The New Orleans Pelicans have been ridiculously undermanned and undermined by injuries for the majority of the past few seasons. Coming into this season, things are no different. Before a meaningful game was even played, the team knew they were going to be without forwards Quincy Pondexter, Tyreke Evans, and starting point guard Jrue Holiday.
Holiday, however, is not injured. His wife recently had to undergo brain surgery, and Holiday has taken a leave of absence in order to be with her and his newborn child. This is certainly understandable, but it does not make things any easier for the Pelicans, who were now forced to enter the season down their two primary ball handlers. With both Evans and Holiday missing, Coach Alvin Gentry was no doubt simply looking for someone who could hold the fort in their absence. Enter Tim Frazier.
Through five games, Frazier has exceeded any possible expectations, and has undoubtedly been the clubs second best player. He’s averaging 13 points and7.8 assists, all while shooting a little over 49% from the field and only turning it over two times per game. He’s been so good in fact, that one begins to wonder if he may be a long-term answer at point guard if (and God forbid) Holiday is unable to rejoin the team any time soon.
While the sample size is small, the success is not random. Frazier averaged a very a nearly identical stat line last year, after joining the Pelicans late in the season (13 points and 7.5 assists), and his feel for the game is apparent even after watching him for merely a quarter or two. Even with Holiday and Evans healthy, he is the team’s best facilitator and he especially excels in the pick and roll and in transition.
He also has a knack for getting to the basket, and he’s a solid finisher around the rim. He doesn’t have great elevation or quickness, but he uses his body well to ward off defenders and this often gives him the space needed to get his shot off.
Of course, a Gentry offense is predicated on getting the ball up the floor, and Frazier does this as fast as anyone. Whether the opposing team makes or misses, he is pushing it right back at them and getting the Pelicans into their offense as quickly as possible.
Most importantly, the team has performed exponentially better, at least on offense, with Frazier on the court. They are better in almost every area when he plays, and have cratered during his time on the bench.
||Frazier On Court
||Frazier Off Court
Perhaps the most staggering stat here is the 65% assist rate the team posts during his time on the court. Frazier’s penchant for passing has become infectious, and if the Pelicans can ever discover a passable defense they should be able to start collecting some wins if they continue to play such a pass-happy style.
Still, Frazier has a number of flaws that could prevent him from becoming a full-time starter. The most obvious knock is his lack of a perimeter jumper. He has only taken 78 threes total in his NBA career, but dating back to his college days gives us 317 total threes on record for the Penn State alumni. Through college and the pros, he has managed to hit only about 31% of those shots. That would seem to align with his 66.7% free throw mark in the pros, which is typically a good indication of a player’s shooting ability.
This deficiency in his game occasionally hinders him against locked in defenses, who will simply go under screens to neutralize his effectiveness in the paint. And while he has finished over 70% of shots within two feet this year (according to basketball-reference), he is hitting an abysmal 12.5% of his shots between three and nine feet. His lack of athleticism is apparent on these shots, and he just hasn’t mastered the types of floaters that make the top points guard in the league so dangerous.
That inability to finish those shots may be causing him to overpass a bit, and while the turnover numbers are solid, he has been susceptible to deflections that could eventually lead to turnovers as the season moves on.
Defensively, Frazier has been uneven as well. On the one hand, he is a heady and willing defender, someone who will get up into his match-up and rotate on a string with the rest of his team. He gives good help and is typically aware of what the opposing offense is trying to do.
But, on the other hand, there are times where his lack of speed shows and on a team trying to establish a defensive identity, having a strong defender at the point of attack is very important. On this play, Frazier does the right thing by bumping the roll man, but in turn he is unable to recover back to his assignment and concedes an open three:
Here, he gives up middle penetration on easy blow by, compromising the rest of the defense:
Right now, it’s hard to say what role Frazier will have in the future for a Pelicans squad that needs to be upgraded at almost every position. He has undoubtedly been a huge spark for the team offensively to start the season and after a long and grueling road to the NBA, he has also proven he possesses enough skill to play in the league.
But, Frazier is already 26 and we are in an area where shooting is the preeminent skill in today’s league. It’s difficult to project Frazier as a starter unless he becomes at least an average shooter. Still, for the present, the Pelicans will need him to continue his excellent play to have any sort of chance to stay afloat. For a player who has beat the odds more than once, perhaps we’d do best not to doubt him again.