Over the next week plus Pelican Debrief will be rolling out season reviews of all the players that at one point or another in the 2013-2014 season could be classified as rotation players. So far we have taken a look at Luke Babbitt, Darius Miller,Jeff Withey and finally Jason Smith. Today we look at the player that replaced many of Smith’s minutes when he went down because of a knee injury, Alexis Ajinca.
Stats: 56 games played (30 starts), 17.0 mpg, 5.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 0.7 apg, 0.8 bpg, 0.4 spg
Highlight: The two main highlights of Ajinca’s year probably had nothing to do with the contributions he gave the Pelicans on the floor. First he helped lead the French national team to their first ever Eurobasket championship and then he earned himself a return to the NBA. In NBA action the highlight was probably on March 26th against the Clippers when he tallied 14 points on 6/11 shooting and pulled down 11 rebounds in 28 minutes of a two point New Orleans’ victory.
The good: 16.9 percent total rebounding rate. Ajinca just edged out Anthony Davis (16.9 to 16.6) to lead New Orleans in rebounding rate. He was equally as good on both the offensive and defensive glass and the Pelicans rebounded worse defensively when he wasn’t on the floor. With his size (7-2) and wingspan (7-8 ¾) it isn’t a surprise that Ajinca was so good on the glass.
The bad: 18.4 turnover percentage. Despite having one of the lower usage rates on the team and not typically being asked to do much more than catch and shoot Ajinca posted the highest turnover percentage (amount of turnovers per 100 possessions) of any New Orleans regular. The turnover problems helped lead to the New Orleans’ offense being 3.5 points per 100 possessions better when Ajinca sat on the bench than when he played.
The Ugly: 7.1 fouls per 36 minutes. Ajinca showed a bit of defensive promise with a good block percentage (4.1) and his defensive rebounding abilities but it was all done away by his inability to stay out of foul trouble. Ajinca averaged 7.1 fouls per 36 minutes this season which is a problem because you only get 6 fouls in an NBA game before you get disqualified. Per 36 numbers have been shown to translate well across extended minutes meaning if Ajinca wants any more than a bit role he needs to clean up the fouling issues.
Alexis Ajinca was the first of the Pelicans two overseas reclamation projects in the 2013-2014 season and just like they did with Luke Babbitt, things went fairly well for both sides.
Ajinca was already playing well before the summer ended, starting at center for the French National team as they won their first ever Eurobasket title with Ajinca playing a large part in the middle, finishing third in the competition in rebounding. His play brought hope that perhaps an NBA team would take a chance on him again as he had shown some growth since his failed first stint with the Charlotte Bobcats.
The good play continued with his French club team SIG Strasbourg and eventually thanks to injuries to Jason Smith and Greg Stiemsma the Pelicans decided Ajinca was a worthy addition to the roster, finally bringing him over on December 17 after a few weeks of rumors.
When he arrived he did many of the things that were expected of him.
Offensively he worked as a pick-and-pop big man, knocking in 53.1 percent of his long twos (16 feet and beyond) and 46.7 percent of his shots from 10-16 feet, and used his ginormous wingspan to corral a ton of offensive rebounds. Things got out of control at times as evidenced by the high turnover rate but there was promise.
Defensively when Ajinca was on the floor he made a positive impact, finishing fourth on the roster among regulars in block rate and second in defensive rebounding rate meaning that he usually helped the Pelicans end the positive defensive sequences they put together. In fact the Pelicans as a team rebounded the ball worse when Ajinca went to the bench, dropping from grabbing 72.5 percent of available defensive rebounds to just 70.1 percent when he sat according to 82games.com.
Unfortunately for Ajinca and the Pelican’s though staying on the floor was a problem for the big center. Ajinca averaged 7.1 fouls per 36 minutes and often finished 20 to 25 minute games with four or five fouls. Some of the fouls were offensive which helped lead to some turnover problems, but many were a product of not making the smart play and reaching or swatting at the ball instead of making the proper rotation and going vertical.
All-in-all the 2013-2014 season was probably a success for Ajinca as he proved that he probably does belong in the NBA after all, even if it is just in a bench role. If he can find a way to cut down on some of the silly unnecessary fouls though the Pelicans may have found a player that can fit next to Davis long-term as despite playing professionally for a few years already Ajinca is still just 25 years old. If he does figure it out a potential front line of Davis and Ajinca should terrify teams going forward, with that combination of wingspan and mobility teams would be hard pressed to find ways to score on the Pelicans.