Pelicans shootaround update: Jonas Valanciunas happy to secure New Orleans future

Philadelphia enters Wednesday’s season opener in New Orleans dealing with significant uncertainty related to the future of one of its most prominent players, Ben Simmons. Meanwhile, the Pelicans’ starting center just gained a great deal of certainty about his next three years.

According to a Wednesday report by ESPN.com’s Andrew Lopez, New Orleans offseason trade addition Jonas Valanciunas has signed a two-year contract extension with the Pelicans. Prior to the extension, the 6-foot-11 pivot was signed only through this season. Valanciunas is pleased to know that his future beyond 2021-22 will be in the Crescent City, instead of potentially becoming a free agent next summer.

“That’s the biggest key, probably,” Valanciunas said of the relief of not thinking about his contract. “I can just focus on basketball. Now we have a lot of stuff to do. We have to prove that we can be really good (as a team). Prove that we can learn how to win games. We have the talent and the coaching staff is really good for us. Now we’ve got to put in some work and win some games.”

Other notes from shootaround:

Tomas Satoransky (GI illness) was added to New Orleans’ injury report, listed as questionable to play Wednesday. Zion Williamson (right foot surgery) was listed as out Tuesday on the mandatory update to the NBA. …

Valanciunas, after being asked about his leadership role for the Pelicans: “I’ve been asked this question before. I don’t direct the show by talking. I’ll show by example. Hard-working guy, be in the gym every day, every minute step on the court and play hard. I don’t like to talk. I like to show by example.” …

Valanciunas on the Pelicans: “We’re growing. We’re a young team. Big things ahead of us, but we’ve got to prove it on the court and put in some work. Sky’s the limit with this group.” …

Brandon Ingram on the potential for him to line up as the starting power forward with Williamson sidelined: “On the offensive side, it helps our spacing out a lot, having another shooter on the wing. On the defensive side, I haven’t been in a position enough to guard some of the post players at the four, some of the slashers. It’s going to be different for me, but I’m ready for it.”


Offensive efficiency rank: 13 in 2020-21 (112.5 points per 100 possessions, via NBA.com)

Defensive efficiency rank: 2 in 2020-21 (107.0 points allowed per 100 possessions)

Net rating: 5 in 2020-21 (+5.5)

Streak: Eliminated in Game 7 of 2021 Eastern Conference semifinals vs. Atlanta

Go-to guy: Who says bigs can no longer dominate the NBA? Philadelphia center Joel Embiid finished as a runner-up in last season’s league MVP voting, placing behind another center, Denver’s Nikola Jokic. Embiid averaged a career-best 28.5 points in 2020-21, while adding a more accurate perimeter shot (38 percent from three-point range). He’s never played in more than 64 games in any of his five NBA seasons, but over seven career appearances vs. New Orleans, he’s averaged 22.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.9 blocks.

On the rise: With Simmons suspended for Wednesday’s game, second-year point guard Tyrese Maxey is one of the 76ers’ young players who could help fill the void. Maxey delivered some impressive performances as a rookie, including a 39-point eruption vs. Denver when Philadelphia was hit hard by Covid-related player absences. The 20-year-old Kentucky product uses his quickness to get into the paint and his scoring mentality led to him contributing four playoff games in double-digit points for the Sixers.



Oct. 15 preseason loss at Detroit

Tyrese Maxey, Seth Curry, Furkan Korkmaz, Georges Niang, Andre Drummond

Notes: Philadelphia had arguably the NBA’s best starting lineup last season, with the group of Simmons, Curry, Danny Green, Tobias Harris and Embiid going 27-5. … Korkmaz started 11 games in 2020-21, seventh-most among Philadelphia players (Mike Scott started 12 times). … The shooting of Curry, Green and Korkmaz helped the 76ers finish No. 11 in three-point percentage (37.4) during the regular season. All three connected on over 100 treys.


Oct. 11 preseason loss at Utah

Devonte’ Graham, Tomas Satoransky, Garrett Temple, Trey Murphy III, Jonas Valanciunas

Notes: Three of the Pelicans’ most frequent starters from last season were offseason departures. … New Orleans went 29-32 last season when Ingram played, 2-9 when he did not. That was the exact same team record for Williamson’s games played and DNPs. … Over the past two seasons, Valanciunas started 131 times for Memphis in his 132 appearances.