Fixing Monty’s Rotations

Published: February 22, 2014

Whether it is on Twitter, Facebook, comment sections on this site, or numerous message board, it is impossible to read anything related to the Pelicans without seeing somebody flaming Monty Williams’ rotations. I have written numerous articles on this site about how terrible certain guys are with others and how much better they are when paired with a different player or group. But the truth of the matter is that Monty is very limited with his options, as three key pieces (Jrue, Ryno, and Smith) have been out for weeks, and in their place are guys who literally nobody else in the league wanted.

Brian Roberts, Luke Babbitt, and Alexis Ajinca were all playing in Europe when Dell Demps plucked them out of relative obscurity. Now, two are starting and one is playing the role that was meant for, arguably, the Pelicans most deadly offensive weapon. So, we scream and shout for Monty to play this guy or that guy, but is he really just shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic? Does playing X guy with a 11.5 PER really make a difference over Y guy with a 10.8 PER?

To me, it is more about optimizing the skill set of each player on the court, and in order to do that, Monty needs to find particular combinations that work well together. So, let’s do that. Below is my suggestion for Coach Williams on how to fix this rotation mess.

Starters (Until Jrue gets back)

Lineup: Brian Roberts, Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu, Anthony Davis, Greg Stiemsma

Right now, the Pelicans are starting Ajinca instead of Stiemsma, but this lineup is actually more effective. As you would probably guess, it doesn’t score well, but it is one of the best defensive lineups for the Pelicans, holding opponents to under 98 points per 48 minutes. It also rebounds well and turns the ball over at a low rate. This unit only takes about 12 three’s per 48 minutes, but it makes 46% of them. The biggest issue with this lineup is that it fouls a lot, which means you’ve got to get switch it up early so that the other team doesn’t get into the bonus.

7:00: Sub in Ajinca for Stiemsma, Evans for Aminu

Lineup: Roberts, Gordon, Evans, Davis, Ajinca

This unit is surprisingly effective, outscoring its opponent by nearly 21 points per 48 minutes in a small sample size. Davis and Ajinca are both threats from mid-range or can finish a lob, so Tyreke has more space to operate than if a big like Stiemsma or Withey were in the game. Gordon and Roberts both have to be respected from the perimeter as well, and this unit hasn’t had any problems defending either, outside of Ajinca’s foul issues. That is the one issue with this unit – they pick up a foul every two minutes on average. They would pick up three personal fouls in this final stretch, and with the first unit featuring Stiemsma, that means we likely see the opposition in the bonus by the end of the quarter.

2:00: Sub in Rivers for Roberts, Morrow for Gordon, and Babbitt for Ajinca

Lineup: Rivers, Morrow, Evans, Babbitt, Davis

Pure offense to finish off the quarter. In all likelihood, the opposition’s starters are either out of the game or tired, so this unit won’t be as exposed at the end of the quarter as they would have been at the beginning. This unit features the three best catch and shoot players on the team, with its best attacker, and an all around stud in Davis. There isn’t much data for this unit, because it hasn’t been on the floor much, but this was the exact unit that made huge runs in the Toronto game that got the Pelicans back into contention after being down double digits. Then, once the starters allowed the lead to balloon up to double digits again, this unit made a run to tie the game up. It is an explosive offensive unit, that can also be surprisingly frisky defensively.

2nd Quarter – Sub in Ajinca for Davis

Lineup: Rivers, Morrow, Evans, Babbitt, Ajinca

Offensively, this unit plays very similarly to the one that ended the quarter, with Ajinca screening and hanging out in the high post or running to the rim when Tyreke drives. Defensively, this unit might have issues, but again, they will be facing the second units of opposing teams and will likely have the firepower to outscore them.

7:00 – Sub in Roberts for Rivers, Gordon for Morrow, Aminu for Evans, Davis for Babbitt, and Stiemsma for Ajinca

Lineup: Roberts, Gordon, Aminu, Davis, Stiemsma

As the opponent starts putting its starters back in, Monty counters with defense and runs the offense through Gordon and Davis.

3:00 – Sub Evans for Aminu, Babbitt for Stiemsma

Lineup: Roberts, Gordon, Evans, Babbitt, Davis

The Pelicans finish the half off strong with the lineup that they will likely finish games with, at least for now. Babbitt is a poor man’s Ryan Anderson in this situation, and Roberts is a very poor man’s Jrue Holiday, but this is what Dell Demps envisioned when making the moves this summer. Evans, Holiday, and Gordon all sharing the ball as Anderson spaced the court and AD’s rolls to the basket sucked the entire defense into the paint. The Pelicans can do a lot of the same things with this unit. The results might not be exactly the same, but the concepts can be.

Second Half

Rinse and Repeat, with the starters coming in a little earlier in the 4th quarter – usually the officials timeout comes at about 8:30 of the 4th quarter. Put them in then, and put the FInishing Five in earlier – at the 5 minute mark. Other than that, stick to the same rotation and roles. Guys will become more familiar with each other, as they will play with the same players, in the same lineups night after night. Roles will become more clearly defined as well, which has been an issue for guys like Tyreke Evans.

Minutes Breakdown

Anthony Davis: 39

Eric Gordon: 35

Brian Roberts: 35

Tyreke Evans: 31

Luke Babbitt: 21

Alexis Ajinca: 19

Greg Stiemsma: 17

Al-Farouq Aminu: 17

Anthony Morrow: 13

Austin Rivers: 13


Look, nobody says coaching is an easy job, and I can sit here and type out my hypothetical rotations from the safety of my living room, but there will always be variables that can throw the plan way off. Another injury can occur, or a player can get into unexpected early foul trouble. Perhaps, there is a terrible mismatch that night that makes one of these lineups nearly impossible to use, or maybe one guy is red-hot while the guy that this gameplan says I should put him in for is ice-cold.

I get all that, but what I don’t get is a coach sticking with certain rotations game after game that clearly do not work, and do not put his players in positions to be their most effective. It is clear that a guy like Tyreke, for instance, needs to be on the court with players who give him space to operate. It is also clear  that Aminu hurts this team far more than he helps when he has to play a large number of minutes. And it also seems clear that this team’s destiny is not to try and win games in the 80’s and 90’s, but rather to try and outscore most teams by playing through Anthony Davis and allowing Evans and Gordon to attack the hoop while surrounded by shooters.

Whether Monty Williams is a good coach or a bad coach is still up for debate, but I do not believe there is much debate concerning whether he is putting this particular set of players in the best position to win. Dell Demps has done a good job of finding stop-gap options as the team has been decimated with injury. Williams tends to eventually put the right players together, but often times over the last two weeks it has been too little, too late.

The numbers say that the rotation should look like what I have listed above. Let’s see if Monty evolves, or if he stands pat with a plan that is clearly not working.


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