Pelicans’ goal is to maximize strengths of Derrick Favors, trio of additions from Lakers
Every accomplished NBA player brings a set of skills to a roster, but in many cases, what makes or breaks a team’s success is how its pieces fit together on the court. Failure to get the most out of each player often leads to unfulfilled potential, both individually and collectively.
When New Orleans introduced veteran additions Derrick Favors, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram at a Tuesday press conference, much of the focus was on how the Pelicans can best maximize what that quartet does best. New Orleans Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations David Griffin spent portions of Tuesday’s media session breaking down what could benefit the four players as they adjust to a new city and franchise:
A nine-year pro, out of necessity Favors was frequently forced to play a bit out of position in Utah at power forward, due to the emergence of Jazz center Rudy Gobert. With the NBA shifting to a much heavier reliance on “stretch fours” who can do damage from the perimeter, for Favors that meant moving away from the paint defensively, even though he’s an excellent shot-blocker (10th in NBA in blocks per minute in 2018-19). It also factored into the Georgia Tech product seeing a reduction in playing time; for example, even though he started 70 times last season, he only averaged 23.2 minutes per game.
“He’s probably best suited as a center, and he was playing behind one of probably the best five centers in the league,” Griffin said. “That makes it hard to play the position that you probably should play, so he was asked to play out of position a lot, at the four. A lot of Derrick’s game was probably left untouched, particularly offensively. I know Coach (Alvin) Gentry is excited about what he’ll look like playing center on a full-time basis for us. We represent a new opportunity for him.”
The two-year pro from UCLA saw a drop in his major statistics virtually across the board in ’18-19, including going from an average of 7.2 assists per game as a rookie to 5.4. However, since he also logged fewer minutes (34.2 average as a rookie to 30.3 in Year 2), that shouldn’t be overly surprising. A closer look at his per-minute stats demonstrates that his role and job description also changed in the Los Angeles offense, with him playing off the ball more than he did in ’17-18. Per 36 minutes, he went from 10.7 points to 11.8 points, but his assists dipped from 7.6 to 6.5. With New Orleans and in Gentry’s offensive system, the 21-year-old figures to be more of a pure lead guard. Previous pass-first PGs such as Ish Smith and Tim Frazier have revived their NBA careers in the Crescent City, while Rajon Rondo helped the Pelicans win their first playoff series in a decade.
Additionally, there is considerable excitement about the defensive backcourt of Ball and Jrue Holiday, who’s been named to an NBA All-Defense squad each of the past two seasons. Ball (47 games) didn’t play enough to qualify for the category in ’18-19, but he was also the third-best rebounder among point guards on a per-minute basis (via ESPN.com), behind only Russell Westbrook and Ben Simmons).
“We have a chance to be special good on that side of the ball (defensively),” Griffin said. “Lonzo is a truly special defensive guard. He’s also a special rebounding guard. That’s going us to enable us to start our (fast) break, and play to a lot of his strengths, in a way perhaps he wasn’t able to play to before.”
Griffin compared the enthusiasm he has for Ingram’s potential, as well as his vision for his future, to his projections for Ball. Ingram compiled the best stretch of his career in February/March of last season prior to being sidelined due to blood clots in his right arm, just when he seemed to be reaching another level as a player. Both Ingram (111 games over past two regular seasons) and Ball (99) have seen their progress slowed a bit by injuries, but the Pelicans believe so much more improvement is possible for the pair of 21-year-olds.
“We feel very similarly about Brandon getting to do some things that he wasn’t getting the opportunity to do,” Griffin said of the forward’s arrival in the Big Easy. “Both Lonzo and Brandon have had issues along the way with injuries, which have somewhat derailed the momentum they would’ve gained early in their careers. They are so young and so talented, that so much was expected, and everybody wants it to happen so quickly. We don’t want it to happen quickly; we want it to happen at the right time.”
Griffin added, “We know that we’re going to play to the strengths of the group as a whole. Everyone was aware of the fact that this was a special opportunity for all of us in terms of fit. I think it’s a big theme for us and everything we tried to do throughout the free-agency process as well, and with the other acquisitions we were able to make.”
The Villanova product was a steady reserve and role player for the Lakers, but Griffin believes there are areas in which Hart can expand his game and make even greater contributions with New Orleans.
“Very similar to Brandon, we think he has some really untouched upside,” Griffin said. “Brandon’s ability as an elite playmaker and long, athletic defender is going to allow him to play multiple positions. We feel like Josh can do the same thing, and he’s a shot-maker from multiple positons on the court, which is great for us (because) it’s going to give Alvin a great deal of versatility.”
Hart shot 36.1 percent from three-point range in 471 attempts with the Lakers, including 39.6 percent as a rookie. According to Lakers TV sideline reporter Mike Trudell, at least part of his decrease in accuracy last season was injury-related; Hart shot at least 37.5 percent from distance in October, November and December, but was just 26/103 from Jan. 1 until he was shut down due to injury in late March.
Griffin emphasized that New Orleans believes all four players were excellent fits based on the roster – and that the feeling is mutual.
“When you look at the situation the organization was in, as we tried to build this completely different culture, having players who are equally committed to us is very meaningful,” Griffin said. “Derrick Favors could’ve chosen to go almost anywhere, and Utah was going to accommodate that (in any trade), out of respect for everything Derrick had done there. He chose us. These gentlemen from the Lakers, they were going to be in demand in a lot of places, and they recognized the fit with us. They recognized the fit with Jrue Holiday. I think that’s a special, meaningful thing as we start to build from here.”