Alexis Ajinca impresses in debut with Pelicans
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
PORTLAND – It was just one game and a mere 17 minutes on the floor Saturday, but that was all 7-foot-2 New Orleans center Alexis Ajinca needed to persuade Anthony Davis that Ajinca will make an impact in his new Pelicans uniform.
Ajinca, only four days removed from playing in a Euroleague game and just one day after officially signing with the Pelicans, authored an impressive debut against the Trail Blazers, grabbing a career-high 11 rebounds off the bench. He also showed above-average ball skills, particularly for a 7-footer, making a few crafty passes to brand-new teammates (though he was officially credited with just one assist).
“He’s going to be good for us,” Davis said. “He’s 7-2 and can rebound the ball, score down low, run the floor and is a big presence in the paint.”
Subbed into Saturday’s 110-107 loss to Portland late in the first quarter, Ajinca wasted no time crashing the boards for New Orleans. The 24-year-old French big man maintained nearly a rebound-per-minute pace for much of the first half, finishing with seven boards in 11 minutes. He tacked on four more after intermission, despite having to sit due to foul trouble in both halves.
“I thought I played well,” Ajinca said. “I got lost a couple times on offense, because I don’t really know the plays, but I’m going to get that right, (working) with the team and the coaches. But I was happy about the way I played.”
Interestingly, Ajinca – who was playing in his first official NBA game since April 13, 2011 – was twice called for offensive fouls on screens that may not have been whistled as infractions during his 2008-11 stint in the league. This season, NBA officials changed their interpretation governing pick-setting, something Ajinca was not aware of until after he picked up the two fouls. His three total personal fouls sent him to the bench in the first half; he ended the game with five fouls.
“I was a little bit frustrated about the fouls,” Ajinca said. “Some of the fouls on screens, I didn’t understand where the foul was, but it was because of the new rule (interpretation) that I guess my feet were too wide. I didn’t know that one. I’ve just got to get used to it and understand what I can and can’t do. After it happened, Jason (Smith) told me. It’s something I have to get used to and be careful with those things.”
Ajinca and the Pelicans (11-14) will try to build on an encouraging performance when they wrap up their Western Conference road trip Monday at Sacramento (9 p.m. Central, Fox Sports New Orleans TV). Ajinca was pleased with his rapid adjustment in the opening game of what could be described as “Part 2” of his NBA career.
“I was very confident on the court,” said Ajinca, who also had four points on 2-for-4 shooting vs. the Trail Blazers. “I started to see that the game is not that different compared to Euroleague. I was just getting used to playing at that level. It was great for me.”