Pelicans guard Tim Frazier relished opportunity to play in Alvin Gentry system
It’s no coincidence that when you peruse NBA.com’s video highlights from the 2015-16 season, the first two plays that pop up on Alexis Ajinca’s page are baskets that were assisted by point guard Tim Frazier. In an April 3 video on the site, Frazier’s spectacular 13-assist game at Brooklyn features three dimes to the 7-foot-2 center, leading to two dunks and an easy floater, in a rout over the Nets.
Alvin Gentry’s proven offensive system relies heavily on moving and sharing the ball, but it wasn’t until the late stages of last season that the Pelicans seemed to genuinely execute that necessary component of the attack. Although there were a few other factors behind the offense’s late-season competence – the Pelicans ranked 13th in the league in efficiency in April, despite a multitude of key injury absences – Frazier’s vision and ability to get teammates quality shots may have been the biggest. In Ajinca’s case, a player who’d struggled to stay in the rotation for the first four-plus months of the season suddenly became productive – highlighted by a career-best 28-point, 15-rebound game vs. the Lakers on April 8, helping to spoil Kobe Bryant’s New Orleans farewell.
Frazier’s impact in terms of generating higher-percentage looks also seemed to benefit some of New Orleans’ lower-usage offensive players, including forwards Dante Cunningham and Alonzo Gee. On paper, it seemed like the Pelicans might struggle mightily to score with each of their top six scorers injured, but they reached 100 points nine times in their final 16 games played by Frazier (they did so 36 of their first 66 games).
“As the games went on, I saw what Alexis does: He picks-and-pops, like (Anthony Davis),” Frazier said, when asked specifically about the quality of shots improving for several teammates. “Dante will roll; Alonzo will cut (to the basket) for me. I started to incorporate that, as far as learning what guys’ sweet spots are. I’m looking forward to it now that I’ll have training camp and preseason, to really get to know guys’ spots and being able to get them open shots. Everyone wants an easy, open shot.
“Alexis had some great games. He was able to get hot, get on a roll. I’m not saying that was just on me; a lot of it’s on him, because at the end of the day he has to make the shot. But I know as a shooter, you always want to have the best, easiest shot possible.”
Frazier’s late-season playmaking resulted in him averaging 7.5 assists with New Orleans in his 16 games, despite making just one start and averaging 29.3 minutes. In addition to the 13-assist performance at Brooklyn, he had double-digit dimes vs. the Lakers, Bulls and Timberwolves. He initially opened eyes with nine assists in his March 16 Pelicans debut at Sacramento, after signing only hours earlier. Frazier said of the game that “I just kind of winged it,” having just met his brand-new teammates for the first time.
The Penn State University product’s play was so immediately impressive that New Orleans didn’t even wait to sign him to a second 10-day contract when his first one expired; instead, the Pelicans quickly inked him for the remainder of the season. This summer, New Orleans again showed its belief in Frazier by agreeing to a two-year contract in free agency.
Frazier lists a handful of reasons behind why he wanted to return to the Crescent City, among them that he was immediately supported and put in a position to succeed. His two previous stops in the NBA, Philadelphia and Portland, were beneficial learning experiences for the Houston native, but his opportunities to contribute were sporadic.
“I think it was just a lot of things coming together,” Frazier described of his positive late-season stint with the Pelicans. “It was Coach Gentry’s system, having IQ of the game, the players around me and them welcoming me in when I got there. Jrue (Holiday), Norris (Cole) and Toney (Douglas) helped me out a lot as far as the point-guard role and teaching me little tidbits on what the team does. The biggest piece of it was those guys welcoming me with open arms and letting me go out there and play free, and from there correcting my mistakes.”
New Orleans went 6-10 over the final 16 games, which doesn’t sound hugely impressive until you consider that the Pelicans only had eight or nine players available in some of them (and the team was just 24-42 prior to that). The late-season Pels also sustained narrow road defeats at San Antonio and Boston, two of the NBA’s toughest venues.
“(Even) having new players, guys just have to step up and play,” Frazier said of being short-handed. “It’s not a complicated system if you trust it and follow it. We were competitive with a limited number of players and not a deep bench, but we went hard and played hard, which is why we were able to compete for the most part.
“In Coach Gentry’s system, guards have the ball in their hands and are able to make plays for others. That’s my bread-and-butter, so I was able to fit right in. His system suits that.”