Photos of center Alexis Ajinca from 2014-15 season.

Pelicans’ Alexis Ajinca bulked up 20 pounds in offseason

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

During Alexis Ajinca’s first stint as an NBA player from 2008-11, he developed a reputation as a finesse big man who was more comfortable on the perimeter than in the paint. For instance, during a 2010-11 regular season split between Dallas and Toronto, Ajinca launched 34 three-point attempts, an unusually high number for a 7-foot-2 center. Three-pointers accounted for one-fourth of his shots.

Upon returning to the NBA in December 2013, Ajinca immediately demonstrated a more rugged playing style, grabbing 11 rebounds in his New Orleans Pelicans debut at Portland, in only 17 minutes of court time. The native of France went on to register five more double-digit rebound games over the balance of 2013-14.

Now entering his first full season with the Pelicans, Ajinca appears to be in even better position physically to be productive in the paint. After focusing on conditioning and weight training this offseason, he’s added 20 pounds to his frame.

“At the end of the season, I was 255 pounds,” Ajinca said. “Now I’m 275. I think I’ve gained good weight, so hopefully that’s going to help me out in the paint. (The bulk was a result) of just taking care of (my) body, eating well, protein shakes, lifting weights every day. It went well and I enjoyed it. Maybe I have to do it one more year (in summer 2015).”

Ajinca has spent recent weeks participating in voluntary workouts with many of his teammates and has been in New Orleans all summer. He’s been encouraged by how the new muscle has translated to the court this offseason.

“I tested it a little bit and it felt good,” Ajinca said of playing recent pickup games at 275. “I can’t wait to have the whole team (in New Orleans), so I can see exactly where I will be on this team, because I think we have a good chance for a great season.”

Ajinca pictures his role as similar to last season, though the composition of the New Orleans frontcourt has changed. Trade acquisition Omer Asik (7-0, 255) will replace Jason Smith at starting center; Smith signed with New York in free agency. Also returning in the pivot for the Pelicans is second-year center Jeff Withey (7-0, 235), who spent extensive time on the practice court with Ajinca during the summer months.

“I’ve been working with Jeff pretty much the whole summer. We have a lot of bigs this year and everyone’s healthy,” Ajinca said. “Hopefully it’s going to stay that way. The competition’s there. You know Asik is going to be the starting center and then he’ll have a backup. It’s a friendly fight. Everybody wants to do well, but everybody also wants to do what’s good for the team.”

After being thrown into the rotation by the injury-ravaged Pelicans with only one practice under his belt last December, Ajinca’s preparation for 2014-15 has been much more ideal, with extended time for him to improve his body and game. He’s eager to show what he can do on the court after a full summer of work.

“I’m very comfortable,” Ajinca said of playing for New Orleans. “I’m used to the work every day. I just can’t wait to have the season start, (including) the preseason, so we can get better as a team, and I can better myself too. I want to have a good preseason and be ready to from the first day the (regular) season starts.”

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