Should Ryan Anderson be Starting?

Published: November 27, 2013

Put me in, damnit.

No. I don’t care that Ryan Anderson isn’t starting.. for Ryan Anderson. He gets his minutes, and though I do think that it may affect some NBA players’ attitudes, I don’t see it as a huge problem. Ryan Anderson has been professional his entire time here, and most often, he comes onto the floor gunning, which is exactly what I want him to do.

What does worry me is the beginning of the games.  Pelicans fans and media have talked at length about this team’s reliance of the mid-range J. I don’t like it, we don’t like it, and you know what? I bet the team doesn’t like it either.. it just happens to be there, and they take it. Despite what seems to be a very popular opinion, I don’t think Monty Williams is huddling the fellas up and saying “guys, ignore all the good shots.” Yes, it’s his job to maximize the talents of his players, but when you throw out a lineup of 3 guys who can’t shoot from 3 (Davis, Smith, Aminu) and one of the other 2 is handling the  ball, it’s hard to generate a lot of 3 point looks.

But it concerns me that seemingly every game starts with a barrage of mid-range shots. Against the Pacers, it allowed us to zoom out to a very quick and unsustainable start. And it’s not that the starting lineup isn’t doing okay, because it has actually been successful this season.  The starting 5 of Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Anthony Davis, and Jason Smith has been by far the most frequent 5 man lineup that this team has used, and it has registered a +3.4 differential per 100 possessions. The starting unit isn’t having problems outscoring opponents, but it’s not exactly allowing the Pelicans to blow out teams in the first quarter either.

I believe in tone-setting. I believe in starting each game by establishing good habits. I’ve never coached an NBA game outside of XBox’s NBA 2k13 (which I’m not even that good at), but I like pushing for good shots early, and therein lies my view of the problem: we are establishing bad looks early on.

This isn’t a perfect roster: every combination is going to leave something to be desired. This isn’t a championship team, at least not right now. There’s talent, sure, but the pieces don’t perfectly align. Want to start Morrow instead of Aminu? Good luck with your defense. Want to put Tyreke in to start games? Good luck running your second unit offense. Want to start Darius Miller? Then you better go all Miyagi and heal his stress fracture.

Ryno’s theoretical insertion into the starting lineup seems like the most feasible solution to me. Jason Smith is an energy guy, and I know Monty believes his strength lies in his ability to hustle for roughly 20 minutes a night, and I agree: he’s damn good at it. If you measure success in effort spent, then Jason Smith is cracking your All-NBA roster.

But when Jason Smith starts, he shoots. He spaces out to mid-range, his defender sags off of him, and he winds up getting easy shots because the defense prefers it to a Davis, Jrue, or Gordon shot. And that doesn’t mention Aminu, who is probably 2 feet inside the corner 3 because he can’t shoot. That is, unless he gets the ball, probes for 2 seconds, and then pulls it back out. But I’ve already talked about potential problems with replacing Aminu in the starting lineup.

This is where Ryan Anderson comes in. I’d love to point to their impressive stats in their 17 minutes together, but that seems a shallow argument when a unit with similar time (Roberts, Morrow, Evans, Thomas, Stiemsma) also has a similarly impressive statline (rougly +27 points/100 possessions better than opponents). There’s no point in pointing to the stats in this case.

So instead, we jump inside the theoretical-mobile, set it to 88 miles per hour, and let our imaginations wander. What would a Holiday/Gordon/Aminu/Anderson/Davis lineup look like?

1. Athletic.

Not as athletic as the same lineup with Smith instead of Anderson, but athletic nonetheless. Gordon, Holiday, and Aminu form an athletic perimeter trio, and though Anderson isn’t grabbing quarters off the top of backboards, Davis’s presence alleviates some of the defensive concerns.

2. Spacious

Good gracious, it’s more spacious. Sorry for that. I have developed a very rudimentary and unsubstantiated “Rule of 3s” in which the theory is that you need 3 players on the court that can shoot a 3 with some degree of success. It’s probably been said before, I’m sure.

The idea of a stretch 4 is that you, in theory, have 4 guys who can space the floor while your James Harden types Euro step their way to the rim all night.. because one of the big men is stuck too far away to impact shots at the rim. In this case, it doesn’t apply because of Aminu, but you do have 3 guys who can shoot the 3 at any given point instead of the 2 in the current starting lineup. Want to help on Davis cutting to the rim? Fine. Pass to Ryno, splash. You don’t get that with Smith, as teams are content to let him have long 2s while they smother our guards and Davis.

3. Run and gun (relatively speaking)

This unit would have a need for speed, though I’m not sure it’d be very good at it. Aminu and Davis are built to run, surely, and Gordon is a bowling ball in transition.. but we’ve seen the “fast breaks” that this team has run, so it’s hard to be too confident in its ability to execute in transition. But Ryno trailing for 3s is a beautiful thing, and if this team can learn to run fast breaks like the professional basketball team that they are, it would be money on the break. On a team full of good athletes, the team has registered the fastest pace with Ryno on the floor.

4. Compromise

The team has a really low offensive rating while Aminu’s in, but registers some of its best defense while he’s on the floor. Conversely, the offense lights the sky on fire while Anderson’s in, but the defense suffers some.

Anderson isn’t a great rebounder for his position. Aminu is.

Aminu’s a poor shooter. Ryno’s a great one.



That’s what I think you get with Aminu and Ryno. I know it sounds so simple. Hell, it could wind up being a terrible combination. Projecting lineups’ effectiveness is always theoretical. But I think it slides Smith into a role he’s better suited for, and I think it allows the team to get off to some blazing hot starts. Most importantly, I think it gets our 3 pointers going early, and I’m a big believer in getting into a good shooting rhythm as early as possible, particularly on the road: I hate trying to come back from deficits when the shooting’s been cold all night. So why not establish good looks from deep early? Why not open up defenses and then feast at the rim? Opening up looks at the rim could help get the other team’s star players in foul trouble early as well.

If nothing else, I think this lineup is worth a try. Why not? Because of the seemingly weak interior defense? We wind up doubling in the post and giving up open 3s so often anyway, so what’s the difference? Let’s shuffle the cards and see what kind of a hand we get.






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