Perfecting the Pelicans


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The New Orleans Pelicans had a heartbreaking end to their season, falling short in the play-in tournament. Injuries definitely played a huge role in the team’s struggles, but even when healthy the Pelicans were far from perfect:

3-Point Field Goals Made:

Block %:

Opponent’s 2-Point Field Goal %:

The Pelicans ranked nearly last in 3FGM, Block%, and OPP 2FG%. So how can New Orleans add shot blocking/rim protection and more 3 point shooting without tearing apart the roster?

1. Add a better shooting and defensive center

2. Add a defensive back-up center

3. Add an elite shooter off the bench

Jonas Valanciunas is a solid player but is not what the team needs and not what Zion Williamson needs. Zion needs a younger, more versatile center that can play from the high post, be a legitimate threat to hit the outside shot, and defend better at the rim.

Jaxson Hayes and Willy Hernangomez had disappointing seasons. The Pelicans need better backup bigs who provides rim protection and consistency.

Naji Marshall and Josh Richardson were passable this year but could be upgraded for players who are better shooters without being a negative on the defensive end.


Zion needs a younger, more versatile, better shooting big man to play alongside. Players like Myles Turner and Wendell Carter Jr. fit this role and also are a better fit for the team’s timeline. Turner and Carter are younger, better shooters, and more versatile defenders.

Turner blocks significantly way more shots and is the best rim protector. Carter is not as much of a shot blocker but still has much better rim defense than JV. He is more of a switchable defender and is the best in isolation.

Both shot significantly more threes and converted them at a better percentage, more than double of the attempts from long range made by Valanciunas. The biggest thing JV offers beyond sheer size is rebounding, but the other two players only average around 2 less rebounds a game; that drop-off is worth the improved shooting and defense they would provide. It is a simple, obvious, and necessary change. Offensively, they fit beside Zion much better-leaving more space in the paint, focusing on spot up shooting and setting screens. Either player would improve the Pelicans offense.

The big question: can either of these players actually be acquired???

One thing that the Pelicans have in their favor is all of the assets they have accumulated, both in the way of future draft picks and interesting young prospects. Here are two sample trades that could easily get the job done, only costing a couple of draft picks, an expendable role player, and Valanciunas. Given the construction of their current rosters, the skill set that Valanciunas provides could be a good fit. His veteran presence would also be helpful to these young up-and-coming teams, and the other assets could help them round out their roster.


When JV was off the floor, center minutes were split by Larry Nance Jr. and Jaxson Hayes/Willy Hernangomez. Nance Jr. played well when healtthy but the other two did not, and each averaged about 13 minutes in the games that they played. A replacement for these minutes must be found.

Larry Nance Jr. provides great defense and versatility. The one area he falls short in is elite rim protection(seen above). A third big man should bring just that. In our proposed JV trades, the Pelicans brought in either Isaiah Jackson and Goga Bitazde. Take a look at their rim protection:



Both young bigs offer insane shot blocking stats but would be considered more expendable by the Pacers or Magic, who have other similar bigs and multiple picks in this year’s draft, which will help them fill other more pressing needs.

However, if either team does not want to part with two of their bigs, there is a simple alternative for the third big man: Nick Richards. He offers similar rim protection statistics and is only 25 years old.

The Hornets have 5 draft picks this year and spent back-to-back first round picks on other young centers, making Richards superfluous and expendable. Here is a simple mock trade that would probably interest the Hornets:

Any of Jackson, Bitezde, and Richards would fit perfect;y as part of the big man rotation alongside Carter Jr./ Turner and Nance Jr., providing elite rim protection off the bench and defensive scheme against certain teams.

Any of the three will immensely improve the minutes given to Jaxson Hayes and Willy Hernangomez last year. They fit the timeline of the team and are ready to play their role on a winning team. All are low-cost options that actually provide what the team needs.


The Pelicans have many options on the wing but need to replace some of the minutes they gave Josh Richardson and Naji Marshall with a more elite shooter who is not a defensive liability. Without using cap room space they don’t have or giving up tons of resources, how can they make this happen?

Jordan Hawkins shot 38.8% from 3 on 7.6 attempts per game and 88.7% from the line. He’ll likely be available for the Pelicans to draft with the #14 pick. Let’s take a look at all college players who shot threes that well at that high of rate with at least a 1 on Defensive Box Plus Minus:

This is not to say that Hawkins is the next Steph Curry, but this does put him in some pretty good company. Hawkins is also taller, longer, and more athletic, projecting as a better defender. He is just what this team needs to provide an outside shooting threat without sacrificing defense.


Making these changes to the roster will improve the team’s depth, 3 point shooting, and rim protectio.

The potential new rotation:

CJ McCollum
Herb Jones
Brandon Ingram
Zion Williamson
Myles Turner OR Wendell Carter Jr.

Jose Alvarado
Dyson Daniels
Jordan Hawkins
Trey Murphy
Larry Nance Jr.
Isaiah Jackson/Goga Bitazde/Nick Richards

Lots of shooting, lots of defense, lots of scoring – plus versatility in each category. That is a team without any glaring weakness that, if healthy, can make a deep postseason run and be a true contender.