Earlier this offseason, the New Orleans Pelicans swapped a 2015 first-round pick (Top 2/3 of the lottery and 20-plus territory protected. Anything in between, the Rockets will acquire) for the talents of the human lumberjack himself, Omer Asik. He will bring great defensive prowess, which the Pelicans desperately need given that they were tied for 25th in league in defensive efficiency, giving up 107.3 points per 100 possessions, per ESPN.com.Adding him to the starting lineup alongside Anthony Davis will create a unique roadblock to the rim that most teams will not be able to replicate. However, for all the defensive upside, the offense’s floor spacing could suffer in a major way.
The tale of the Pelicans’ floor spacing really begins and ends with Tyreke Evans. He is a phenomenal athlete, with slashing ability that compares to nearly any player in the league. I actually believe he got a bad rap early last season when he was struggling to acclimate to his new surroundings.
He backed up my stance by averaging 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game after the All-Star break. There is only one problem.
Evans can’t shoot.
According to basketballreference.com, Evans shot 22 percent on 3-point field goals last season; an absolute ghastly percentage in today’s NBA game. He wasn’t much better in the corner either (where most NBA small forwards take the majority of their 3s), shooting 24 percent. In the midrange area, (10-16 feet from the basket) Evans shot a mediocre 27 percent.
Basically, the only place where Evans was effective last season was inside of three feet, where he shot 54 percent.
These numbers are alarming for the Pelicans if they plan on starting Evans alongside the defensive duo of Davis and Asik, merely because there will be no space for Evans to operate. Asik is a sweaty, lumbering wildebeest who roams the short corner near the rim and feasts on the offensive boards, and Davis has shown flashes of executing a fantastic high post game.
With those two clogging the painted area, Evans will have minimal room for explosive back cuts and driving lanes that he covets to be successful. It may be best for his game to be utilized in a sixth man role where he can be the leader of the offense and reap the benefits of being in the game with floor spacer extraordinaire, a healthy Ryan Anderson.
Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon, who I expect to round out the starting lineup, will contribute to the offensive spacing in a positive way because of their outstanding 3-point shooting. Each of them shot 39 percent last year, an above average number and although Holiday is coming off an injury, I expect them both to be near the same next season.
Their ability to space the floor will be vital to the success of the offense because of the inevitable double teams that will be charging at Anthony Davis on the block or at the elbow. There will be ample opportunities to swing the rock to open shooters on the wing.
The Pelicans just have to cross their fingers that the ball doesn’t swing to Evans in the corner.
It seems that coach Monty Williams has a potential problem on his hands with a starting five of Holiday, Gordon, Evans, Davis and Asik on the offensive end. The simple solution, at least to me, would be to insert someone like Luke Babbitt (shot 38 percent from 3 last season) into the starting lineup and let Evans be an explosive energy guy off the bench that can carry a second unit.
Although this route may make the most practical sense, who knows if Evans will be able to embrace the role of a sixth man rather than a starter or if owner Tom Benson wants to dish out $11 million per season to a player that is not consistently in the starting lineup.
These are all interesting questions that will have to be answered if the Pelicans want to fulfill their aspirations of making the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference.