As much discussion as there was about New Orleans as a team being forced to make major adjustments on the fly following a February blockbuster trade with Sacramento, that was essentially the case for center Alexis Ajinca all season. Perhaps no Pelicans player’s role fluctuated as much throughout the course of 2016-17, with him going from seldom-used backup early in the campaign, to a starter for 10 consecutive December games, to DNPs in 22 of 23 contests between Christmas and mid-February, to back in the rotation but with sporadic DNPs in between. Ajinca closed ’16-17 by logging 24-plus minutes in each of New Orleans’ final four games (there were only three previous games all season in which he was on the floor for at least 24:00).
The Pelicans compiled respectable results during Ajinca’s total of 15 starts, going 7-8, including oddly a 5-5 road record (New Orleans was just 8-23 in other away games). New Orleans posted extremely rare victories in Memphis and Portland with Ajinca as a starter – granted, the latter was in a season finale that didn’t impact the Trail Blazers’ playoff status – as well as prevailing in Philadelphia and Phoenix (twice). At home, the Pelicans knocked off Indiana and Miami when Ajinca was given the nod at starting center.
Given how often Ajinca’s playing time consisted only of mop-up minutes – he logged fewer than 10 minutes in 12 of his 39 games – it’s difficult to fairly compare his performance to ’15-16, when he was a more consistent part of the rotation. But on a per-minute basis, he produced similar numbers, including finishing second on the Pelicans in blocks (1.4 rejections per 36 minutes) and fifth in rebounding (10.9 boards per 36 minutes).
Ajinca is now halfway through the four-year contract he signed with New Orleans as an unrestricted free agent in July ’15.
NBA experience: 7 seasons (4 with Pelicans) || Games played/started: 39/15 || Age: 29