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New Orleans Pelicans Rolling the Dice with Bench Newcomers

this is a discussion within the Pelicans Community Forum; A number of elements comprise winning rosters in today’s NBA : at least one superstar, players that thrive in their personal roles, consistent workers on both ends, depth and balance. The New Orleans Pelicans can check those first three off ...

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Old 01-19-2015, 09:32 AM   #1
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New Orleans Pelicans Rolling the Dice with Bench Newcomers

A number of elements comprise winning rosters in today’s NBA: at least one superstar, players that thrive in their personal roles, consistent workers on both ends, depth and balance.

The New Orleans Pelicans can check those first three off their list without hesitation. Anthony Davis has had more highlights than there are words on this page and will remain entrenched in the MVP race until the season’s end.

Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson aren’t on AD’s level, but they succeed in their own roles—whether it’s facilitating and scoring (Holiday), aggressively attacking and creating plays (Evans) or carrying the bench (Anderson).

Say what you will about the Pelicans’ defense, which ranks 24th in the league, but the effort is almost always there. Some guys just aren’t all that good on that end of the floor.

Depth and balance have been the killers. New Orleans’ gaping holes in those areas are a large part of why the team has yet to break away from the seemingly magnetic .500 mark.

According to Hoops Stats, the Pelicans are in the league's bottom half for bench scoring (33 points, 18th), rebounding (13.2, 25th) and distributing (5.5, 28th). They're also 21st in bench defense.

But general manager Dell Demps is bringing in some reinforcements.

Unless you’re a diehard NBA fan, you probably wouldn’t recognize Nate Wolters or Quincy Pondexter if you passed them on the street. But on the hardwood, these recently acquired newcomers will look to help push the ‘Cans into playoff contention.

Nate the…Great Serviceable

There seemed to be a fair amount of surprise around the league when Wolters cleared waivers after getting the boot from the Milwaukee Bucks.

The 23-year-old graduate of South Dakota State started 31 games for the Deer last year, averaging 7.2 points on 43.7 percent shooting to go along with 3.2 assists.

This season, coach Jason Kidd has encountered difficulty in finding playing time for the second-year pro, instead giving the lion’s share of backcourt minutes to Brandon Knight and Kendall Marshall, who unfortunately just suffered a torn ACL.

A change of scenery will likely serve Wolters well. In the 11 games he managed to check into with Milwaukee, the 6’4” guard mustered up only 2.3 points (38.7 percent) and less than one assist a night.

Is this kid the second coming of Chris Paul? Nonsense. But the ‘Cans are starved for a point guard—scratch that, a real point guard—to backup Holiday, who has been forced to play over 33 minutes a night.

And when you’re that hungry, peanut butter and jelly tastes as good as filet mignon.

Now, that’s not a knock on Wolters. Though he was initially signed to a 10-day deal, it’d be a shrewd move for the Pels to lock him up for the whole year, especially after trading Russ Smith and Austin Rivers.

He’s not going to single-handedly win any games, but Wolters will probably help New Orleans from blowing more close ones.

Of the Pelicans’ 20 losses, 14 have been decided by 10 points or fewer. When Holiday sits, pretty much all continuity goes out the window, highlighted by a noticeable dip in team shooting percentage, rebounding, turnovers, points allowed and points scored.

It’s not crazy to think that a reliable floor general off the bench will help decide some of those closer games.

This move comes at a crucial time for New Orleans, as Holiday’s ankle flared up against the Boston Celtics on Jan. 12.

His absence in the following game—against the lowly Philadelphia 76ers—cemented Holiday’s worth, as the Pels got smacked around by a severely inferior team. Granted, Davis (left foot) wasn’t playing either, but Philly is the equivalent of a Development League team.

Wolters played just six minutes in his first action as a Pelican, adding two boards and an assist against the 76ers. His role will undoubtedly expand as he becomes more acclimated to the team and coach Monty Williams.

“He’s a smart guy,” Williams said of his new guard, per Jim Eichenhofer of NBA.com “That’s one of the reasons we brought him in. We knew his IQ was pretty high for a young player.”

The Pelicans might be forced to unleash Wolters sooner than they would’ve liked, as they’re “not going to put a timetable on Jrue,” according to Williams, who added that he thought the injury was day-to-day.

Here’s more from the fifth-year coach, via Eichenhofer:
One thing our fans have to understand is that if Jrue is in pain, he’s in pain. He plays through a lot of stuff. Last year he played with a broken elbow that nobody even knew about, because he played right through it. I had to be his brains the other day (in Boston). I had to sit him down. He wanted to continue (to play), but I didn’t like what I saw from him. It was tough for me to do that, but we always look out for our players.

When Holiday comes back and Wolters gets comfortable, New Orleans will have a significantly more balanced backcourt.

Q's Impact on D

After playing out his rookie year in New Orleans, Pondexter was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies and spent four full seasons there.

The Pels reacquired the lengthy swingman in a deal that sent Rivers, a former top-10 pick (2012), to the Boston Celtics, and Smith to the Grizz.

That trade was more about getting rid of Rivers than it was about bringing back Pondexter. Jimmy Smith from NOLA.com with more on that:
Had the Pelicans made this move sooner, they would have been admitting a draft-night miscalculation.

The less-than-impressive compensation received in return – Quincy Pondexter, whom the Hornets traded in 2011 to the Grizzlies for Vasquez – is evidence that the Pelicans were ready to move on, no matter how meager the offer.

But Pondexter is no scrub.

While Rivers was a streaky-shooting, defensively-challenged 2, Pondexter will serve as a strong perimeter defender who can slash on the other end. Neither are consistent offensive threats, but at least the latter will bring some D to the table.

“I don’t care about scoring, never have,” Pondexter said after his first game, per Eichenhofer. “I just care about winning games. As long as we’re doing that, shots will come. We’ve all got to be unselfish a little bit. That’s what I’m trying to bring to this team, making the extra pass, doing the little things and having fun.”

Evans, Holiday and Eric Gordon can all make plays on the perimeter. Plus, Jimmer Fredette outplayed Rivers over the course of the past few weeks anyway. The ‘Cans simply didn’t need the soon-to-be free agent and decided to get something in return before letting him walk.

Wasting no time, Pondexter has put forth great effort toward getting used to how his new team runs.

“I’ve been locked in my room focused, watching a lot of film and just trying to fit in,” Pondexter said on Jan. 16, per John Reid of NOLA.com. ''It’s not always going to perfect. For the most part, I feel like I’m fitting in right now…I’m just looking forward to see what we do with this team.”

The former University of Washington wing is a quality mid-range shooter, hitting shots less than 24 feet from the hoop at a mark of 46.6 percent, via NBA.com’s Tracking Function. However, 81 of his 155 shots this season have come from beyond that distance (20-81, 24.7 percent).

Williams threw the 26-year-old right into the fray for 31, 26 and 23 minutes in his first three games as a Pelican. While his numbers (4.7 points and 5.3 rebounds) are far from gaudy, Pondexter has earned the respect of his coach and, perhaps more importantly, his teammates on the other end.

“He’s fun to have on the floor because he talks (defensively) and he’s a veteran,” Gordon said after Q’s first game, via Eichenhofer. “He will definitely help us down the line. It’s good to have a veteran like him who’s been on a winning team and talks like that.”

Dante Cunningham echoed Gordon’s sentiments, and Williams added that Pondexter “just understands how to move his feet. He understands concepts. He and Dante give us a bit of an edge at that spot.”

For a team that’s giving up 100.7 points nightly (20th in the league), Pondexter’s arrival is much needed.

Will Wolters and Pondexter Be Enough?

As things currently stand around the Association, ESPN’s John Hollinger has the Phoenix Suns slotted as the most likely eighth seed come playoff time.

Granted, rankings and projections and predictions don’t always hold a ton of weight. But this one is pretty thorough—“each day the computer plays out the remainder of the season 5,000 times to see the potential range of projected outcomes” based on ESPN’s Power Rankings.

So, while Phoenix is the current playoff favorite, New Orleans is projected to lose just two more games than the Suns.

The Pelicans will have to play plus-.500 basketball in order to have a shot at earning a postseason berth, as 41-41 simply won’t cut it.

New Orleans has the talent to warrant contention, but depth has been (and could continue to be) an issue. Wolters and Pondexter were brought in to fill two of the Pels’ biggest voids: ball-handling and wing defense. And when the team is at full strength, the duo will certainly help.

But they aren’t likely to solve the entire problem. Two role players aren't going to take one of the league's worst benches and turn it into an elite unit. A boost in three-point shooting would be especially helpful—New Orleans ranks 21st in team percentage (34.2).

Davis has missed the past two games with a foot injury, but he should be fine long-term. Holiday’s case is definitely alarming, especially given that he missed more than half of last season with an injury to the same leg.

The injury bug has flown in at a most inconvenient time. New Orleans, now 4-4 in January, should be winning games. All four losses have been against teams well under .500.

If the Pelicans think Wolters and Pondexeter will be the panacea to their depth and balance issues, it might hurt when reality smacks them in the mouth.

Adding these guys was a step forward. But if the front office decides to rest on its laurels and neglects to stay active, that will be a step back.

All stats are accurate as of Jan. 19 courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

Read more New Orleans Pelicans news on BleacherReport.com

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