Grading Every Key New Orleans Pelicans Player Heading into NBA All-Star Break

Kyle Neubeck@@KyleNeubeckContributor IIFebruary 16, 2014

Grading Every Key New Orleans Pelicans Player Heading into NBA All-Star Break

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    The NBA's annual showcase of the stars is a time to rest, recharge and gear up for the season's final push. Having seen enough to determine what early-season trends have staying power, it's a good time for us to evaluate the New Orleans Pelicans and talk about what we can expect from the team during the stretch run.

    Despite residing in the host city for the festivities, the Pelicans have only one player participating in the main event, a slight disappointment for a team that came into the year with such high expectations. Playoffs may be out of the conversation, but a return to better health will help us better evaluate what looks like a talented roster.

    All-Star berths aren't everything, though. Think of grading a basketball team like a teacher evaluating writing—the star players are graded on a tougher curve based on expectations, while the role players simply need to shine in their limited appearances.

    Let's just hope that by season's end this list has more active players, rather than looking like a collection of the walking wounded.


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Greg Stiemsma: F

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    The best thing you can say about Greg Stiemsma is that he's tall. After that, there's not much in the way of positive vibes to throw his way.

    Signed to help bolster the back line's defensive ability, Stiemsma has been as bad as anyone on the roster at preventing opponents from scoring.  According to (subscription required), Stiemsma is giving up almost a full point per possession across all defensive situations, ranking a whopping 341st in the league.

    By virtue of that aforementioned height, he's able to pull down just over four rebounds per game, but that often feels more like an accident than anything else. Maybe injuries in the early season have held him back, but if he's not defending or rebounding at a high level, there's no reason the team shouldn't be seeing what it has in Jeff Withey.

    Area of focus: Defense, without a question. Unless the Pelicans somehow pick up another big man, they need Stiemsma to be stout in the post to stand a chance.

Anthony Morrow: A

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    Much like the way in which Roddy Piper's character in They Live came to chew bubble gum and take names, Anthony Morrow was brought to New Orleans to knock down open looks from downtown. Mission accomplished.

    Morrow is shooting a scintillating 48 percent from beyond the arc on 2.1 attempts per game, a return to form for a player who has struggled to get minutes over the last couple seasons. He has always been one of the league's best shooters, yet finding his way onto the court has proved difficult at times. 

    He's the type of complementary piece the Pelicans need to supplement their ball-dominant stars—an ace at coming off screens (he's 14th best in the league in such situations, per Synergy) who provides open lanes to the hoop with his floor spacing.

    Area of focus: Shooting, in case you didn't get the hint. 

Brian Roberts: D+

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    Monty Williams' insistence on playing Brian Roberts as many minutes as he has is puzzling, with a younger backcourt piece (Austin Rivers) waiting in the wings in need of development time. Why continue to play a 28-year-old journeyman when you have a recent lottery pick at the same position?

    It's not as if Roberts has been a world-beater during his time on the court. He's shot at a rather mediocre level overall—43.7 percent from the field—and the offense tends to stagnate when he's the lead handler in the game.

    To the observer, it seems rather obvious at this point that Roberts is not a player who should be getting minutes on a good team. And perhaps he wouldn't, given a clean slate of health for the roster. Injuries have unfortunately decimated the team, forcing him to play upward of 20 minutes per game—a stretch for a limited player.

    Area of focus: Playmaking. Roberts is the owner of a 2.6 assist/turnover ratio, a respectable showing for someone who plays mainly with the second unit. He needs to be more of a caretaker than a shot seeker for the team to be successful. 

Al-Farouq Aminu: C-

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    Al-Farouq Aminu has spent another half season toiling in mediocrity, failing to take full advantage of his athletic tools. At this point it seems like wishful thinking for him to become a three-and-D guy, because he's so far away from being a good shooter.

    One issue—he doesn't shoot enough for us to really know. Aminu has taken only 29 threes over the course of 51 games, which is mind-boggling for a small forward in today's NBA. The average player attempted almost two per game last season according to—a figure that accounts for lumbering post players and those still obsessed with the mid-range jumper.

    If he can't develop that shot to a point of respectability, he has no business being on the floor, even if he's the team's only option to defend the long, athletic wings that are en vogue around the league.

    Area of focus: Get some shots up, or get out.  

Jason Smith: C

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    We've reached the injury-plagued portion of our program—let's pour out a little liquor for the idea of a totally healthy Pelicans team. Jason Smith, the team's starting center at the beginning of the season, is out for the foreseeable future with cartilage damage in his right knee.

    Not that he was anything spectacular when healthy, though, as Smith's numbers took a slight hit this year. On-off stats don't paint a pretty picture, with Smith making the team 1.6 points worse while on the floor after being a positive influence over the past two seasons.

    Most of that comes down to defense. Smith represents a nice pairing for Anthony Davis on offense as a big who can hit the mid-range shot as well as score in the paint, but he has been a poor post defender, allowing a full point per possession when playing one-on-one down there.

    Area of focus: Rehabbing his knee. He can't get help the team from a gurney. 

Tyreke Evans: C+

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    Shooting percentages had risen for Tyreke Evans over the past couple seasons, coinciding with a smaller role in Sacramento. The hope was that trend would carry over to New Orleans, where his new team expected him to be a super sub in the mold of Manu Ginobili.

    In that sense, he has been a failure. Far from the shooter Ginobili is, Evans is shooting 41.1 percent from the field, including a ghastly 14.9 percent from three. There are only so many ways you can say how horrible that is, but here are a few: it's ghastly, despicable and downright ugly.

    But Evans has been adept at setting up teammates, and he's been trusted more as the second unit's primary ball-handler as the season has rolled along. While on the floor, he has assisted on 28.7 percent of his team's field goals, which when paired with his scoring means he has brought a lot to the table for the Pelicans.

    Area of focus: Working out of the post. An oversized guard, Evans has been most successful when working out of the post on offense, according to Synergy. New Orleans needs to take advantage of this more when he plays with shooters around him. 

Eric Gordon: B-

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    Here's the good news: Eric Gordon has played the most games out of the backcourt triumvirate the team assembled in the offseason. After back-to-back seasons were ravaged by injuries, this is a positive in and of itself.

    The issue with Gordon isn't so much an on-court issue as it is a symptom of the league's CBA. On the books for over $14 million this season, being a slightly above-average scorer isn't enough. With the team essentially locked into its current roster for the next few seasons, it needs its big-money players to produce like, well, big-money players in order to compete.

    Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News was the first to report that the Pelicans were shopping Eric Gordon, and the trade rumors have persisted since. He could be the secondary scorer a contender needs to get to the next level—teams can always use a 38 percent shooter from deep, especially one that scores 15 points per game.

    But whether they're willing to take on his salary is another story—and could perhaps be the story of the second half for New Orleans.

    Area of focus: Shot selection. Gordon has been solid from three in large part because he's gotten good looks on the perimeter. When he's been asked to create on his own, oftentimes he has settled for bad shots, resulting in his 43.1 shooting percentage overall. 

Jrue Holiday: B

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    Jrue Holiday hasn't scored like he did for the Philadelphia 76ers last season, which was the first All-Star campaign of his young career. But he hasn't needed to, because he's been as good or better in every other area for his new team.

    The key to fitting into a better team is making sure you're more efficient, and Holiday has delivered the goods in that regard. His overall shooting percentage has risen by a point, and he has been two points better from deep, a positive sign given that he has played away from the ball this year more than he did for the Sixers.

    Holiday has done that while maintaining the assist figures that helped buoy an otherwise shoddy roster in Philadelphia, tallying 7.9 dimes per game for the Pelicans. Youth remains on his side at age 23, and given more time to grow with his teammates—specifically a devastating pick-and-roll partner in Davis—he can be a positive force for years to come.

    Area of focus: Getting to the line. When he returns from injury, Holiday needs to manufacture more points from the charity stripe, a trouble area for him since his days at UCLA. He's averaging just 1.9 trips per contest, just below the league average of 2.0 per game.

Ryan Anderson: B-

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    Health is the name of the game for Ryan Anderson, out since early January with a troubling back injury. Missing the beginning of the season with a separate stint on the disabled list, Anderson's time on the court has been much too brief.

    That's a shame, because Anderson is a devastating offensive player who can swing the tide of a game on any given night. Guys who are 6'10" that can stroke it from downtown are few and far between, and Anderson knocks down triples at a prolific rate. He was shooting almost 41 percent on 7.5 attempts per game prior to going down, numbers that look like they were ripped from a game of NBA 2K14.

    He's one of the three best players at scoring off screens in the league according to Synergy, pouring in points from a variety of angles. If you can shoot, you'll always have a place in the NBA. Now it's just a matter of getting healthy for the long term.

    Area of focus: Aside from health, defense is the name of the game here. The Pelicans' best offensive lineup comes with Anderson playing power forward along with Davis and the team's three main guards, but it is also their worst on defense, according to  

Anthony Davis: A+

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    There's not much to be critical of from second-year big Anthony Davis. He is one of the best players in the NBA already, evidenced by the fact that he was rightfully selected to represent the West in the All Star festivities.

    He may be the prototype for the modern-day power forward, a freak of an athlete who runs the floor like a gazelle and finishes in transition with ease. Davis ranks fourth among all players at scoring on the break, averaging 1.54 points per possession on such opportunities. That category is usually dominated by wings like LeBron James, so seeing Davis near the top is awe-inspiring to say the least.

    Defensively, he's got the most menacing set of skinny arms in the league, using his cartoonish wingspan to erase shots and prevent would-be entry passes. He hasn't had much help from his teammates on that end, but that hasn't stopped him from leading the league in blocked shots

    The amazing thing is he wasn't supposed to be this good yet. Remember—this kid doesn't turn 21 until March 11 of this year. That he's already been chosen as one of the league's best players before he is of legal drinking age is astounding and leads one to question just how high he can ascend.

    Future MVPs are not out of the question.

    Area of focus: Just keep being awesome, Unibrow.