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Ranking New Orleans Pelicans' Biggest Needs for 2015 NBA Offseason

this is a discussion within the Pelicans Community Forum; Playoffs or no playoffs, this has been the New Orleans Pelicans ' best season since 2010-11. And now, regardless of whether it's the Pels or the Oklahoma City Thunder who get railroaded by the Golden State Warriors in Round 1, ...

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Old 04-13-2015, 07:31 AM   #1
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Ranking New Orleans Pelicans' Biggest Needs for 2015 NBA Offseason

Playoffs or no playoffs, this has been the New Orleans Pelicans' best season since 2010-11.

And now, regardless of whether it's the Pels or the Oklahoma City Thunder who get railroaded by the Golden State Warriors in Round 1, this summer will be a huge one for New Orleans.

There finally appears to be a destination in sight. This is a team that has paid its dues on Rebuilding Road and is now inches away from a permanent spot on Postseason Place.

It's important not to jeopardize that, so the team should avoid wholesale renovation. With Anthony Davis as the star, general manager Dell Demps has done a sound job of building a good—but not flashy—supporting cast.

But it's also important for the GM to stay aggressive and actively improve the team, just like he did during the regular season with the additions of Norris Cole and Quincy Pondexter.

The bench, in particular, needs some revamping.

Based on data from HoopsStats.com, the Pels had one of the worst statistical second units in all of basketball. But those numbers are a bit skewed due to the team's early struggles. With Demps' additions, NOLA goes pretty deep.

This roster is like a jigsaw puzzle that's missing a piece or two. If Demps can find the right parts, we could be looking at a masterpiece next season.

2. Re-Sign Alexis Ajinca andOmer Asik

Alexis Ajinca broke out in a big way this season. On the hardwood, it was great for New Orleans—but the lanky Frenchman's emergence will make this offseason much harder for his team.

To make matters worse, fellow big fella Omer Asik is also hitting the market.

If the Pels can bring both guys back, that's ideal. But it might be tough, especially with how strong Ajinca came on during the final third of the year.

The skinny, highly skilled center will probably cost less and definitely score more than Asik, but the Turkish 7-footer is an absolute monster on the glass and defense. He's a great guy to plug in alongside AD—he won't cry about touches but will attack the glass.

Still, it's not every day you find a player with Ajinca's skill set.

"He’s a great player," Davis said of Ajinca on March 12, per Jim Eichenhofer of NBA.com. "He can shoot it, he’s great in the post, defends, hustles. He's been huge for us, especially in the games that I missed. That's what we need, with him coming off the bench."

But Davis likes Asik a lot too—just for different reasons:
In Spain, Omer Asik told Monty/Anthony Davis he just wants to rebound/defend. Upon hearing that, Davis' smile was "like the Kool-Aid Man"

— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) September 17, 2014
These guys are both extremely valuable but in totally opposite ways. Ajinca is the offensively gifted scorer who fills up the stat sheet, while Asik is the garbage man who plays hard-nosed D and hits the glass like Manny Pacquiao hits the bag.

Each player brings something different but distinctly important to the table.

And that's why the Pels should avoid approaching this dilemma as an either-or situation. The goal should be to re-up with both.

If it comes down to maybe shipping Ryan Anderson and a future pick to free up room for Ajinca and Asik, then so be it.

Quality bigs aren't easy to find in today's NBA. If all goes according to plan, the Pels could have a formidable three-headed beast for years to come.

1. Add a Three-and-D Wing

Almost every elite team has what's become known as a three-and-D player—a wing who can knock down three-pointers and play strong perimeter defense.

The Pelicans, instead, had three D-rated forwards who overachieved this year.

Luke Babbitt, Dante Cunningham (who is actually more of a power forward) and Pondexter worked their tails off and provided the team with occasional bursts. They're fine as role players but certainly not stars.

Babbitt leads the league in the three-point percentage, but he couldn't guard the stat guy who records those triples. Cunningham is a strong defender but struggles to convert anything outside of a lay-in.

Pondexter, after years of empty bench roles, did come up big in 2014-15. Acquired as part of the Austin Rivers trade in early January, Q-Pon has averaged 10.2 points on 48.1 percent shooting (and 48.6 from deep) to go along with three boards since Monty Williams made him a starter back on Feb. 21.

With the 6'6", 225-pound pit bull starting at the 3, the Pels have gone 16-10.

The knock on Pondexter, though, is inconsistency. His scoring average is indicative of several low totals mixed in with some explosions. He works hard but is far from a lockdown defender.

James Harden can vouch for that.

Pondexter is signed through 2017-18 at a reasonable yearly price of $3 million. But with Babbitt and Cunningham both headed for free agency this summer, the Pels should try to pick up another—and perhaps better—three-and-D wing.

Khris Middleton, a 23-year-old breakout forward for the Milwaukee Bucks, has become a hot commodity. The 6'7" two-way player has scored 13.3 points per game while shooting 40.9 percent from distance.

He's currently eighth in ESPN's real plus-minus ranking—behind only Harden, Stephen Curry, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Davis and Russell Westbrook.

Now that's some pretty darn elite company.

"I have the confidence to be [a top-10 player]," Middleton told Grantland's Zach Lowe on March 25. "I'm gonna play like it. Some people will have their opinions, but to be in the league, you have to have confidence that you're one of the best."

B/R's Michael Pina added some insight on Middleton's defensive ability: "On defense, Middleton is the ideal contemporary player. He's long, he's quick, and he can guard three or four positions. Bucks head coach Jason Kidd has taken advantage, unleashing Middleton in a switch-happy system that utilizes all he brings to the table."

Middleton, who will be a restricted free agent, would be a great fit in New Orleans. The Pels will have to really push the Bucks or convince Middleton that NOLA—where he'll suit up with a potential basketball legend in AD—is the place for him.

But even if the youngster stays home or simply goes elsewhere, the Pelicans have options—and lots of 'em.

This isn't about winning headlines or getting the biggest name out there. The Pelicans just need another capable shooter willing to do some defensive dirty work.

All stats are accurate as of March 12 courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

Read more New Orleans Pelicans news on BleacherReport.com

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