An Educated Guess on the New Orleans Pelicans Rotation

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Published: July 16, 2014

I have spent a lot of time (maybe too much) studying Monty’s rotations over the years. Whenever I hear vague comments and accusations thrown around, it is in my nature to want to learn more so I can be better informed. There is no accusation thrown at Monty more than, “His rotations are horrible.” Going back and watching all of the games when the Pelicans were healthy, I made it my top priority to observe his rotations and try to see what it was that got people so angry. I found nothing. In fact, I liked what he did 99% of the time.

The only thing that bothered me was that he would get far too nervous when AD picked up two fouls in the first half or had four in the third quarter, and often yanked him for too long. But other than that, he had a nice way of staggering units at the right time and was able to get his stars proper rest. I became familiar with his pattern and his thought process from watching that stretch, and now I want to carry that over here and try to project his rotation, seeing that the final roster is essentially in place.

Starting Unit

Holiday-Gordon-Evans-Davis-Asik

I think there is a small chance that he starts Salmons at SF so that Evans can change games off the bench, but with Asik and Davis as the second line of your defense, you can go a little small on the wings. This unit will feature Gordon heavily to start the games, as the Pelicans will look to get him off to a hot start, which should open things up for the team as a whole later in the game. Expect this unit to run a lot as well, with Davis and Asik controlling the glass and quickly getting it out to one of the guards on the break.

Substitution at 7 minutes

Holiday-Evans-Salmons-Anderson-Davis

Salmons and Anderson come in for Gordon and Asik, as Monty often moved Davis over to center after the opposing big wore down a little bit and wasn’t as aggressive. This unit will feature a heavy dose of drive and kicks by Tyreke and Holiday, along with rim runs by Davis that should result in numerous dunks with all these shooters on the court. Keeping Evans on the court gives you just enough rebounding to allow this to work, and though Salmons did not have a great season last year, he id shoot 42.6% on catch and shoot threes.

Substitution at 2 minutes

Holiday-Rivers-Salmons-Anderson-Asik

Monty often made a substitution at the 2 minute mark, which I thought was smart because, along with the end of 1st quarter break, it really increases the ‘real-time’ minutes that a guy gets to rest for. He almost always pulled AD at this point and got Rivers into the flow of the game, rather than starting him cold at the beginning of the 2nd. This unit will feature a lot of Holiday and Anderson, often starting with the guards in a pick and roll with Asik. Asik will rim run, and if the defense sucks up on the shooters, Asik should get some easy dunks. If not, three balls will rain from the heavens.

Beginning of the 2nd Quarter

Rivers-Gordon-Salmons-Anderson-Asik

Gordon comes in and again is the focal point of the offense, with Anderson and Rivers also getting some looks. On paper, this unit looks like it can be torn apart defensively, but 9 times out of 10, the opposition will have 4 to 5 reserves on the court to start the second quarter, so Rivers hounding the ball and Asik protecting the rim should be enough to get by.

Substitution at 9 minutes

Rivers-Gordon-Evans-Davis-Asik

Monty almost always reinserted Davis here unless he had two fouls already. That strategy allowed AD to get close to 12-15 minutes of real-time rest, despite only missing five on the court. He does the same thing here with Evans, and more likely than not, the opposition will still be pretty reserve heavy, so look for this unit to absolutely blitz them on the defensive, which will lead to easy points on the other end.

Substitution at 5 minutes

Holiday-Gordon-Evans-Anderson-Davis

The Finishing Five makes its first appearance. At this point, everybody will have had a chance to get involved in the game and this unit could just go on a massive run to give the Pelicans momentum heading into the locker room. Ideally, the Pelicans can be in or near the penalty and live at the line with this lineup of quality free throw shooters and/or get plenty of layups and three-point looks. And on the other end, this is where AD’s weight gain needs to pay off, as he needs to control the glass for this 5 minutes stretch.

Second Half

Rinse and Repeat for the second half.

Minutes Distribution

Anthony Davis – 38 (20 with Anderson and 18 with Asik)

Tyreke Evans – 38 (28 at SF, 10 at SG)

Jrue Holiday – 34

Eric Gordon – 34

Ryan Anderson – 30

Omer Asik – 28

John Salmons – 20

Austin Rivers – 18

Conclusion

Now, this is going to seem weird, but I am going to start off this final part of the piece by disagreeing with myself. The other common theme with Monty when this team was healthy was that he usually had a 9-man rotation. As you can see, I only have minutes for 8 guys when everyone is healthy. But I am having a hard time finding minutes for anyone else here. Maybe you can give Babbitt some minutes in the place of Salmons or perhaps you can argue that he will give Ajinca 4 or 5 minutes in the first half. This was actually quite common in the stretch where the Pelicans were healthy this year. A 4th big would get a couple of minutes in the first half, and none in the second half. But who do you want to take away minutes from? 38 is perfect for an elite guy like AD, and Asik and Ryno are barely getting enough minutes as it is.

The real issue here is that this team will face injuries, and when those injuries happen to Evans, Gordon, or Holiday, this team could be in big trouble. If Holiday or Gordon goes down, Evans can slide down and get all his minutes at guard, while Rivers can eat up some minutes there too, but then we are left with a huge hole at small forward. You probably don’t want Salmons getting more than 20 minutes (and some people don’t even want that many), and the options behind him seem thin. I mean, nobody wants any of the bigs to go down, but if one does, the two other elite guys can get more minutes and you have viable options behind them in Ajinca, Babbitt, Withey, and Young.

Behind Salmons at small forward will likely be Darius Miller (if he is re-signed) and maybe one of the wing players from Summer League. Going from Evans to one of those guys is clearly the biggest possible downgrade on the roster. And again, an injury to any of our three premier perimeter players thrusts one of those guys into the rotation. Or maybe the Pelicans can keep Evans at the small forward and go really small, playing Russ Smith a couple of minutes with Holiday, Rivers, or Gordon. Or maybe Babbitt can get a few minutes at small forward against the oppositions’ reserves.

As you are probably starting to see, I am beginning to reach here. But quite simply, guys have to step up. Whether that’s Darius Miller or one of the guys on the summer league team. Because injuries will happen, and if history is any indicator, they will probably happen to Gordon and/or Evans at some point in the season for a handful of games. But it shouldn’t be a surprise that this roster has a weakness – nearly every one in the NBA does.

What is more exciting to think about are its strengths. Think about a team that will have two fantastic bigs on the court at all times and at least one dynamic guard on the court with them as well. Think about lineups that can absolutely lock a team down on offense or offensive minded lineups that can drop 15 points in three minutes. With this roster, Monty can throw out either kind of lineup. He can adjust to the opposition or make them adjust to him. He has the talent to win games in a multitude of ways, and it will be fun to see just how dominant they can be if utilized properly.

 

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