Ingram Ball and Hart

Derick E. Hingle - USA TODAY Sports

Winds of Change

How the Anthony Davis trade set the Pelicans up for future success

Mark Menard
May 19, 2020 - 6:51 pm

The Pelicans’ offseason makeover could be likened to a tripod, three equally important improvements to change the course of the franchise. The first leg was the hiring of David Griffin and the remaking of the front office. The second leg was the trade of Anthony Davis.

It was absolutely imperative that the Pelicans get the best possible haul for their greatest asset if they wanted to avoid years of rebuilding purgatory, but those negotiations seemed destined to be hampered.

There weren’t many franchises out there with the room to accommodate Davis’s salary that also had the pieces already in place to maximize his presence. With just one year left on his deal, there was no guarantee The Brow would be in it for the long haul wherever he got shipped, so his landing spot would have to be one superstar away from a championship run.

Davis further torched possible negotiations by limiting his preferred destination to essentially one team, the Los Angeles Lakers where he hoped to team with LeBron James.

While the Boston Celtics were expected to be a player for Davis’s services due to their bevy of tradeable assets, both players and draft capital, in the end, the deal the Pelicans would have liked never materialized. It was back to LeBron’s Lakers.

Nevertheless, Griffin extracted a massive amount of compensation in a move that will be looked back on as perhaps the most crucial if this iteration of the Pels goes on to any degree of greatness.

The draft compensation alone was massive, with the Pelicans getting the Lakers’ first-rounder in 2019 (#4 overall) and three future first-rounders over the next five years with exceptions that favor New Orleans.

But even more impressively in hindsight was the player haul.

The Pelicans received three young players with considerable upside in the Davis trade that all began paying dividends immediately, in ways they never did in the City of Angels.

I’ll start with Josh Hart, the former college national champion at Villanova. Hart was always the steadiest of the three and remained so in his first year in New Orleans.

He also was the most vocal about embracing his new home, sporting Pelicans gear at a gaming convention in Las Vegas within hours of learning about the trade.

Hart raised his scoring from 7.8 PPG last season with the Lakers to 10.2 in New Orleans this year. You can trace that to being freer to trigger from long-range. His three-point attempts were up from 4.1 per game to 5.7. He also improved his percentage on shorter shots from .511 to .571 and remained tenacious defensively, making him valuable on both ends of the floor.

Most of Lonzo Ball’s notoriety outside of Los Angeles up to last summer had come from his father Lavar, who has been a publicity hound since Lonzo was in college. Lonzo himself has always been content to let his game do the talking, but after getting drafted #2 overall out of UCLA his development stagnated with the Lakers.

His superior court-vision and defensive prowess were overshadowed by his deficiencies shooting the basketball. Passing lanes were tighter or closed off when opposing teams didn’t have to respect Ball’s shot.

His trade to New Orleans opened up a new avenue of improvement as Pelicans assistant coach Fred Vinson worked tirelessly with Ball on his long-range shooting.

Ball’s three-point percentage improved dramatically even though he also took a ton more shots than before. His attempts were up from 4.9 per game to 6.5. His percentage improved from .329 to .383. And with a credible offensive weapon in his arsenal that defenses had to honor, his passes had an easier time finding their targets. Ball’s assists improved from 5.4 per game to 7.0.

He also would strike up an easy chemistry with a certain #1 overall draft pick as the season progressed.

That brings us to Brandon Ingram.

Ingram finds himself in a place light-years improved from where he was last May when he was still deep into rehab from surgery to fix a blood clot issue in his shoulder that cost him last season’s final 29 games.

Working diligently to get back on the court, Ingram also benefitted from Vinson’s guidance, showing off a similar improvement to Ball from the three-point line. Ingram went from making less than one three-pointer a game to 2.4. He elevated his overall points per game from 18.3 to 24.3, easily a career-high. And he flourished in his role as the go-to scorer early in the season, enough so that he earned his first ever All-Star honor.

For a former #2 overall pick out of Duke who was having trouble rising to his potential out west, Ingram was reborn in the Big Easy. Whereas there was initial grousing from some analysts that having Ingram as the centerpiece of the Davis trade was a failure for the Pelicans, by the midway point of the season, those attitudes had changed.

Early returns would say that the trade ended up being the perfect ending for all parties involved. Davis got to the team he wanted to play for. Three young players were given a much-needed fresh start in New Orleans, and all three rose to the occasion with fantastic first seasons in the Crescent City. And above all, the compensation was as fair as could be hoped for.

Time will tell what the Lakers’ future draft picks will ultimately be worth, but Ingram, Ball and Hart have already made the deal worth the Pelicans’ while.

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