Time for a Change in the Starting Lineup?

Published: December 27, 2014

After the injury to Eric Gordon, Coach Monty Williams untimately settled on a Pelicans starting lineup of Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Luke Babbitt, Anthony Davis, and Omer Asik. The prevailing idea, here, was to find a way to still effectively space the floor for guys like Tyreke and Jrue to have room to get into the paint and create lots of open looks. Sure, you sacrifice a bit defensively, but with no true small forward on the roster, Williams wisely decided to prioritize offense from the position and make concessions defensively.

Unfortunately, things haven’t really gone as planned for the Pelicans with this unit. After last night’s victory over the Spurs, this Pelicans 5-man group is now the most used lineup for the team, and the results are less than ideal. In 151 minutes, they are getting outscored by 9.4 points per 100 possessions; from a league-wide perspective, it would give the Pelicans the 6th worst offense and 4th worst defense.

The good news: help is on the way. Assuming his rehab continues on schedule, Eric Gordon will hopefully be back on the court some time in January, at which point the Pelicans will almost certainly return to the excellent Holiday-Gordon-Evans-Davis-Asik starting lineup that has outscored opponents by nearly 12 points per 100 possessions in 145 minutes this year (the 6th best 5-man lineup in the NBA with at least 140 minutes played). Until then, though, it may be time for Monty Williams to consider a change to the starting lineup.

Give Coach Williams credit – after the first six minutes of the first and third quarters, he largely abandons his new starting lineup unless Babbitt has the hot hand. However, the Pelicans often find themselves having to climb out of a hole created by that group, and there may be a way to fix that – a starting lineup of Holiday, Rivers, Cunningham, Davis, and Asik. Don’t get me wrong, this group probably won’t score at a top-10 rate. But you know what? Neither did the lineup with Babbitt and Evans in it, as the offensive efficiency with the current starters is pretty much Charlotte Hornets-level. However, this unit should be a total menace on the defensive end, as it features what are arguably the Pelicans’ five best defensive players.

To be clear: the idea here is not to cut into Tyreke Evans’ minutes, but merely to redistribute them until Eric Gordon returns from injury. A completely reasonable gut reaction would be that Evans would not be happy about going back to the bench, but if the coaching staff can sell him on it being a temporary move until Gordon returns, then he may buy in. Also, while Evans should still play every single crunch time minute, think about the spacing he would have with a second unit featuring Salmons, Babbitt, Anderson, and Ajinca (assuming Monty sticks with his current 10-man rotation). The floor would be his to do as he pleases, and while the defense would be pretty rough with this group, they would mostly be playing against opposing second units, so the offense that it brings should be more than enough to get by.

Being realistic, the chances of this change occurring are somewhat slim, purely because it would create entirely new rotations for the team, and I don’t think Coach Williams wants to make a total overhaul to both units. He has no problems switching one player out with another (Withey for Ajinca, Fredette for Salmons, etc.), but it seems like he tries to stay away from massive changes as long as his hand isn’t forced by injuries. Still, a potentially excellent defensive starting lineup of Holiday-Rivers-Cunningham-Davis-Asik with a monster floor-spacing second unit of Evans-Salmons-Babbitt-Anderson-Ajinca may help the Pelicans in the short-term as they wait for Gordon to get healthy.

What do you y’all think? Make your case in the comments!


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