Mar 31, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) celebrates from the bench with forward DeMarcus Cousins (0) during the fourth quarter of a game against the Sacramento Kings at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans defeated the Kings 117-89. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
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In the second half of the New Orleans Pelicans season review I take a look at the frontcourt starters and reserves and how their 2016-17 season played out.
As the New Orleans Pelicans looked for someone to play alongside superstar Anthony Davis, they found themselves playing multiple big men this year in hopes of finding a fitting duo down low.
Although Omer Asik underperformed last season, he was given a chance to be a part of the rotation early on in the season. Alexis Ajinca on many occasions this year played alongside Davis, and in my opinion the two looked very good on the floor together. Donatas Montiejunas was brought in to stretch the floor while Davis worked the middle and even Dante Cunningham got a lot of time at the 4 in smaller lineups this season.
Lucky for them, the top-heavy frontcourt that featured one of the NBA’s exciting young talents and not much else received a huge boost at the trade deadline with the addition of DeMarcus Cousins. With that trade, the dynamic of this years Pelicans team and what their future held was drastically changed.
Apr 7, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried (35) guards New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) in the first quarter at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
The unquestioned leader of the New Orleans Pelicans, Anthony Davis enjoyed a stellar season after injuries limited him last year.
Davis continues to show that he’s one of the leagues best individual two-way players each and every night. This season, Davis was in the top five in scoring and blocks while in the top 10 in rebounding, free throw attempts and double-doubles.
Anthony Davis is an amazing player to watch. There are certainly players like Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid and even his teammate DeMarcus Cousins who posses a similar skill-set to his, but Anthony Davis is a player in his own category.
He’s had many dominant performances over the course of the season but perhaps none more so than his 46-point, 21-rebound game in an overtime win against the Charlotte Hornets on Mar. 11. He looked like a man possessed, basically taking over the whole game in the fourth quarter and overtime to lead his team to victory.
Prior to the DeMarcus Cousins trade, Davis played primarily at the center position this season — the idea being that Davis at the center spot would be a mismatch for any big trying to defend him on the perimeter. The result turned into one of the best seasons of Anthony Davis’ career.
At only the age of 23, Davis’ talent in undeniable yet the scary thing is he still has room to improve. His three-point percentage this season dropped to 30 percent and I’m sure will be something he’ll look to address in the offseason.
Now with Davis and DeMarcus Cousins in the same lineup together and seemingly building chemistry, the rest of the league will soon be on notice as the two will have a chance to dominate together for years to come.
Mar 31, 2017; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward DeMarcus Cousins (0) steals the ball from Sacramento Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein (00) during the first quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
DeMarcus Cousins, after wearing out his welcome in Sacramento, was dealt to the Pelicans during the All-Star break. Rumors of the Kings’ willingness to move Boogie had been flying around for a couple of years, but the Pelicans’ acquisition of Cousin was shocking nonetheless.
Boogie’s career in New Orleans got off to a rocky start. The team lost three straight games after the trade before finally winning against the Detroit Pistons on Mar. 1 — a game Cousins sat out due a suspension for his 18th technical foul.
DeMarcus often found himself in foul trouble while the early returns of his ability to jell cohesively with Anthony Davis weren’t looking too good.
For example, while Davis was enjoying a 46-point 21-rebound performance in an overtime win over the Charlotte Hornets on Mar. 11, Cousins was watching from the bench during most of the fourth and overtime periods.
Then, something clicked. The more and more we saw Cousins effectively being worked into coach Alvin Gentry’s offense, the more Cousins and Davis’ chemistry continue to build and we got a glimpse of how scary their potential could be. The wins came late in the season, so unfortunately the Pelicans ran out of time and missed the playoffs. All is not failed, however, as they can use the positives from Cousins late in the season as something to build off of for next year.
Feb 12, 2017; Sacramento, CA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Solomon Hill (44) drives in against Sacramento Kings forward Matt Barnes (22) during the second quarter at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
29.7 MPG | 7.0 PPG | 3.8 RPG | 1.8 APG
Solomon Hill as brought in on a $48 million contract in the offseason with the intent of assuming the role as the Pelicans’ main defensive stopper on the perimeter. He was often tasked with defending the opposing team’s perimeter best player and did so fairly well.
What Hill was able to provide defensively, he pretty much balanced out offensively. Aside from a few surprise performances this season — like his 23-point outing against the Memphis Grizzlies right before the All-Star break or his 30-point night against Houston in mid-March (both wins and the only times he scored more than 20 points this season) — Hill was atrocious on that side of the ball.
For an all-year starter, Hill ranked seventh on the team in scoring with 7.0 points per game and shot at 38.4 percent from the field and 34.8 percent from three.
Like many of his Pelicans this season, Hill had a lot of up and down games. He didn’t always play with the same assertiveness and intensity night-to-night. However, If he can continue to embrace his role as one of the defensive leaders on the team, improve and consistently assert his offense, then he’ll have a strong chance to stick around next season and beyond.
Apr 7, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; New Orleans Pelicans center Alexis Ajinca (42) defends against Denver Nuggets center Mason Plumlee (24) in the fourth quarter at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
15 MPG | 5.3 PPG | 4.5 RPG
Alexis Ajinca is a big man who plays big. His activity on both ends of the court has been a very valuable asset at times for the Pelicans this season.
On the defensive side of the ball, Ajinca was a rim protector when in the lineup. On offense he did a good job of putting himself in position for playmakers to find for easy looks around the basket. He rarely stepped out for the 15-footer off the pick-and-pop, where he converted 57.9 percent (11-of-19) of his looks between 10-16 feet from the rim.
Ajinca brought immediate energy off the bench each time he checked in. And although he was in and out of the lineup this season, he seemed to impact each game he was in due to his activity alone. Not to mention, he finished the season strong with four straight double-digit scoring efforts.
The Pelicans were rumored to be in talks with teams about moving Ajinca’s contract near the trade deadline. Of course, nothing prospered from those talks, but his contract may be something the Pelicans look at again this offseason.
Feb 4, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Dante Cunningham (33) shoots the ball as Washington Wizards forward Jason Smith (14) defends in the first quarter at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
25.0 MPG | 6.6 PPG | 4.2 RPG
Dante Cunningham was an essential part of the Pelicans this season, even if the stats don’t necessarily tell his whole story. A perfect role player and glue guy, Cunningham played multiple roles for the Pelicans this season.
His main job this season was to primarily come off the bench but because of injuries, matchups and roster movement, Cunningham was asked to start on 22 occasions this year. His versatility and ability to defend multiple front line players on the perimeter proved to be invaluable.
Aside from is defensive efforts, Cunningham led the Pelicans in three-point shooting at 39 percent and became someone penetrating guards and big men could rely on for the kick out in the corner.
If the Pelicans had it their way, Cunningham would be back next year under his scheduled $3.1 million salary but reports suggest that Cunningham will decline the third year of his contract and become a free agent this summer.
Feb 13, 2017; Phoenix, AZ, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Donatas Motiejunas (12) boxes out Phoenix Suns center Alex Len (21) in the first half of the NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
14.1 MPG | 4.4 PPG | 3.0 RPG | 1.0 APG
Donatas Motiejunas’ bizarre contract standoff with the Houston Rockets led to his signing with the Pelicans in early January.
He appeared in 34 games this season for the Pelicans. However, his services were little used as he only played about 14 minutes per game with some games only getting a few spot minutes here and there.
When in the lineup, he provided very little impact. For a guy who was brought in to stretch the floor and provide playmaking, he did very little of either as he looked uncomfortable in head coach Alvin Gentry’s system.
Defensively, he wasn’t so bad. Montiejunas did a good job providing help on stretch-4s and some wings on the perimeter this season, allowing the Pelicans more defensive matchup options.
His midseason signing looks like it may be a one-year experiment as I expect the Pelicans to look for someone else to fill his role next season.
Apr 8, 2017; Oakland, CA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Cheick Diallo (13) holds the ball away from the reach of Golden State Warriors forward Matt Barnes (22) in the second quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
11.7 MPG (17 GP) | 5.1 PPG | 4.3 RPG
The 2016-17 season for rookie Cheick Diallo was a developmental year. Although he only saw limited action this season, Diallo did his part to confirm the Pelicans’ belief that he indeed has the potential to be a really good player in the NBA.
Big games against the Clippers (19 points, 10 rebounds) early in the season certainly opened some eyes. He again impressed late in the season, putting up back-to-back double-double performances against the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers.
His multiple stints in the D-League where he also impressed with 15.0 points and 8.5 rebounds per game in his 26 appearances allowed him the opportunity to fine-tune his skills while expanding his basketball IQ.
However, right now due to the limited sample size, Diallo is all potential. He’ll have a chance to vie for a bigger role next season, but he’ll have to put in the work this offseason to garner consideration for a spot in next year’s rotation.
Jan 12, 2017; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez (11) controls the ball against New Orleans Pelicans center Omer Asik (3) during the first quarter at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
15.5 MPG | 2.7 PPG | 5.3 RPG
For Omer Asik, the 2016-17 season turned out to be another disappointing year. His play seemingly declined once again and injuries certainly didn’t help his standing with head coach Alvin Genty and the Pelicans’ decision-makers.
Coming off a disappointing 2015-16 season, Asik was given another chance to be apart of the rotation early in the season. Unfortunately for him, his poor play continued and he eventually found himself out of the lineup before being shut down for the rest of the year after the All-Star break with a stomach illness.
Like Alexis Ajinca, Asik looked to be on the way out as the trade deadline approached, but his contract proved to be too hard to move.
The Pelicans will undoubtedly again try to aggressively move the remaining of Omer Asik’s five-year $58 million contract this summer in hopes to free up some space and bring in some more impactful and talented players.