night. He’ll also provide a bit of additional veteran know-how as a former member of the Grit n Grind Grizzlies.

-Ben Dowsett

SALARY CAP 101

The Pelicans invested heavily in Jrue Holiday this summer. Their other primary free agent acquisitions include Rajon Rondo, Darius Miller and Ian Clark, triggering a hard cap of $125.3 million in the process. Prior to trading Quincy Pondexter to the Chicago Bulls, the Pelicans were very close to that cap (including unlikely incentives the team may or may not owe to Holiday). The team still has a little bit of wiggle room to fill out a roster but they may not be able to use much of their remaining spending tools that include $2.2 million of their Room Exception, their full $3.3 million Bi-Annual Exception and three trade exceptions ($3.9 million, $3.5 million and $2.1 million) at their disposal.

Next summer, the Pelicans will not be under the projected salary cap of $102 million, even if DeMarcus Cousins leaves as a free agent. That’s a loss the team won’t be able to replenish with a Mid-Level Exception. New Orleans may have to find a way to improve via trade, although they don’t have much to offer on that front outside of their star players in Anthony Davis, Cousins and Holiday. The franchise needs the Cousins/Davis pairing to work, enough to entice Cousins to re-sign long-term.

– Eric Pincus

STRENGTHS

The frontcourt is a relatively obvious strength for this team, with Davis and Cousins backed up by Alexis Ajinca, a solid third big. Guard also at least has several capable bodies present – Holiday first, with guys like Rondo, Clark and Moore also in tow. The Pelicans will have some expected continuity on their side with Cousins able to spend the summer working with his teammates, and this could be valuable. There are also basically zero fit or role questions present in New Orleans: Everyone knows what’s expected of them, and there shouldn’t be any kind of an adjustment period in that respect.

-Ben Dowsett

WEAKNESSES

Beyond their top three players, this is a dangerously thin team depth-wise. They’ve got bodies in the guard rotation, as we noted above, but Holiday is the only truly reliable name on that list at this point – if the injury bug struck him again at any point, the Pelicans would be in huge trouble there. They’re even thinner on the wings, where guys like Moore and Allen will be asked to play major roles. Hill’s injury really hurt here. The Pelicans have the top-end talent to hang with just about anyone, but even a single significant injury to one of their primaries will make depth a major problem right away.

-Ben Dowsett

THE BURNING QUESTION

Is what the Pelicans have done over the last few years, and particularly this year, enough to keep their star-studded frontcourt interested in staying?

Cousins can go elsewhere after this season, and the Brow Free Agency Watch has already begun in earnest despite three years still left on his contract (plus a player option for a fourth, though he’s likely to decline this). Behind these two and Holiday, the Pelicans have very little going for them in a team-building sense. They didn’t send a huge amount to Sacramento for Cousins, but their only semi-blue chip youngster, Buddy Hield, was part of the package. Losing one of the two would be a big problem, and eventually losing both would be devastating for the franchise.

So while the results for this season obviously matter and clearly tie in with the overall theme, there’s an eye to the future as well. If the team underperforms to start the year and isn’t in the realistic playoff picture, they’ll have to consider what they might get in return for Cousins if he looks unlikely to re-sign. In a broader sense, the ticking clock will only get louder on Davis if the team isn’t able to take significant steps forward this season after giving up assets for Cousins at the deadline last year. It’s a huge year in New Orleans.

-Ben Dowsett

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NBA Daily: Where Does Blake Griffin Fit?

With the news that Blake Griffin and the Detroit Pistons will part ways, Tristan Tucker breaks down which teams do and don’t make sense for Griffin’s services.

Tristan Tucker

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Blake Griffin is unlikely to ever suit up for the Detroit Pistons again, with the two sides agreeing to part ways by means of a trade or buyout, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. As laid out excellently by Duncan Smith of Hoops Habit, Griffin is probably unlikely to be traded by the Pistons. Detroit shouldn’t want to part with any asset just to unload Griffin’s gargantuan contract, which leaves a buyout as the only other option.

With that being said, Griffin is one of the more prolific names that could reach the buyout market in recent years, even in spite of the decline of his health and play. The 6-foot-9 forward would be an attractive buyout asset due to his work ethic, veteran status, a crafty passing game and occasionally-streaky jump shot. Let’s take a closer look at which teams do and don’t make sense for the six-time All-Star.

Miami HEAT

Miami is at an interesting crossroads after a Finals run during the 2020 bubble as the team currently sits at just 13-17. Because of the slow start, whatever the case may be, it’s heavily rumored that the team will scour the market for something to mix the team up in a similar way that brought Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala in last season.

Several teams will be major factors in the buyout market, but Miami has more than what some teams can offer, having a disabled player exception valued at $4.7 million after the injury to Meyers Leonard, as well as the bi-annual exception valued at about $3.6 million, though it might better to preserve that exception for next year (if any team uses its bi-annual exception, it loses it for the following season).

The HEAT will call around the league for a blockbuster trade, but if nothing comes to fruition, stretch forwards like Griffin, DeMarcus Cousins and Nemanja Bjelica make sense. Miami desperately needs more big man talent to surround Bam Adebayo as Precious Achiuwa isn’t developed enough to play next to the cornerstone and Kelly Olynyk is in the midst of a regression. Griffin’s offensive upside likely makes him appealing to the defending Eastern Conference champions.

Likelihood: Frontrunner

Boston Celtics

Boston is middling too, experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks within the team early, all while Kemba Walker continues his struggles to return from injury and losing other pieces along the way. Griffin’s former teammate Andre Drummond is often discussed when it comes to the Celtics and buyout options, but the current Piston himself is another great fit.

The Celtics aren’t trading for Griffin with their historically large $28.5 million traded player exception; plus the forward is under contract for $36.6 million in 2020-21, making such a move impossible. Boston can offer the bi-annual exception to Griffin, and add some stability to a team that should be contending this season.

Likelihood: Frontrunner

Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers are going to be one of the most aggressive buyout market players, much like any other year, but especially given that Anthony Davis is hurt, big man depth is an issue for the Lakers and that the team has an open roster spot to use.

While Griffin is only averaging 12.3 points on 36.5 percent shooting, one doesn’t have to look far to see a former All-Star. Just two seasons ago, Griffin averaged 24.5 points and shot 36.2 percent from deep to go along with 5.4 assists per game. If the forward can get anywhere close to any one of those aspects of his game, it makes the Lakers even scarier.

Likelihood: Frontrunner

Portland Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers are an interesting option for Griffin, seasonally ravaged once again with injuries to big men Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic. Griffin’s fit is easy to see, and he would join a scorching-hot Damian Lillard who is currently carrying Portland to a playoff spot.

Portland used its entire mid-level exception on Derrick Jones Jr., so it only has its bi-annual exception to use, an offer that gets easily beaten by other teams. The only way this happens is if Griffin actively seeks Portland, which is probable, especially if he saw how the franchise rebuilt Carmelo Anthony’s value.

Likelihood: Relatively likely

Golden State Warriors

The Warriors are somewhat of a sleeper team for Griffin, the team is in the hunt for a playoff position but injuries to its big man rotation are hampering expectations. Rookie James Wiseman is out, Kevon Looney is missing time, Marquese Chriss is out for the season and Draymond Green is occasionally in and out of the lineup.

Griffin’s passing technique and former sharpshooting form make him a potentially attractive addition to the group. The Warriors will likely eye the former superstar, but it remains to be seen if Griffin would have any interest in signing with a team that’s projected to finish as a lower playoff seed in the Western Conference.

It’s important to note that the Warriors have about $3.5 million remaining in their MLE, meaning that the team could preserve its equally-valued bi-annual exception for next year.

Likelihood: Relatively likely

Others:

Here’s a quick speed round. The Utah Jazz, Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers could all add Griffin but each with caveats. The Jazz has a solid foundation and the NBA’s best record — adding a big personality like Griffin, especially without a defined role, could jeopardize that. Milwaukee is interesting, but Bobby Portis is playing extremely well in his role, so the team should look for backup wing or guard depth first.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s rotation is pretty full, it would need to decide that it wants to go a different direction with some of its players. If it does, Griffin makes sense.

The 76ers are interesting given its contending status and the fact that it has nearly its full MLE, valued at around $4.8 million. The San Antonio Spurs, New Orleans Pelicans and Indiana Pacers could theoretically be options, with their full $9.3 non-taxpayer MLE’s available.

The Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns make some level of sense, but it is unclear whether Griffin has any interest in reuniting with the front office that traded him or his former co-star in Chris Paul.

On the other hand, sleepers include the Brooklyn Nets, Dallas Mavericks and Charlotte Hornets. Dallas and Brooklyn are exciting options and more likely than one might think, while the Hornets are in the midst of a playoff push and Griffin is notably a Jordan-brand athlete. Meanwhile, the Nets have a $5.7 million disabled player exception from Spencer Dinwiddie and the full non-taxpayer MLE to offer Griffin, making them enticing.

As is made clear, Griffin would be a hot commodity on the buyout market, with several teams that could benefit from the added services of an aging former All-Star. Be sure to tune into Basketball Insiders as we approach the NBA trade deadline on Mar. 25.

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LaMelo Ball vs. Tyrese Haliburton: Two Different But Equally Impactful Rookies

LaMelo Ball and Tyrese Haliburton have turned heads during their rookie campaigns. Quinn Davis takes a look at their very different yet equally impactful play thus far.

Quinn Davis

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With apologies to Immanuel Quickley, Anthony Edwards, Saddiq Bey and a few others, the league’s best rookie is a two-man race. Tyrese Haliburton and LaMelo Ball have staked their claim at the top of the rookie ladder and both show no signs of relinquishing.

The two young guards are helping to elevate a mediocre draft class, both showing a precocious ability for their respective teams. While they play similar positions, their games are nearly polar opposites.

Ball thrives in chaos, sometimes even creating that chaos himself to gain advantages for his team. His size and vision make him a weapon in transition and he has a knack for turning a loose ball scramble into a positive play.

He will often make decisions on the fly rather than planning things out, relying on his incredible instincts. Below, he slips a screen, draws two defenders as he goes to the rim and makes the last-second call to drop it off to PJ Washington just before he travels.

Haliburton creates structure, filling in gaps and connecting dots for a team that has desperately needed that kind of consistent presence. Watching Haliburton play, you’ll see a surprising amount of orchestration for a rookie. Where Ball sniffs out opportunities seemingly out of nowhere, Haliburton sees multiple steps ahead. Take this play against the Miami HEAT, where Haliburton comes up with a steal, directs the fast break and gets an open three for Kyle Guy.

Notice Haliburton immediately points to the player he wants Hassan Whiteside to pass it to. Whiteside obliges, Haliburton gets it back on the wing as planned and waits for his teammate to cut to the rim, drawing defenders and freeing Guy for the three, which he missed.

Haliburton’s fastidiousness has made him averse to turnovers as he is averaging only 2.6 per 100 possessions. Conversely, Ball’s moxie leads to few more giveaways, with the Charlotte Hornets rookie posting 4.6 turnovers per 100.

Both have shot better than expected from deep. Haliburton has shot 46 percent from three while Ball, considered a non-shooter coming into the league, has shot 37.

The tracking data helps tell the story of the differences in their shooting. Haliburton, who has a slow and slightly funky release, mostly attempts wide-open threes and has made nearly 50 percent of them. Ball’s quicker release has allowed him to shoot 41 percent on triples where defenders are within 4-to-6 feet.

When attacking the rim, Haliburton relies almost exclusively on a floater. While he hits it at a decent clip – 51 percent from the short mid-range area per Cleaning the Glass – it’d be nice to see him get to the rim and try to draw contact. Only 15 percent of his total shots come at the rim, and he draws a shooting foul on a measly three percent of his attempts.

Due to his lack of downhill explosion, Haliburton can often be too eager to pass when the right play is to go up for the layup. Here, Ivica Zubac is clearly playing the pass while Marcus Morris stays home on the shooter in the corner. With a more aggressive mindset, Haliburton could have had a decent look at the rim, but instead, it’s a turnover.

Ball attacks more frequently but isn’t yet a great finisher. He often attempts wild layups, looking to avoid defenders rather than go through them. In the next clip, he tries to switch to his left hand to go around the shot blocker, rather than go into the body, and the attempt is promptly swatted.

Still, he draws fouls on 7.8 percent of his attempts and has improved steadily at finishing throughout the season. It is common for rookies to take time adjusting to NBA athleticism around the rim, so the fact that Ball is at least willing to attack is a good sign.

Defensively, a similar pattern emerges. Ball is an occasional gambler whose risks can lead to big rewards but also causes his fair share of breakdowns. Haliburton, meanwhile, is wise beyond his years as an off-ball defender – his advanced understanding of positioning pairs well with those great instincts.

Ball leads all rookies in steals per game at 1.6 and is 12th overall in the league – already adept at lingering around in the backcourt and swiping the rock from unsuspecting rebounders.

But Ball’s biggest weakness as a defender right now is his closeouts. He tends to hang around the paint a bit too long when guarding the weak side, forcing him to close out hard, thus leaving him very susceptible to pump fakes and fouls. Often, his ball-watching leaves him caught on a screen, then recovering too hard to a non-shooter in Tyrese Maxey, allowing for the drive.

Even with his flaws, Ball’s energy and feel make him a decent defender for a rookie. Of course, he should only improve as he becomes accustomed to the speed of the game.

Haliburton’s defense, like his offense, is more carefully approached. Haliburton can be caught on screens and fooled by good fakes as many rookies can, but it is rare. Watch as the Kings double Ben Simmons in the post, leaving Haliburton to guard two shooters. He plays a brief game of cat and mouse with Simmons, forcing the pass to the wing. The talented youngster then feigns the closeout to Danny Green before pouncing on the swing pass to the corner – all in all, this is a veteran play.

Overall, Haliburton and Ball are yin and yang. The introvert and the extrovert. Each could probably use a dash of the other’s game to take themselves to the next level.

While their styles are opposite, their impacts and intangibles are similar. Both players rely on their brains first and foremost. More importantly, both have gained the trust of their coaches.

Haliburton earned it almost immediately and has been a mainstay in the Kings’ crunch-time lineup. That five-man group, featuring the rookie along with DeAaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes and Richaun Holmes, has been incendiary, outscoring opponents by just over 20 points per 100 possessions, per Cleaning the Glass.

Ball took a little more time to get there but has since shown flashes of brilliance. Just watch the second half of the Hornets’ game against the Milwaukee Bucks earlier this season to see how Ball can take over a game on both ends when everything is clicking.

Ball will likely win Rookie of the Year, his counting stats and occasional standout showings give him the edge in that race. Haliburton’s efficiency and mistake-free play might give him the edge as the better player right now, though.

Ball’s ceiling is demonstrably higher as he does things on a basketball court that not many in the league even attempt, let alone other rookies. Haliburton will be a consistent contributor and likely have a long career, but it is hard to see a path to superstardom.

There will be many years ahead to dissect their games as they improve and begin competing at a higher level. For now, we can appreciate two bright spots in a previously dismissed draft class.

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Has the NBA Passed Andre Drummond By?

Andre Drummond is being held out by the Clevland Cavaliers while they look for a trade, but does anyone want Drummond? And can he help a good team compete for an NBA Championship?

Zach Dupont

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The NBA has seen a revival of the center position over the past few seasons. Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic have become front-runners for MVP, Rudy Gobert is anchoring the defense of the Western Conference-leading Utah Jazz and Anthony Davis co-led the Los Angeles Lakers to last year’s NBA title.

Not among those centers is the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Andre Drummond, who is currently being held out of games while the Cavs look for a trade to move him out of town.

On a surface level, Drummond’s numbers are quite impressive. This year, Drummond is averaging 17.5 points and 13.5 rebounds per game, his rebounds per game mark is even good enough for second in the NBA, trailing just Clint Capela’s 13.9 rebounds per game. It’s not as if these numbers are an outlier for Drummond either; Drummond has averaged at least 15 points and 13 rebounds per game since his 2017-18 season. Drummond has been dominant on the boards his entire career averaging at least 13 rebounds per game every year of his career after his rookie season. Drummond also manages to secure a lot of blocks and steals, averaging more than 1.1 of each per game every season since 2015-16.  

But on deeper inspection, Drummond’s gaudy numbers begin to falter. Despite Drummond putting up more than 17 points per game, he isn’t doing it efficiently enough to justify taking as many shots per game as he currently does. Drummond’s field goal percentage of 47.4 percent isn’t an alarming number, but Drummond has taken 288 of his 380 field goal attempts from within five feet of the rim. Drummond has only taken 21 field goal attempts from more than 10 feet away from the rim all season, per NBA.com.

With this information, it’s no surprise that Drummond has a less than stellar true shooting of 50 percent, well below league average. To make matters worse, Drummond is a player who needs the ball in his hand to put up big scoring numbers. Drummond currently has a usage rate of 30 percent, the 16th highest number in the NBA, higher than players like Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard and Nikola Jokic. Drummond is also one of just two centers in the top 20 in usage percentage in the NBA, the only other center in the top 20 is Joel Embiid. Drummond also provides very little as a playmaker, holding an assist to turnover ratio of .79, averaging 2.6 assists and 3.1 turnovers per game. 

Drummond has been in the NBA for nine seasons now and has only made the playoffs twice, and both were first-round sweeps with the Detroit Pistons. Drummond has never played for a real contender, and a significant reason why is because of his style of play. There isn’t room for a high-usage, low-efficiency center with questionable defensive effort on teams trying to compete for an NBA title. It’s not because of Drummond’s position, it’s because his style of basketball isn’t conducive to productive scoring in the modern NBA.

But all hope is not lost for Drummond; it’s just going to take a rebuild of who he is as a player. Every good NBA team still needs productive big men, but the role these teams are looking for differs from what Drummond has been doing his entire career. These teams need big men to provide sufficient defense and rebounding, specifically in matchups against the NBA’s best bigs come playoff time. That’s what Drummond will have to do to be able to have a shot at a ring. The good news for him is that he possesses the skills to make that happen for himself.

Drummond is still among the NBA’s best in grabbing rebounds, and while that provides limited value on the defensive end, it does have a lot of value on the offensive boards. Drummond is fourth in the NBA in offensive rebounding percentage at 15 percent and fourth in offensive rebounds per game at 4.0. Drummond is also capable of providing a team with rim protection and solid defense from the center position. At 6-foot-11 and 280 lbs. Drummond has the frame that not many have to compete physically against star bigs like Jokic, Embiid and Davis. Drummond has also made the Cavaliers’ defense slightly better when on the court, holding a defensive rating of 113.2 compared to Cleveland’s team rating of 114.4, per NBA.com. Drummond also has no issue collecting blocks and steals, maintaining a steal percentage of 2.7 and a block percentage of 3.7, both respectable marks.   

There aren’t any good NBA teams looking for the player Drummond currently is, but there are plenty looking for the player Drummond is capable of being. The Brooklyn Nets have needed depth at center since trading away Jarrett Allen, and the Clippers could use depth at center behind Ivica Zubac, to name a few. Drummond doesn’t need to be traded to another non-contender and continue to put up empty scoring numbers because if he does that, Drummond’s shot at a ring will continue to fade.  

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