For every superstar multi-million dollar player in the NBA there are tons of young players just trying to get out on the court. Working day in and day out, these players strive for their chance to go up against these All-Stars and make a name for themselves one day. Among these players is the hard to miss, but often overlooked Alexis Ajinça.
At 7’2-7’3, 250 pounds, Ajinça is a monster both on and off the court. The big man was born and raised in France, and in 2003 he began his career as a junior basketball player for INSEP Centre Federal.
It didn’t take long for Ajinça to make it to the French professional basketball league. Between 2006 and 2008 Ajinça played for Pau-Orthez and Hyeres-Toulon in France before starting to receive attention from NBA franchises.
In 2008, the Charlotte Bobcats selected Ajinça with the 20th overall pick in the NBA Draft. Unfortunately, he didn’t get much playing time with the Bobcats; and at the end of the 2008-2009 season Ajinça was assigned to the Sioux Falls Skyforce—the Bobcats NBA Developmental League affiliate.
Ajinça was recalled by the Bobcats soon after being sent to the Skyforce, but the Bobcats gave the big man even less playing time the following season. In fact, Ajinça spent most of the 2009-2010 with the Maine Red Claws, another NBA D-League team.
In the 2010 offseason, Ajinça was traded to the Dallas Mavericks as part of the Tyson Chandler deal; and then in early 2011 he was traded again, this time to the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors gave Ajinça the most playing time of any team, but it still wasn’t much. Ajinça averaged just over four points and two rebounds per game in his 24 games in Canada.
Getting tired of his limited playing time in America, Ajinça flew back to France to join Paris-Levallois, then Hyeres-Toulon, and finally SIG Strasbourg.
In 2013, Ajinça decided to give the NBA another chance, and he signed with the New Orleans Pelicans in December. Since then, things have gotten a lot better for the big man.
The Pelicans have given Ajinça the biggest chance to shine in the NBA. Head coach Monty Williams sees the potential Ajinça has, and he knows that with his height he could turn into one of the better centers and inside scorers in the league. It took the big man a season to adjust to the NBA, but Ajinça has really come alive so far in the 2014-2015 NBA season.
Ajinça has especially stepped up when Anthony Davis missed time with injuries. During Davis’s injury after the All-Star break, Ajinça came off the bench averaging about 15 points and seven rebounds per game on an insane 70.6 shooting percentage. The Pelicans won all four of those games, including a 104-102 victory over the Miami Heat in which Ajinça scored a career-high 24 points off the bench. Even after Davis returned to the lineup Ajinça continued to dominate off the bench, scoring 17 in the Pelicans win over the Brooklyn Nets.
“I just think he’s in better condition this year,” said Williams when asked about Ajinça’s improvement in 2015. “He’s always been a skilled player, but he’s in much better condition this year to handle the rigors of getting up and down the floor and playing against bigger guys. And he’s worked on his game. He’s always been a guy who could shoot the ball, but he’s done so much work down in the post. He’s got good footwork.”
Ajinça knew the Pelicans were the right fit for him when he decided to come back to the league—a developing team and a developing player. As the team continues to improve and win, Alexis Ajinça continues to become more and more of a force in the NBA.