Pelicans host Hawks with Motiejunas in tow (Jan 05, 2017)
NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Pelicans' four-game commitment to small ball has been born out of necessity.
Neither 7-foot starting center Omer Asik nor 7-foot-2 backup Alexis Ajinca has been able to carry his weight, much less his height, to provide 6-10 forward Anthony Davis with consistent protection around the rim or even a hint of scoring punch, prompting coach Alvin Gentry to slide Davis over to center and go with a smaller lineup in winning three of the last four games.
All that may change as the Pelicans (14-22) host the Atlanta Hawks (19-16) on Thursday night at the Smoothie King Center.
On Tuesday, the Pelicans signed 7-0 Donatas Motiejunas, an unrestricted free agent who can run the court, shoot from the perimeter, work effectively in the pick-and-roll and deliver timely passes -- all the things Asik, a shot-blocker and rebounder, has not been able to deliver.
Davis said Wednesday he has never played with anyone similar to Motiejunas, the former Rocket who was coveted by the Lakers and Timberwolves but chose to sign a one-year contract with the Pelicans at the $1.1 million veteran's minimum.
The acquisition of Motiejunas, who played only 37 games last year because of a nagging back injury, could give the Pelicans the creative, one-two inside punch they have lacked.
Motiejunas will play limited minutes until he rounds into game shape, but Davis clearly is excited by the prospect of adding someone who will draw defensive attention away from himself. Motiejunas shot 36.8 percent from 3-point range in 2014-15, his last full season.
"It gives me the opportunity to get out on the floor and roam," Davis said Wednesday. "I'll be able to step out and shoot the ball or be able to attack more. He brings a lot to our team, and it's the stuff that we're looking for. He's got all of that in his arsenal, so it's definitely good to have him. He definitely fits in the small ball, because he can run the floor pretty well, too. That helps us in the way we want to play."
Neither Asik nor Ajinca played a minute in the last four games for New Orleans. When Davis and Motiejunas are on the court together, Gentry said his new 7-footer will be "a center for us. There's a possibility that he might play some (forward), but if he's on the floor with AD, it's more than likely that he's going to be the center."
In beating the Orlando Magic 111-92 on the road Wednesday night, the Hawks have won four straight, five of their last six and nine of their last 13.
The Hawks shot 52 percent from the field and had their trademark balanced scoring, placing five players in double figures. Point guard Dennis Schroder led the way with 18 points and seven assists, and Kent Bazemore had 17 points, Paul Millsap 16 and Dwight Howard 13 points and 12 rebounds.
The Hawks made 10 of 19 from behind the arc.
"We're playing well overall," Schroder said. "Dwight is doing his job; Paul Millsap is an All-Star doing his job. We're playing together as a team and playing Atlanta Hawks basketball."
Asked about the swirling trade rumors involving Millsap, Schroder said: "At the end of the day, it's a business, but Paul Millsap is taking it well. He's dying for the team. He's doing whatever it takes on the court and off the court to make us better. ... We want him to keep playing with us."