New Orleans Pelicans GM Trajan Langdon joined Daniel Sallerson and Jim Eichenhofer on a recent Pelicans Podcast. The trio discussed the signing of Didi Louzada along with the growth of Naji Marshall, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and Jaxson Hayes. Check out the full interview below:
Daniel Sallerson: Trajan First of all, happy gameday. How are you?
Langdon: Doing well Daniel, thanks for having me on. Excited for our game tonight against Denver. It'll be a good test for us.
Sallerson: Absolutely. First off, what's the weather like in Denver? I know it's about 85 here in New Orleans is it at least a little bit warm for you guys?
Langdon: Yeah, it's not that. No. It’s a little chilly here. Rained all night last night, a little bit overcast. But you know, I guess I wasn't here with the team three, four weeks ago and supposedly was really, really nice, like shorts and T-shirt weather. And unfortunately, it's not that today.
Sallerson: Gotcha. Well, I didn't mean to rub it in. I was just wanting to check on you and make sure you're doing good.
Trajan: We'll get back to that heat and humidity soon enough.
Sallerson: Absolutely. Well, let's talk about the signing of Didi Louzada. I know he was drafted on draft night two years ago, 35th overall and an acquisition from Atlanta. But why now? Why sign him to the contract now with 11 games to go?
Langdon: Yeah, I think for us, you know, we thought a lot about after we, after we drafted him, we knew we wanted to have him one year in Sydney. And we even talked about this last offseason. But with COVID, we just thought it made more sense to keep him with Sydney another season because we didn't know what this season in the NBA would look like. So we knew, keeping him there with a familiar group, and having him play a little bit more when we didn't know what this would look like. We had to make that decision really, really early in the process before we knew what this season was going to look like. And we talked to Didi agent. We said, Look, if we have the opportunity to bring you over this season, after you've played some games, and had an opportunity to really have a second season and help your team out, then we'd want to do that. And I think this opportunity arose. And we wanted to keep our word to do that to bring them over now. And it also gives us a chance to keep working with him through the summer, prepare him for the hopeful (NBA) Summer League after the draft. And that'll give him a lot more preparation time going into next season.
Sallerson: What did you see from him in those, I guess two years, you would say in Sydney? I know you'd mentioned COVID and how much he really couldn't play during that time. But what did you see from him that you really liked about his game in the two years he was there in Australia?
Langdon: I think coming from the league that he played in before, the Brazilian League, and playing in Franca, obviously didn't have the coaching and the development that he needed to really step up and play at this level. So playing for Will Weaver the first season and I think he learned a lot of the communication that’s used at a pro level. So understanding different terminology on both sides of the floor is a big thing for players that haven't been in the NBA, to help them translate their games. And I think learning that now for a year and a half, playing against grown men. The NBL is a physical league. And to play in the playoffs last year and into the finals gave him that experience of playing very important games throughout the season and having an important role. And I think he's gonna play a similar role with us that he played down there with Sidney which is you know, really defending being asked to defend one of the better perimeter players night in and night out, make shots and make some plays when you have him off the dribble. I think his feel for the game has gotten better. Decision Making has gotten better. And you know, he's a little bit of a streaky shooter right now. And we got to we got to get that a little bit more consistent. But the defensive effort is what we have really loved about Didi the whole time, and that never waned down in Australia.
Sallerson: And I know it can get complicated with health and safety protocols and with only 11 games ago but when will we might see Didi on the court as far as seeing him play a few games here before the season ends?
Langdon: Yeah, I think the biggest thing for us is just getting him dressed out. He's obviously past quarantine. So that's when we signed him to the contract. He's on a, he's got to get his work visa which is why he's not on the trip because without a work visa you can't play in games. So we got to get that done. And we're working on that currently because we couldn't start working on that until he signed his contract. So not sure the timing there but hopefully we can get that by the time next week rolls around and I hate to project but hopefully at some point next week you'll see him in uniform.
Jim Eichenhofer: Trajan, you mentioned that these last couple seasons which have been obviously very odd for everyone in basketball in terms of the way that the seasons have kind of unfolded. You said that Didi has improved in far as far as communication and learning the terminology of basketball. And that kind of thing at the pro level, what do you think are some of the things that you've seen him in his progression? You know, I think Daniel and I are most familiar with him as far as seeing him play in Summer League two years ago, where he was really impressive, but what do you think are some of the things that he's made progress on in his game over these last couple of years since then?
Langdon: Yeah, I think it's important at our level to be an active defender on and off the ball. He's always been really good on the ball, getting through ball screens, and even chasing and blowing up DHO handoffs, things like that. But it's, you know, in his first season, kind of off the ball in the low-man position, rotating over to a big rolling down the lane, you know, tagging getting back axing out, cracking, back, rebounding. Those are the things he struggled with early on that I assume he didn't see a lot of in the Brazilian League. And I think as last year ended and this year went on, you can see his focus off the ball has gotten better. His positioning, the small things that might go unnoticed, but really helped win games on the defensive end, he has really taken steps in. I think he's simplified his game on the offensive end. He's not trying to do too much, letting the game come to him a little bit more. Thinking shot first, and then driving after. I think he has a little bit more confidence in the shot this year than he had last year. But there, there are some things that you know, this is going to be a different level than the NBL down in Sydney. And so there's going to be different things he's going to have to really work on. And again, that's why we wanted to get him here now, so he has a full summer to be incorporated with our staff. Have them learn his game and him learn what we're going to expect from him. And so he's in a much better place in terms of being prepared going into next season.
Eichenhofer: I imagine, you know, you just touched on this, that you guys are excited and enthusiastic about the ability for him to have the whole offseason and I know everyone around basketball is looking forward to a more normal kind of summer than what we've experienced the you know, the last couple of years. Are there certain things though, that he is going to focus on as far as his offseason work and or when he plays in summer league? Because I'm sure people are going to look forward to being able to watch him play in summer league if hopefully, there is, you know, a return to however that's conducted this year?
Langdon: Yeah, I think, you know, the one thing I failed to mention earlier, is he's done an amazing job working on his body and his strength. I think when we drafted him, he was 185 lbs. He's around 210 lbs now, and it's all muscle, and he's become a better athlete, he's become stronger. And that's really helped his ability to drive the ball on offense, to protect the ball. And then defensively, to really guard in space and not get knocked back when players try to shove off or create separation. So those are things that I think he you know, kudos to him, he's really, really, last summer he spent a lot of time on the court and in the weight room, and really dedicated himself to getting better. I think just learning the game at this level, again, the game is faster, the closeouts are longer, you have a lot more people to shoot the ball, guys are bigger and longer. So he’s just going to have to get acclimated to that this style of play in this level of play. And I think we're going to want a lot of our young guys in the gym throughout the summer. So him playing against, and competing with, and working out with those guys, I think will help get them acclimated to that change.
Sallerson: Before we get to some of the other guys, when it comes to when he is able to get on the court, how are you going to evaluate him in such a short amount of time? Are you focusing on him as an individual, whether it's defense or offense? Or is more importantly, how he complements some of the other guys or how they complement him? Whether it's BI (Brandon Ingram) and Zion (Williamson) on the court at the same time, or just how he meshes with the team? How do you find the balance of what you're evaluating just from the few games he might play in this season?
Langdon: I think it's just if he gets a chance to get on the court is just get out there and feel the game. Make the right play. He's going to be in a very similar role that he was down in Sydney. And it's defend on one end. And then if you get a shot, take it if not drive a close out and make the right play whether it's finished in the rim or kicking out to an open shooter. So I think he's, he's been in those situations and he's been in important games. So I know he is super excited to play in these games. But those are the things in a nutshell that we would hope to see if you get some games this year. And then we'll hope to build on that over the summer.
Sallerson: A couple more questions for pelicans General Manager Trajan Langdon here on the Pelicans Podcast, you know there's some other young guys too that have been very impressive. And we got to start with Naji Marshall, the two-way player to a contract player from Xavier. Look, I feel like it's rare in this league to see the amount of impact the two-way guy has had on a team as far as minutes played, what he's been able to do on the court. What have you seen from Naji that's kind of led him to have the success he's had so far with the Pelicans?
Langdon: You know, I give Naji a ton of credit. He has worked since day one, he has embraced our coaching staff and our performance staff in terms of giving him what he's going to need to, to be able to transition to this level and to be able to compete and produce. And obviously, for the first part of the season, we were full strength. And he didn't get the opportunity to show that but he continued to work in the weight room and on the court. And then he was very receptive, and embraced the opportunity to go to the bubble and play with our G league team there. And I think that is kind of what has set the table for how well he has played with us upon returning. So we thought he played very well on the bubble, helped us be one of the better teams there. And even though we got knocked out early, I thought we played some really good basketball, and it was largely due to the way he played on both ends of the floor. And then he came back and didn't get the opportunity to right away, but stayed ready. And all of a sudden, we get this flurry of injuries. And, you know, a lot of players don't always get the opportunity as a two-way. And then he was blessed with that. And kudos to him. Like I said before, he's taken advantage of that opportunity. And, and it's really helped us and played well.
Eichenhofer: I think we've seen, you know, an obvious leap from the guys that were picked last year in the draft or two years ago, I guess it is now in term. And everyone's talked about Zion in terms of just how much better of a player he's been this year, and just the jump that he's made. But I wanted to ask you about Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, I guess we could probably start with Jaxson. What have you been the most pleased with as far as just the strides that he's made from the beginning of this season until now?
Langdon: I think Jaxson's mentality has changed. I think, obviously, there was a change in in coaching style, from last year to this year, coming from offensively to defensively slanted staffs. And we knew that change would take a second to be embraced by some of our players. And, you know, to Jaxson's credit, he has really embraced working outside of the lines. So really getting himself in better shape, getting stronger, I think those are the things that have impacted his increased productivity in his play as of late. But for him it’s his consistency. He'll have some really good games or he'll have some really good halves and won't be as productive in the second half or in the next game. So I think for him is, look, let's, let's take a game where you get 15 (points) and seven (rebounds), and let's do the same thing to the next game. Or take a half where you go seven and five, and then both do the same thing in the second half. So it's keeping him focused, keeping them driven. But, you know, he’s young. This is a different monster playing inside in the NBA. You know, he had to face DeMarcus Cousins the other day, who is a big, physical type body. Obviously, with a lot of experience in the league, and Jaxson is only a year and a half in and still 20 years old. So he's still working on that. His body hasn't reached maturity yet. That's going to take some time but he is putting the work in and this experience is all going to pay off here soon.
Eichenhofer: as far as Nickeil goes, obviously he's out right now and it's really unfortunate that he was he had to miss the stretch of games. But before then it seemed like he was really making progress and he's had some really standout games this season. What have you seen as far as just the progress and improvements that he's made in year two?
Langdon: Nickeil is the definition of consistency. He comes in every day, he puts the work in. Very disciplined in terms of his off the court habits. And he's obviously there's a changeover in the coaching staff is always going to be somewhat impactful to a young player. You have one staff that is showing him one thing and you develop relationships last year and then you have to you know, change over and kind of start a new in his second season. But I think he's done great with that, hasn't been a hiccup at all. And like you said he's been better, he has progressed he's been more productive. He's been a more confident player for us and was playing his best basketball before his injury and I feel bad for him. But we're super excited to have him back. We miss him, because he just does so much for us on the court on both ends. He's a guy that scored 30-plus in a couple games and is capable of that on any given night. But is also capable of guarding one of the better perimeter defenders on the other end. So we've been excited about his progress and super excited about getting them back here.