New Orleans Pelicans Get Best of Both Worlds: Free Agency Grades

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After a disappointing end to the 2019-20 season, the New Orleans Pelicans had some decisions to make. Should the team trade some of its veteran pieces for assets or pivot toward competing for the playoffs? The Pelicans squandered an opportunity to make the postseason last year, having the easiest remaining schedule but turning up punch drunk to The Bubble.

The Disney performances showed General Manager David Griffin that the roster was far from contending and identified the following issues:

  • Zion Williamson needs a defensive-minded big man to cover his weaknesses
  • New Orleans needs to be more physical with teams
  • The defense needs some upgrades
  • More veteran leadership is needed

So what did the Pelicans do? Let’s take a look at New Orleans’ off-season trades and acquisitions.

New Orleans Pelicans get best of both worlds: Free Agency Grades

Brandon Ingram

Re-signing Brandon Ingram to a rookie max extension was always the plan for New Orleans. Now that it is official, the club has its franchise player. Ingram was the NBA’s Most Improved Player last season, making his first All-Star appearance after a career year. The 23-year-old averaged 23.8 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 4.2 assists on 46.3 percent shooting and 39.1 percent from three.

After a quiet first couple of years with the Los Angeles Lakers, questions began to surface about trajectory. He was highly touted coming out of Duke and was super passive in the City of Angels. The trade to New Orleans was the best thing to ever happen to Ingram, as the franchise empowered him to become the team’s first offensive option. From there, the forward improved substantially, especially on his three-point shooting. His 39.1 percent three-point shooting was a career-high on 6.2 attempts.

This is a tremendous win for Ingram and the Pelicans. The All-Star bet on himself after turning down an extension and New Orleans gave him the keys to prove himself.

Grade: A+

David Griffin, Take a Bow

This monster deal almost broke the internet with so many moving parts and the maximum use of the NBA’s CBA. With matching salary, shifting of picks, and adhering to trade rules, this deal had it all. For New Orleans, they were rewarded with Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe, 2025 and 2027 first-round picks, and 2024 and 2026 pick swaps for Jrue Holiday.

Griffin absolutely fleeced the Milwaukee Bucks, acquiring an enormous package for a one-time All-Star. Of course, he was aided by pressure surrounding Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s supermax contract but Griffin still needed to convince Milwaukee to sign off on the deal.

Now the dust has settled, New Orleans performed highway robbery in broad daylight, acquiring draft capital and two experienced veterans. Griffin – take a bow.

Grade: A++

Steven Adams

As mentioned above, Adams arrives in New Orleans as part of the gigantic four-way trade. He was an Oklahoma City Thunder fan favorite who anchored the Thunder’s defense for seven seasons. His bruising play style coupled with his endearing personality makes him one of the NBA’s most interesting players. The big man had a productive season last year averaging 10.9 points, 9.3 points, and 2.3 assists on 59.2 percent shooting.

Adams is one of the last traditional big men in the NBA, a rare breed of player whose impact extends beyond the numbers. At 7-foot-0, 265 pounds, he is a load for teams to handle on the low block and one of the best offensive rebounders in the game. Adams is an excellent cerebral defender who doesn’t block a ton of shots but is often in the right place.

New Orleans sent the Thunder a future first and second-round pick for Adams, which is a slight overpay. However, I am one of the few that believe this is a tremendous pick-up for the development of Williamson, who struggled on the defensive end during his rookie year. This deal isn’t a home run given what New Orleans sent to Oklahoma City, but I love this for the Pelicans.

Grade: A-

Eric Bledsoe

The victim of harsh criticism, many forget that Bledsoe has two All-NBA Defensive Team selections to his name. He made his name as a defensive specialist at the guard spot for the Bucks and has been part of Milwaukee’s deep playoff runs the past few seasons. The 30-year-old was steady last year averaging 14.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 5.4 assists on 47.5 percent shooting and 34.4 percent from three.

Bledsoe’s biggest criticism comes when the playoffs arrive. His struggles on the offensive side of the ball are highlighted when opponents dare him to shoot the ball from distance. Bledsoe is a 25.4 percent three-point shooter in the postseason, often disappearing under the NBA’s bright lights.

Despite this, he is a very good player that adds defense to a team that fell off a cliff defensively in The Bubble. He came in the Holiday trade as a throw-in to make the money work. Many wonder what happens with Lonzo Ball now Bledsoe is there, but this is a steal for the New Orleans Pelicans considering they gave up nothing to get him.

Grades: A-

Wenyen Gabriel

Since going undrafted in 2018, Wenyen Gabriel has struggled to find a niche in the NBA. He is a 6-foot-9 forward with a 7-foot wingspan and huge motor. He’s not the most skilled athlete and has a questionable IQ, but there is a place for him in the NBA as an energy big man. Gabriel projects out to be a Montrezl Harrell type of player who is mechanical and needs to be put in the right spots to succeed.

Gabriel’s issues with finding a home directly relate to his outspoken nature. He criticized Kentucky coach John Calipari this year as well as sending a DM to Jaden McDaniels, urging him not to commit to the Wildcats. After just one year, Gabriel finds himself on his third team. If he can buckle down, work hard, and cut the extra-curricular, he will have a place in this league.

I am a believer in Gabriel so I like this move for New Orleans as a buy low, high reward prospect. He is now competing with Adams for minutes and will need to be on his best behavior. I would give this a better grade if Gabriel wasn’t so volatile.

Grade: C+

Sindarius Thornwell

This is a flier more than anything but Sindarius Thornwell has shown flashes of being a serviceable NBA player. The Los Angeles Clippers took a look at him in 2017-18 where he played well and shot 37.7 percent from three. Fast forward to 2020 and he finds himself in New Orleans with the potential to solidify himself as a rotation guy.

He isn’t the tallest for a wing at 6-foot-5, but he has a mammoth 6-foot-10 wingspan and compares closely to P.J. Tucker. All he needs is for a team to take a shot on him and after spending time with the Pelicans at Disney, Thornwell earns himself an NBA contract for the upcoming season.

If New Orleans gives him a chance, the Thornwell I know from South Carolina will emerge with the Pelicans. This has the potential to be a steal but for now, it’s just a move.

Grade: C+

Willy Hernangomez

The first four years of Willy Hernangomez have been a complete waste of time. A gifted offensive player out of Spain, Hernangomez projected to be a productive big man who can score the rock, eat up rebounds but lacks the athleticism to be effective on defense. In 204 NBA games, the Spaniard averages 6.9 points and 5.8 rebounds in 14.4 minutes.

Getting playing time in New Orleans will be a challenge since the team has other big men ahead of him. He’s stretched his game out to the three-point line, shooting a fair 33 percent from deep, and gives him another way to earn playing time. Right now, Hernangomez is 12-15th on the roster and will need to prove he is worthy of time on the court.

Grade: C


The New Orleans Pelicans overall had a fantastic offseason that featured the acquisition of picks and veteran players to keep them competitive. Griffin is one of the league’s best and should be given far more praise than he receives.

The Milwaukee trade is enough to earn the Pelicans an upper-tier grade for their offseason, but the acquisition of Adams and Bledsoe makes it even sweeter. I love the lowkey moves they made and have set themselves up to remain competitive and flexible at the same time.

Grade: A

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