Listen, you never want to come after a player’s job, especially someone who has been as reliable for your team as Jonas Valanciunas has been for the New Orleans Pelicans (played in 79 of 82 games last season).
But when you operate in the analysis business (as we do here at Pelican Debrief), you need to be able to call a spade a spade. And in this instance, if we plan on competing for a title, we probably need to find an upgrade for Valanciunas.
Our biggest weakness as a team (outside of shooting) is rim protection. And while rim protection doesn’t fall squarely on the shoulders of the center, they are normally the ones who are the most responsible for a team’s success (or failure) in that facet of the game. And last season, under Valanciunas’ guardianship, the Pelicans finished last in opponent rim field goal percentage (per Cleaning the Glass).
Anyway, if the Pelicans were to replace Valanciunas via some trade prior to the deadline, here are four potential options.
1. Robert Williams (Portland Trail Blazers)
This recommendation seems like the most obvious one, and we’ve already kind of went over this. So, we will keep it short.
After being a part of the deal that sent Jrue Holiday to the Boston Celtics, Robert Williams III now finds himself on the rebuilding Portland Trail Blazers. He’s still young (he’ll be 26 when the season starts). So, he could very well be part of Portland’s long-term plans.
But if he’s not, he’s one of the very best per-minute rim protectors in basketball. He’s not as reliable in the health category as Valanciunas. But if he’s right, he immediately turns one of the Pelicans’ greatest weaknesses into a strength.