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Analyzing the Pelicans roster before free agency

NBA free agency opens on Sunday

Seth Dunlap
June 26, 2019 - 3:44 pm

The New Pelicans have swiftly revamped their roster in the infant stages of the David Griffin era.  Don’t expect that overhaul to be anywhere close to complete, as the team enters NBA free agency, which opens on Sunday, with $31.2 million in cap space to spend.

Gone are Anthony Davis and Solomon Hill.  Julius Randle opted out of his contract, and an additional slew of players on last year’s squad are headed towards free agency including Elfrid Payton, Darius Miller, and Ian Clark.   It’s unclear whether the team will keep Stanley Johnson and Cheick Diallo around.

As quickly as the roster was torn apart, however, it’s being re-built to fit Griffin’s vision.  Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Josh Hart were acquired via the Anthony Davis trade.   Zion Williamson, Jaxson Hayes, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and Didi Louzada Silva were selected in last week’s draft.  It’s given the Pelicans a solid core to build around.  Here’s what the current roster looks like:

  • Lonzo Ball – PG
  • Frank Jackson – PG
  • Jrue Holiday - SG
  • E’Twaun Moore – SG
  • Josh Hart – SG
  • Nickeil Alexander-Walker – SG
  • Dairis Bertans - SG
  • Brandon Ingram – SF
  • Kenrich Williams – SF
  • Zion Williamson – PF
  • Christian Wood – PF
  • Jahlil Okafor – C
  • Jaxson Hayes – C
  • *Stanley Johnson – RFA SF
  • *Cheick Diallo – RFA PF

The Pelicans already have depth they never had in the Anthony Davis era.  The quality of that depth can be debated, and the young players on this roster will assuredly face the usual NBA growing pains, but this team could legitimately be 10 or 11 players deep on opening night.  And that’s without factoring in players added in free agency.

Backcourt depth seems to be their greatest strength, although the Pelicans are a bit overloaded at the shooting guard position.  Moore can swing and play small forward if needed, but Hart, Alexander-Walker, and Bertans don’t have the size to effectively play that spot.  Neither does Moore, really, and head coach Alvin Gentry would undoubtedly prefer him to stay at the off-guard position.  

Ball and Jackson should get the bulk of minutes at point guard, and Holiday has the capability to fill in there as needed, but bringing in a veteran to bolster that group would make sense.  If Payton is willing to come back on a contract similar to last season’s one year, $3.0 million deal then he may be the ideal target.   If not, there are multiple veterans who they can look at in free agency.

While the Pelicans seem to have established backcourt depth, especially if they add a veteran point guard, their frontcourt could use reinforcment.

The biggest concern would seem to be depth at the small forward position.  In fact, bringing in a player who can effectively play both the small and power forward spots would be ideal.  Ingram is reportedly fully healthy, but there’s no guarantee he’ll make it through the season unscathed considering his injury history.  Further, there’s no other player on the roster who really fits the mold of the ideal three who can effectively knock down shots from long range.   Williamson is certainly versatile enough to play nearly any positon on the court, but it’s likely the Pelicans will try to keep him at the four or five for most of his rookie season.  

There’s also the possibility Hayes is sent to the G-League to develop if the coaching staff feels the 19-year old is too raw for significant NBA minutes.  That would mean Okafor becomes the only true center on the roster.  Now, this may not be as big of a problem as it seems as the NBA game accelerates towards positionless basketball.  But bringing in a versatile big man would shore up a lot of concerns in the Pelicans front court.

Basically, the Pelicans head toward free agency needing to add a point guard, a versatile foward who can shoot the three, and a multi-faceted big who can play multiple positions and be an effective rim protector and rebounder.

NBA free agency is just a few days away.  Tomorrow, I’ll have a look at players the Pelicans should target to address the holes in their roster listed above.

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