Pelicans

Lowkey Trade Signals New Mentality in New Orleans

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The Pelicans’ trade deadline signifies a change in mentality. Needing a defensive punch, New Orleans brought in two players with said reputation.

After plenty of speculation and many players reportedly on the block, the New Orleans Pelicans completed a trade Thursday, sending J.J. Redick and Nicolo Melli to Dallas for James Johnson, Wes Iwundu and a second-round pick.

The trade came somewhat out of nowhere. There was no doubt New Orleans was looking to move one of their guards. However, it seemed likely that either Lonzo Ball or Eric Bledsoe would move before Redick. 

The Return

The return for New Orleans is a clear indication of their mindset. Johnson and Iwundu both apply their trade on the defensive end, with the latter being an extremely one-way player. Like Iwundu, Johnson is primarily known as a stout defender, although he has shown through his career to be a valuable passer and able scorer. The two immediately become the best wing defenders New Orleans has had for a long time. Since the Anthony Davis tenure, New Orleans lacked a wing stopper, using Jrue Holiday and now Ball as the primary options on elite players.

Johnson, a fourteen-year veteran, garnered a reputation for his toughness and presence. Throughout his stops in Miami and Toronto, Johnson showcased various skills, all of which will benefit New Orleans. Particularly in Miami, Johnson became a ‘point forward’ for the second unit, averaging over three assists per game. His shooting is somewhat of a mixed bag but will likely hover around mid-30%.

Wes Iwundu spent the first three seasons with Orlando before signing a two-year deal with Dallas. Used sparingly by Rick Carlisle this year, Iwundu’s three-point efficiency plummeted to 13% after having two seasons in the mid-30s. At the tender age of 26, Iwundu still has the potential to become a competent shooter. Defensively, Iwundu has shown he can guard larger wings effectively. In his short stint in Dallas, Wes posted the sixth-best Defensive-Box-Plus/Minus (with Johnson posting the best by a considerable margin). 

A 2021 second adds to a bottomless treasure chest of assets. New Orleans will piece the pick together in a more extensive package, especially considering the team’s core is set. 

Offense to Defense

Pelicans head coach Stan Van Gundy will look to rejuvenate the bench with a defensive-minded approach. Redick’s two-man game with Zion was beginning to flourish before his injury ended his New Orleans tenure. With Redick gone, however, the Pels lose a deadeye shooter whose gravity opened up so much for the offense.

On the other hand, Melli struggled significantly. After a promising first season, the Italian’s confidence plummeted. A non-factor offensively and a concern defensively made it extremely hard for Van Gundy to play him significant minutes.

New-Look Rotation

Redick’s departure places a greater emphasis on youngsters Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Kira Lewis Jr.

Johnson seems most likely to play consistent minutes and log all minutes vacated by Melli and some of Jaxson Hayes and Steven Adams‘ center minutes. As a backup center, New Orleans will surround Williamson and Ingram with three shooters without compromising their defensive size and versatility. Johnson’s switch-ability is imperative for Van Gundy’s defensive scheme.

Similarly, Iwundu can play minutes as a backup forward when needed. His fit with Williamson and Adams/Hayes is questionable due to his poor shooting. Replace Brandon Ingram with Zion, however, and the fit is a lot cleaner.

After initial pessimism, the trade makes a lot of sense. New Orleans gains two defenders who will improve the team immediately while only losing one core piece. Hopefully Iwundu and Johnson’s addition drastically improve their putrid defense and gives the team a real chance at a playoff push.

Follow us on Twitter @PelicansLead for the latest Pelicans news and insight. 

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About Vance Abreu

An Australian trying to make it big in Toronto, Canada. Weekly articles about the Pelicans journey to a NBA championship

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