The New Orleans Pelicans have two open spots on their 15-man roster, although one could be filled pretty soon, according to reports.
New Orleans Pelicans Rumors: Pels Filling Open With Young Croatian Big Man?
New Orleans draft and stash prospect Karlo Matkovic will leave his Slovenian club, KK Cedevita Olimpija, and head stateside at the beginning of February. While he is widely expected to join the Pelicans directly, the exact path remains to be determined, according to Johnny Askounis of Eurohoops.net.
Matkovic has been one of the best players on Cedevita Olimpija and is having a strong January. The 22-year-old has scored in double-figures in each of his seven games this month, topping the 20-point mark four times and producing two double-doubles. He averages 15.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, and 1.2 steals while compiling a shooting slash line of .625/.462/.671 in 28 minutes. Matkovic still has one game left before vacating the club.
Here is a statement about Matkovic’s impending departure from Olimpija director Davor Uzbinec (translated from Slovenian).
“We are proud that in the current season (Matkovic) has developed into a real leader of our game, who is dominant not only in the regional league but also in the EuroCup, and his departure proves that hard and long-term work can go a long way. We are aware that we are losing one of the most important members of our team, but at the same time, we are extremely happy for him and his family. We will miss Karlo immeasurably, and at the same time we will follow him in the continuation of his career, and we wish him the best of luck on his further sports journey.”
While it is hard to imagine that Matkovic or New Orleans, for that matter, would be interested in coming over midseason unless he was going to sign a standard contract, the Pelicans do have options, as Akounis alluded to.
The Pelicans have been carrying 14 players all season long, although they have been under the NBA minimum since trading Kira Lewis Jr. to the Indiana Pacers, who subsequently shipped him to Toronto in the Pascal Siakam deal. That trade occurred on January 17, so by league rules, the Pelicans have until January 31 or February 1 to add another player to their regular roster. Those dates coincide with when Matkovic heads across the Atlantic.
New Orleans is one of the deepest teams in the league. The Pelicans also have a lot of versatility to their roster, which Matkovic would add to both areas.
New Orleans Other Options
If the Pelicans don’t ink the 6-11 Croatian big man to a standard contract, they could sign him to a two-way deal.
Now, if New Orleans decides to go the two-way route, the Pelicans must make another roster move as all three allocated spots are filled. Therefore, the Pels would either have to promote or cut Dereon Seabron, Matt Ryan, or Jeremiah Robinson-Earl.
Robinson-Earl is the likely choice to earn a standard contract in this case, particularly with Zion Williamson dealing with a foot injury. Robinson-Earl is a versatile forward who has 110 games of NBA experience. The 22-year-old is very athletic and a strong rebounder who also can defend. He does have the ability to space out the floor with his shooting.
Robinson has scored in double-figures three times this year and averages 3.9 points and 2.5 rebounds in 11.1 minutes over 18 games for the Pelicans this season. He is compiling a shooting slash line of .519/.400/1.000
Promoting Ryan is an option, but it is not that viable. Ryan is a shooter, though he has not had a regular role with the Pelicans since Naji Marshall and Trey Murphy III returned from their injuries. Ryan last played in a game for the Pels on November 18.
The final and most unlikely option is that he signs a G-League contract with New Orleans’ G-League affiliate, the Birmingham Squadron. If he does that, New Orleans would retain his NBA rights.
Who is Karlo Matkovic?
Matkovic was born in Bosnia and Herzegovina in March 2001. He has been playing professionally in Europe since 2018. He also has international playing experience with the Bosnia and Herzegovina U-18 and made his national team debut with Croatia in February 2022.
New Orleans selected Matkovic with the 52nd overall pick in the 2022 draft. He has played in the Las Vegas Summer League the past two seasons, averaging 7.0 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.2 blocks, and 1.0 steals in four games this past summer.
Matkovic is an athletic big man who is a fantastic finisher around the rim and an excellent offensive rebounder. He is still developing his offensive game, especially on the perimeter. But his defense is considerably far ahead of his offense at this point.
Matkovic is a quick leaper off two feet and is very long. He also has outstanding instincts and an above-average basketball IQ. Fouls and ball-handling are the biggest concerns.
“(He is a) high-energy young man, Hornets’ general manager Trajan Langdon said when the Pelicans selected Matkovic in 2022. ” Big-time athlete with his size. We’re hoping that with playing a year or two in Europe (against) some high-level competition, he’ll be ready to be back here and help us.”