NBA Free Agency is quickly approaching, and for the New Orleans Pelicans, this go around will be all about bolstering their team around their nucleus of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum, and Trey Murphy III.
After a wild season that included starting the year as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, only to get traded to the Los Angeles Lakers at the trade deadline, lead them to the Western Conference Finals, and get pulled from the starting lineup in their final game against the Denver Nuggets. D’Angelo Russell is now an unrestricted free agent heading into the 2023 off-season.
So, should the Pelicans pursue Russell as a potential target in free agency? As we have with our other posts like this, we will leave the salary cap ramifications to the experts and focus on answering this question from a strictly on-court perspective.
Let’s start by talking about his shooting. After a down year in 2021-22, where Russell shot just 34% from beyond the arc, this year, he bounced back by hitting 39.6% of his triples.
Another indicator that he should serve as a credible spacer for the Pelicans is that he’s hit 42% of his wide-open threes in the last three seasons (per thinkingbasketball.net). That puts him in the 74th percentile league-wide.
The issue with Russell is that he does have the ball in his hands a fair amount, and if you are going to pair another on-ball offensive player next to Williamson, Ingram, and McCollum, you are going to want him to generate some rim pressure (especially when Williamson is hurt or not on the floor).
However, Russell isn’t really much of a rim pressure guy. From 2016 to 2022, he’s placed in the 20th percentile or lower in rim frequency for his position (per Cleaning the Glass).
In a lot of ways, Russell brings a similar set of skills to the table as McCollum. McCollum is also a really good shooter/spacer, plays a lot on the ball, and doesn’t get many shots at the rim relative to his position (and also doesn’t add much on defense). So, unless the team somehow moved off of McCollum this offseason, Russell’s skillset would be largely redundant.
Being that the NBA teams have a finite set of resources to work with (aka the salary cap), you have to be careful not to have an overabundance of a certain player type/skillset. Russell is a great basketball player, and many teams in the league would benefit from having him. But as currently constructed, the Pelicans would be better off getting players that fill more gaping holes on their roster.
So, no, they should not pursue Russell.