2013-14 Season in Review: Alexis Ajinca

Pelicans.com continues its look back at the 2013-14 season with player-by-player analysis of the team:

Age: 26
NBA experience: Four seasons (one with Pelicans)
Games played/started: 56/30

2013-14 OVERVIEW

When Ajinca signed with New Orleans five days before Christmas, few could’ve reasonably expected big things from the 7-foot-2 center. The former first-round pick was a disappointment during his first stint in the NBA from 2008-11, while suiting up for three different teams. Ajinca spent the entire 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons playing overseas, in an effort to rejuvenate his career and potentially get back to the NBA someday.

Once he donned a Pelicans uniform, however, Ajinca wasted little time demonstrating that he’s a much different player than the one who previously struggled with Charlotte, Dallas and Toronto. During his New Orleans debut on Dec. 21 at Portland, the native of France immediately set his career high in rebounds (11), helping the Pelicans come within three points of upsetting the Trail Blazers at Moda Center.

After being drafted 20th overall by the Bobcats in 2008, the scouting report on Ajinca was that despite his formidable size, he wasn’t comfortable playing in the paint or around the rim. In 2010-11 for example, Ajinca fired 34 three-point attempts in only 340 minutes of playing time, an unusually high number for a 7-footer. This time around, he hoped to show the Pelicans and the league that he was capable of excelling closer to the basket and on the backboards.

Over the final four-plus months of 2013-14, Ajinca’s game showed almost no resemblance to the Ajinca of 2008-11. For example, he averaged 10.5 rebounds per 36 minutes with the Pelicans; his averages in that statistic in his first two NBA seasons were a meager 5.9 and 4.8, respectively. Meanwhile, though he shot an excellent 53.1 percent on deep two-pointers for New Orleans, he almost completely cut three-point shooting out of his repertoire, launching only one trey all season.

One area that hampered Ajinca in his return to the NBA was foul trouble, particularly during his 30 starts. When matched up against first-string centers, Ajinca frequently picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter, forcing him to the sideline temporarily. Perhaps partly as a result, Ajinca appeared to be more comfortable as a reserve and actually performed much better when coming off the bench, somewhat of a rarity in the NBA. Even though his minute allotment was identical in the two roles (17.0 per game), Ajinca averaged 6.9 points and 5.7 rebounds as a sub, compared to 4.9 points and 4.3 rebounds as a starter.


#3: Feb. 24, 2014 – L.A. Clippers at New Orleans
Although it came in a 123-110 loss, this was a breakout game for Ajinca, his first NBA double-double. Matched up frequently with Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, Ajinca finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds, including six offensive boards. The 12 rebounds represent his single-game career high.

#2: Feb. 12, 2014 – New Orleans at Milwaukee
With Anthony Davis hampered by foul trouble, the Pelicans needed one of their other big men to increase his production. Ajinca delivered, in the best shooting night of his career. He was a perfect 7-for-7 from the field, tallying 16 points and nine rebounds in a 102-98 win.

#1: March 26, 2014 – L.A. Clippers at New Orleans
Two of Ajinca’s three double-doubles in 2013-14 came at Smoothie King Center vs. the Clippers, the latter a 14-point, 11-rebound outing. The Pelicans held on for a 98-96 victory, one of their most impressive wins of 2013-14. Ajinca helped NOLA build a late lead by scoring six fourth-quarter points.

Feb. 24 vs. Clippers

Feb. 12 at Bucks

Mar. 26 vs. Clippers