Final Regular-Season Grades for Every New Orleans Pelicans Player

Kyle NeubeckContributor IIApril 20, 2014

Final Regular-Season Grades for Every New Orleans Pelicans Player

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    The book has closed on the initial season under the New Orleans Pelicans moniker. So what can we make of the performances by this young, talented group?

    It's hard to say how much we've learned about the Pelicans going forward, because so much of the season was spent with major players sidelined by injury. Last summer's blockbuster moves brought optimism and dreams of grandeur, but what the Pelicans got was agony and uncertainty.

    Through adversity, though, there were flashes of brilliance from the young core, a promise of brighter days ahead. When the centerpiece of your team is just 21 years old, it's hard not to be excited for what's to come.

    And so it's time to reflect on all that was (and wasn't) for the Pelicans. Anyone who played three games or more and is still on the roster, you get a grade!

    Production is the key factor in earning high marks, but injuries will be accounted for and (some) sympathy will be shown for the wounded.

James Southerland: D-

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    James Southerland was a late-season addition for a depleted Pelicans roster that needed more bodies to fill its bench down the stretch.

    In his limited stint of just three games, Southerland managed to shoot 60 percent from downtown, an encouraging mark for someone who shot just 32.8 percent during his time in the NBA D-League this season.

    That's about all he contributed to the team, as he didn't register a single assist for the Pelicans. Perhaps that's just a carryover effect from the D-League, where players are looking to pile up stats in order to get a call-up to the big show, but Southerland is going to have to do more if he wants a future spot on this or any other pro roster.

Luke Babbitt: F

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    When you're a bad defender, your offense has to make up for your limitations on that end. Unfortunately for Luke Babbitt, he was pretty pitiful on both ends of the court for the Pelicans.

    After leaving Russian team BC Nizhny Novgorod in order to join the Pelicans, Babbitt showed little of the offensive touch that made him a desirable quantity to begin with. He shot just 39 percent in 27 appearances, his 112 defensive rating being the only thing that surpassed his futility from the field.

    In theory, he could be a useful player on a healthy Pelicans team, providing a poor man's version of Ryan Anderson. He shot 37.9 percent from downtown this year, almost a full percent above his career average.

    But with the Pelicans lacking in defense more than anywhere else, it's hard to imagine him sticking around after underwhelming in his area of strength. 

Jeff Withey: C

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    Jeff Withey's season has been an odd one. Though the Pelicans have a major need for a defensive-minded player to pair with Anthony Davis, Monty Williams was reluctant to give Withey—who possesses such instincts—a chance to play with him.

    Despite playing just 11.8 minutes per game, Withey frequently altered or challenged shots, much like he did at Kansas. Per 36 minutes, he blocked 2.6 shots, which would have trailed Davis' league-leading figure by just a fraction of a swat.

    He's a fairly unremarkable player, but it's not as if the Pelicans have been trotting out Hall of Fame-caliber players next to Anthony Davis all season. Greg Stiemsma, at various points the starter next to Davis, was cut by the Pelicans with virtually no time left in the season. If they felt his play was so poor, why not give the young guy a chance?

Darius Miller: C-

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    It was a tale of two halves for Darius Miller.

    After shooting well from deep early and struggling overall, his shooting percentage rose as he lost his outside touch following the All-Star Game. Outside shooting was one of Miller's biggest strengths last season—39.3 percent from downtown—so the loss of his biggest asset when thrust into a bigger role is troubling.

    Given the chance to play eight more minutes a game with the team hurting for depth late in the year, Miller didn't do a ton to prove he deserves more burn. Theoretically, he's the type of athletic three-and-D player who would fit well alongside the team's battalion of guards, but tangible results are what counts in the NBA.

Brian Roberts: D

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    You'd be forgiven if you confused Brian Roberts with one of the many players like him who struggle to find a niche in the NBA. If you're only 6'1", having below-average shooting and passing numbers will ensure your career is brief.

    And Roberts' numbers are certainly subpar—shooting 42.1 percent from the floor would be inexcusable for any player, even one with physical gifts that far outclass Roberts' own.

    His stature, paired with his limited athleticism, made him a total liability on defense, reflected by his 114 defensive rating, bordering on a team-worst figure for a team that was no stranger to defensive ineptitude. It'd be easier to forgive his effort on that end if he weren't blocking the next player on our list, a recent lottery pick who needs time to grow.

Austin Rivers: C-

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    Remember this guy? It wasn't too long ago that the Pelicans saw fit to make him a lottery pick and trust him to help lead the rebuild with Davis.

    A crowded backcourt has muddied the waters for Austin Rivers. Finally given more time to produce after injuries struck down Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and others in the second half of the season, he put up better counting stats, though his efficiency still leaves a lot to be desired.

    Still, his field-goal percentage took a big jump post-All-Star break—just over 5 percent from 37.7 to 42.9—and Rivers showed improving shot selection as the year went on. Perhaps it's simply a matter of getting to play with better teammates, which affords him superior looks, but there was visible progress at the very least.

    His numbers are eerily similar to Roberts' as a whole. Why not give the 21-year-old lottery pick more minutes instead of the 28-year-old journeyman who is unlikely to take any major steps forward at this point?

Jason Smith: C+

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    Jason Smith was a steady, productive player for the Pelicans...when he was healthy. Smith played his last game this season on Jan. 15, with the team announcing Feb. 3 that he would be out for the season following successful knee surgery.

    Prior to his loss, Smith offered the Pelicans a ton of versatility on offense, his ability to knock down jumpers allowing Davis free reign in setting up on offense. Smith shot 47.4 percent from between 16 feet and the three-point line, a mark that would place him among the league's best mid-range shooters.

    The only problem with the Smith-Davis pairing (or the Smith-anyone pairing) is that he's a limited defender, leaving the Pelicans with little to no protection against post-ups. With limited options in New Orleans, he was thrust into a starting role he's underqualified for, but he was a valuable player who helped Davis get off to the flying start he did.

Alexis Ajinca: B-

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    After being out of the league for the two seasons preceding this one, Alexis Ajinca's play for the Pelicans may have resuscitated his NBA dreams.

    The Pelicans were regularly better on defense with Ajinca on the court this season, and that probably shouldn't be a surprise. The seven-foot center's wingspan presents a ton of issues for even the beefiest NBA post players, which is why his defensive rating of 107 was three full points below the team average.

    Some, including Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune, have opined that Ajinca's play has not only solidified his spot in the rotation, but also earned him consideration for a starting spot alongside Davis next season. It's a worthy consideration, as a long-armed frontcourt of Ajinca and Davis would dare teams to challenge it at the rim at their own peril.

Al-Farouq Aminu: C

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    Fans have been waiting for a major leap for the supremely gifted Al-Farouq Aminu for years. That didn't change after this season.

    It's one thing to be a bad shooter, but to be afraid to shoot from deep in the modern NBA is a death sentence for forwards. Aminu managed to put up just 48 threes all season, and he often passed up open attempts that turned into ugly, contested shots from mid-range.

    Something has to give, because in other areas of the game, Aminu filled up the box score, particularly when it came to cleaning the glass. His 10.1 points and 8.7 rebounds per 36 minutes are stout for a role player, and given his rather strong defense on the wing, the makings of something more are there.

    But until he hones his stroke and shows a willingness to shoot, he's going to get ignored on offense, finding his offense mostly on rebounds and tips as he did this year.

Anthony Morrow: B+

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    Call this one the steal of the offseason: Anthony Morrow was one of the most productive players in the NBA on a per-dollar basis.

    Re-emerging after a season of obscurity split between Atlanta and Dallas, Morrow did what he does best and made it rain from deep. Morrow was the Pelicans' go-to shooter off the bench this season, connecting on 45.1 percent of his attempts from beyond.

    Had the Pelicans been a healthier (and better) team, you would have heard a lot more about Morrow this season. Trustworthy shooters only tend to get their just due when they're on teams that matter, and Morrow's outfit was outside of the playoff picture for a large chunk of the season.

    If the Pelicans are wise, they'll try to extend him on a team-friendly contract for the foreseeable future. His court-bending ability will benefit others for years to come.

Ryan Anderson: C+

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    Ryan Anderson was a force to be reckoned with when he was able to suit up, but his inability to stay healthy mitigated his impact.

    After a preseason plagued by personal tragedy, Anderson was back to his old tricks once he made his season debut for the Pelicans. Ever the prolific shooter, he was on pace to be one of the only players to shoot 40.9 percent from three-point land on 7.5 attempts per game or more. To do it at his height of 6'10" is staggering.

    His pairing with Anthony Davis was iffy at best on defense, but Anderson's shooting took the Pelicans to another level on offense. They averaged 1.25 points per possession with the crunch-time lineup, according to 82games.com, running teams off the floor with their array of talents.

    Unfortunately, Anderson battled a herniated disc injury and eventually succumbed to season-ending neck surgery, taking away one of the Pelicans' most important players.

Jrue Holiday: B

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    After giving up a king's bounty for Jrue Holiday, the Pelicans expected to compete out West. Unfortunately, like many of his teammates, Holiday's body didn't hold up over the course of a full season.

    Holiday was diagnosed with a leg injury in January and eventually had season-ending surgery in February that brought his debut Pelicans season to an unfortunate end. After proving to be something of an iron man in his first few seasons in Philadelphia, the missed games in New Orleans were a disappointment.

    The good news? Holiday's point guard skills remained at the forefront of the league while healthy. His 7.9 assist average would have ranked seventh in the league over a full season, falling directly behind Stephen Curry. His scoring fell a bit this year, but that was to be expected when playing with more talent compared to his Philly days.

    Going forward, Holiday may not even have to progress that much to make a sizable impact for the Pelicans. If he can stay healthy and maintain his production, the team is set for the foreseeable future.

Eric Gordon: C+

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    Just when you thought Eric Gordon had gotten past his knee woes, the Pelicans announced that he would undergo arthroscopic surgery following the season.

    It's quite a shame, because Gordon turned in what was easily his healthiest season since joining New Orleans, his three-point stroke (39.1 percent) providing a nice complement to players such as Tyreke Evans.

    At least that's how it sounds in theory. In reality, Gordon's pairing with Evans was shaky at best, with a minus-2.4 plus/minus while sharing the court. That's the lowest mark between the trio of Gordon, Evans and Jrue Holiday, with Holiday-Evans (at plus-1.6) proving to be the best two-way backcourt on the team, per NBA.com.

    Given Gordon's pricey contract, he simply isn't bringing enough to the table. He's a volume scorer at this point, evidenced by his 43.6 shooting percentage and his point totals falling as his opportunities disappear.

Tyreke Evans: B+

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    The signing of Tyreke Evans has been oft-criticized by the general public, but with more time to spread his wings, Evans has been a monster, silencing the critics and calling into question the team's structure. 

    Many assumed that Evans would play a nominal small forward next to Gordon and Holiday, but given his production at point down the stretch, it's hard to consider him elsewhere. In 33.5 minutes a night following the All-Star break, Evans averaged 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 6.3 assists on 46.6 percent shooting. That's almost unfathomably good.

    His skills at the forefront of the offense are obvious. With Holiday (who played off ball at UCLA) and Gordon (a three-point mastermind), it seems like Evans has found a home as the creator of the Pelicans offense. If Evans is able to improve on his shooting from deep (22.1 percent this season), he'll pose an even larger threat to opposing players.

Anthony Davis: A+

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    No matter how high you set your expectations for Anthony Davis, there's no way they're equivalent to the benchmarks he reached this season.

    Despite losing games to injury, as in his rookie campaign, Davis was one of the best two-way players in basketball. Putting up 20.8 points, 10 rebounds, 2.8 blocks and 1.3 steals may not sound all that special, but perhaps we should consider the players who have equaled those averages before.

    Their names? David Robinson, Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon and Bob Lanier. In case those names don't ring a bell, they've all been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Davis' season rests in elite company.

    The sky is the limit for Davis. New Orleans is his town; the Pelicans are his team. All that's left is for him to seize the moment.

     

    Advanced stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.