Possible Next Steps for the Anderson-less New Orleans Pelicans

Published: January 7, 2014

The New Orleans Pelicans announced this morning that Ryan Anderson suffered a herniated disc and is out indefinitely. The subsequent question, naturally, is what “indefinitely” actually means. Unfortunately, with an injury like this, the proper course of action is to expect the worst and hope for the best. Returning to action too quickly could result in permanent damage, which would obviously be an unacceptable risk for both Anderson and this Pelicans team. At this point, the most reasonable expectation is to assume that Anderson will be unable to return to the court this season.

So what now? The Pelicans were already fighting an uphill battle just to make the playoffs, as John Hollinger’s Playoff Odds on ESPN.com gave the Pelicans a 19.3% chance to qualify for the postseason heading into tonight’s game in Miami. Without one of the team’s most important players and key floor spacers, those odds decrease even further. The unfortunate truth is that if we assume Anderson is done for the year, New Orleans’ playoff chances in the deep Western Conference are close to zero. The remainder of the column is based off of that exact conclusion, so if that bothers you, then I encourage you to stop reading now.

If I were Pelicans’ GM Dell Demps, my entire perception of what is important this season changes with the injury to Anderson. Below, I give the list of priorities for the remainder of this season that I would send to Head Coach Monty Williams.

  1. Flip Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon’s roles. Making this move is something I was pushing for before Anderson’s injury, but there is truly no reason to ignore it now. It has been well documented that Jrue Holiday and Evans have gelled together this season much better than Holiday and Gordon, so why not try to put them together for as many minutes as possible? Besides, Gordon’s score-first mentality makes him better suited for a sixth man role than Evans’ diverse skill set, which fits well in the starting lineup.
  2. a) Start Darius Miller instead of Al-Farouq Aminu. Without Anderson, this team clearly needs more perimeter shooting. They also need to figure out who of their young, unproven talent can help them moving forward. Miller fits both of those needs, so why not give him a shot? A starting lineup of Holiday, Evans, Miller, Davis, and Ajinca isn’t the most talented lineup possible, but should complement each other fairly well. If it turns out that Miller cannot prove himself, then the Pelicans will at the very least have come to one useful conclusion for their team for the future.
    b) Split Aminu’s minutes between the 3 (SF) and the 4 (PF). Moving Aminu back to the bench is not meant to be a negative reflection of his play, but instead a strategic move to best fit this roster. Al-Farouq will still get plenty of minutes, but he will get them both on the wing as well as in the front court. Like Miller, it’s time to see just how useful Aminu can be, and a large part of his utility can come from versatility.
  3. Make Austin Rivers the Pelicans’ backup point guard. Enough of this Brian Roberts business. The guy has his moments, but more often than not, he is an offense stopper and a sub-par defender. On top of that, he’s already 28 years old and therefore likely won’t get much better. Austin Rivers was the 10th overall selection in the 2012 NBA draft, and with more and more of the players drafted behind him finally beginning to prove themselves in this league, it’s time for Rivers to do the same. It is a very real possibility that he won’t, but the Pelicans need to know exactly what they have in him and so he needs to be given the chance to prove himself.
  4. Attempt to sign Pierre Jackson, but only if he will get minutes. Even if New Orleans unloads Brian Roberts, Jackson would still be the team’s fifth guard. That being said, Holiday, Rivers, Gordon, and Evans are all listed at 6’4″ or taller, which makes the possibility of deploying some three guard lineups a very real one. If the Pelicans can commit to giving Jackson 10-12 minutes per game off the bench, then it makes sense to try to add him to the roster. If not, then let him continue to tear up the D-league and see if another team will overpay for his rights.
  5. Bump up Jeff Withey’s minutes after the trade deadline. I’d say to do this as soon as possible, but if Stiemsma can string together a few solid games, then he could be a potential trade chip for a team that needs bench help down low. He likely wouldn’t net more than a second round pick, but it’s better than nothing. Once that trade deadline passes, Withey should get all of the Steamer’s current playing time. Let’s see if his absurd PER is an indicator of future success or just a result of a small sample size.
  6. Test the trade market for Anthony Morrow. I like what Morrow brings to a playoff caliber team. Without Anderson, however, it simply does not make a ton of sense to keep playing Morrow – a player whose value and skill set are largely set in stone – over players about which key decisions must be made in the near future. Morrow’s perimeter shooting could be valuable to a playoff team at the deadline, but he is signed for both this season and next at the veterans’ minimum, so keeping him around is a totally legitimate option as well.

As previously stated, these ideas are based on the expectation that Ryan Anderson’s herniated disc will keep him out for the remainder of the 2013-14 season, thereby crippling New Orleans’ playoff hopes due to the depth of the Western Conference. A starting lineup of Holiday-Evans-Miller-Davis-Ajinca with a second unit of Rivers-Gordon-Aminu-Smith-Stiemsma/Withey should keep the Pelicans competitive (though not playoff caliber) while simultaneously answering some key questions about the team’s most heavily scrutinized role players going forward.


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