The New Orleans Pelicans are off to a rough start this season, and injuries are piling up. They are just 1-3, and one would have to think the seat is getting hotter for head coach Alvin Gentry. New Orleans needs to show improvement and if its Anthony Davis-DeMarcus Cousins experiment can thrive in today’s perimeter-oriented NBA. That remains to be seen, and things could be getting worse. In the Pelicans’ last game against the Portland Trailblazers, Davis banged knees with Portland’s Damian Lillard and did not return after that.
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, “Davis will be day-to-day.” Nonetheless, this is a storyline going forward, and the Pelicans need him back soon. Meanwhile, they needed to bolster their depth. Shams Charania of the Vertical reported that “Josh Smith plans to sign with the New Orleans Pelicans under an injury hardship exception.”
This figures to be an insurance policy for the Pelicans, just in case Davis does miss some time with the aforementioned knee injury. The fact of the matter is that Josh Smith has not played in an NBA game since the 2015-2016 season, where he was on the Houston Rockets. The last time he spent considerable time playing professional basketball was with the Sichuan Blue Whales of the Chinese Basketball Association, according to Michael Kaskey-Blomain of 247Sports. It is unclear what his game shape will be for the Pelicans, who have been decimated by the injury bug already in this young season.
Smith likely signed with New Orleans from familiarity with a few players.
“He worked out for the Pelicans in the summer and has close relationships with Pelicans center DeMarcus Cousins and guard Rajon Rondo,” expressed Charania.
That should help instill a quality locker-room dynamic between Smith and the rest of the Pelicans’ roster, or at least it’s a start. In the more recent years of Josh Smith’s career, he’s been able to come in at times and make plays off the bench. New Orleans is going to need him to do that and more on both ends, especially with Davis’ health always being a concern.
The biggest issue is that Smith mainly adds depth, but not efficiency, for the Pelicans. If he is a spot-starter for New Orleans next to Cousins, in particular, the spacing dilemma for New Orleans is even more magnified. Josh Smith is a lifetime 28.5 percent shooter from three-point land, and his effective field goal percentage is below average, at 47.3 percent.
It’d be hard to see him really helping the New Orleans offense much while playing significant minutes, considering lack of three-point shooting is one of their glaring weaknesses, even with Davis and Rondo healthy. The Pelicans are currently 18th in the league in three-point percentage, courtesy of NBA.com. That being said, one of Smith’s best attributes is his playmaking ability as a big, where his size allows him to see over the opposition and make plays out of the post and in transition.
Considering New Orleans is devoid of legitimate playmakers right now with Rondo out, outside of a natural two guard in Jrue Holiday, Smith’s 3.1 assists per game mark could come into play. His point-forward acumen could help swingmen Ian Clark and Dante Cunningham knock down more open threes from the wing and get more easy baskets on fastbreaks.
It’s unclear as to how Smith fits on the defensive end of the floor, however, because he’s most comfortable guarding power forwards. Small-ball lineups where he can check an opponent’s big would likely work better for New Orleans because having both Smith and Cousins in allow opponents to have more room on the perimeter to operate. Right now, that’s the other glaring concern for the Pelicans, who have given up the fourth-most threes made per game, courtesy of NBA.com. Smith’s defensive skill set at this point in his career probably does not help that area improve much, either.
Overall, the Pelicans adding Smith does not mean much in the win-loss column, but it was necessary given the losses to the New Orleans frontcourt.
According to Charania, “New Orleans received an extra roster spot via a hardship exception due to the absences of Rondo, Omer Asik, Alexis Ajinca, Solomon Hill and Frank Jackson, who are all out for at least the next two weeks.”
With Smith’s contract being non-guaranteed, one can’t blame New Orleans for taking a chance to get a spot-starter. However, it’s uncertain how effective Smith will be, and the Pelicans need to get going in a hurry in a jam-packed Western Conference filled with talent and depth.
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