Luke Babbitt gets second NBA chance with Pelicans (2/4/14)

While playing for Portland last season, Luke Babbitt drives against Lakers defender Jordan Hill

Luke Babbitt gets second NBA chance with Pelicans

By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer

Now on his fifth NBA team, Anthony Morrow knows as well as anyone that sometimes a player needs to find the right fit and situation to thrive in the league. The sixth-year veteran believes that could be the case for one of his new teammates, forward Luke Babbitt. The New Orleans Pelicans signed the 24-year-old Babbitt to a free-agent contract on Tuesday.

The University of Nevada product played each of the previous three NBA seasons for the Portland Trail Blazers, but signed overseas with a team in Russia in 2013-14, prior to returning to the U.S. to play for New Orleans. He appeared in a total of 126 games for Portland, including starting four times during the 2011-12 shortened season, but has averaged just 11.1 minutes. Babbitt is a career 36.7 percent three-point shooter, connecting on an impressive 43.0 percent of his treys in ’11-12.

“I remember when he was in Portland, he was a great young player for them,” said Morrow of Babbitt, the 16th pick of the 2010 NBA Draft. “I’m glad he got this opportunity. We definitely can use him, to make a lot of shots and spread the floor. Everybody’s got to make him comfortable, and let him know that what he does well, we really needed. He has a lot of freedom to shoot the ball when he’s open.”

“It’s a great opportunity. It’s one I couldn’t turn down,” Babbitt said of signing with New Orleans. “I’m just thankful to (GM) Dell (Demps) and Coach (Monty) Williams for the opportunity. Obviously there have been a lot of injuries here. I’m just looking to fill in wherever I can.”

Babbitt is often described as a combo forward. As a small forward, Babbitt said he tries to use his 6-foot-9, 225-pound frame against smaller players. At power forward, the left-hander relies on his perimeter touch to draw bigger defenders away from the basket. In Portland, minutes were sometimes scarce for Babbitt at power forward, due to the presence of All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge.

“Sometimes the situation just doesn’t work out and you’ve got to get to your second, third team,” Babbitt said. “I was playing backup to probably the best power forward in the game right now. To begin with, there aren’t going to be a ton of minutes. (But) I felt like I was able to help the team when I was on the court.”

The Pelicans may also have a greater need for Babbitt at small forward, depending on the status of Tyreke Evans, who suffered a rib injury during Monday’s game vs. San Antonio.

“With Tyreke’s injury, (Babbitt) may have to play the three right away,” Williams said. Williams likened Babbitt’s situation to that of Pelicans center Alexis Ajinca, also a former first-round pick who took a detour from the NBA and improved as a player. Ajinca returned to the NBA in December, after two-plus seasons in Europe as he awaited an optimum situation to come back to the league.

“I think that’s why guys go overseas, to get more playing time and confidence,” Williams said. “Then when they get a chance to get back, they want to write it in stone that they belong. That’s what we want for (Babbitt).”

Babbitt said he’d been following the Pelicans this season and spent the past two weeks hoping a deal could be reached for him to return to the NBA. He’s hopeful that he’ll have a greater opportunity to succeed in his second stint here. Like many Americans who go overseas to play, the experience gave him an even greater appreciation of the world’s premier basketball league.

“It was different,” Babbitt said of playing in Russia. “It’s a different world, a different culture. I take it as a learning experience, on and off the court. It’s one I’ll look back on and have stories to tell forever, but I’m definitely happy to be back here. This is where every player wants to be.”