Projecting a Pelicans Rotation With a Limited Holiday

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Published: September 25, 2015

Alvin Gentry confirmed yesterday what we had all expected for quite a while – Jrue Holiday will be limited to start the season. Specifically, he stated that the plan for now is that Holiday will get around 15 minutes a game until January. At that point you would assume that he will be re-evaluated and his limitations will be reduced or eliminated all together (fingers crossed). But what will this Pelicans team look like in the mean time? Jrue Holiday is unquestionably this teams second best overall player when healthy, and him being limited to less than half the minutes he would play if he were 100% will change the rotation. It will likely change the starting lineup, and more importantly, who finishes games. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what Gentry might do with the rotation and how Holiday can be maximized in his limited minutes.

Starting Lineup

Tyreke-Gordon-QPon (Cunningham for the first few games)-Davis-Asik

This unit, like almost every unit the Pels put on the floor, will have enough offense. Davis could very easily lead the league in scoring this season, and Gordon might benefit more than anybody from Gentry’s system, not to mention what a healthy offseason for once can do for his game. Tyreke will be the primary ball handler, and while this team might have some spacing issues in the half court, the combo of Davis and Asik on the glass should allow them to get out and run after defensive boards.

The issue becomes – Who guards opposing point guards? Tyreke is basically a point guard on the offensive end, but you don’t want him trying to stick with PG’s on the other end. Gordon can do it, but it’s not ideal and the same goes for Pondexter. Cunningham definitely can’t do it. If lead guards can easily penetrate and collapse the defense, that will derail everything Darren Erman is trying to do with the defense. The key to this lineup will be Eric Gordon. If he can return to pre-injury form, when he was considered one of the best defensive guards in the league, then this unit can not only get by, but it could dominate for stretches.

First Sub – Six Minute Mark

Holiday-Gordon-Evans-Ryno-AD

The best offensive lineup in basketball (possibly) emerges to put a hurt on opponents for a few minutes. It is smart to put Holiday with these guys because you want him to be used to playing with them by the end of the year, because if he is off restriction, this is the #1 lineup and the one that finishes games. Holiday and Evans share ball handling duties, while the Pelicans play 5-out at times. Also, look for post opportunities for Tyreke in this lineup or Ryno if they put a SF on him.

Defensively, Jrue pressures the lead ball handler and AD defends the rim. The key will be whether Ryno can at least be average in pick and rolls. He doesn’t have to be a world beater, but he can’t look as slow-footed as last year, and that is where the weight loss will be huge. It is not unrealistic to expect a 115 to 120 offensive rating from this unit, so the defense just has to be average for the Pels to get a significant boost with this lineup.

Finishing the First (Two-Minute Mark)

Jrue-Cole-insert SF-Ryno-Ajinca

A great way to steal rest for your stars is to pull them out at the end of quarters so that they get those few minutes that often have more free throws than the rest of the quarter, and they get the break as well. Ideally, with your team in the bonus, it is good to have great FT shooters out there with the ball in their hands and the Pelicans can do that with this lineup. You can push and space the court or you can run a great half court offense that would include pick and rolls and post ups for Ajinca against backup centers.

The concern with this lineup would be the defensive rebounding, and again, if teams are in the bonus Ajinca’s high foul rate could send guys to the line at a high clip. He gets dumb fouls trying to get offensive rebounds and there is nothing more frustrating to a coach than a foul 90 feet away giving a team two free points. But the offensive firepower should destroy opposing 2nd units more often than not, and Jrue can use this point in the game to be ultra aggressive, looking for his own offense.

Start of the Second Quarter

Cole-Gee-insert SF-AD-Ajinca

You have to get AD on the court with Ajinca at different points of the game. They were just too good together last year to separate. In 220 minutes last year, the Pelicans simply dominated when they played side by side, so Gentry has to see that and use them together. The beginning of the 2nd and 4th quarters seem a good time to get a little separation burst, and then if it is really working, you can close games with it.

With all the attention on those two, the wings can get some open looks, and you don’t need a true point guard, since so much will be going through your bigs. This is a great time to steal some minutes with Tyreke and Jrue both on the bench. Defensively, you have a lot of length by the rim, but very little on the perimeter. Closing out hard and making teams settle for mid-range shots should be the strategy.

One More Break for AD

Cole-Tyreke-SF-Ryno-Ajinca

There is a timeout at the 9 minute mark, and again at the 6 minute mark in the 2nd and 4th quarters. A perfect way to get AD a lot of rest in real time, but not have him out of much actual game time. Again, a lineup with a ton of firepower but questionable defense. On some nights it will blow the game open, on others it will lose a lead. More times than not, however, it will just bide time and do neither of those things. Tyreke handles the ball, which is why he is in over Gordon. Gordon and Cole’s numbers together last year were simply awful, yet the Cole/Tyreke combo was stellar.

Holiday Returns (6 Minute Mark)

Jrue-Gordon-Tyreke-Ryno-AD

Jrue played 5-6 minutes in the first, so he only can play a few here to keep pace for 15. Again, he gets time with what I have deemed the ‘Finishing Five’. A 2-3 minute stretch that sees the team push the ball and hopefully extend the lead yet again.

Closing out the Quarter

Tyreke-Gordon-Cole (or a SF)-AD-Asik (or Ryno or Ajinca)

Tyreke, Gordon, and AD will close out the half and games, that much is for sure. But the other two spots will depend on matchup, foul trouble, and numerous other factors as well. Gentry has said in the past that this team can play “tall, small ball” – That means that a lineup with AD and four guards/swings is not out of the question. It’s how Golden State won a title, with Draymond Green at the 5. AD is bigger than him; hence, “tall, small ball”

So, don’t be surprised to see Cole, Gordon, Tyreke, Q-Pon, and AD for instance in some matchups. Against a team like Memphis or San Antonio, I suspect you will see a lot of AD and Asik in crunch time. It will all be fluid, but the good thing is that even with Holiday limited and Pondexter expected to miss a few games, the Pelicans still have a ton of firepower.

Recap/Conclusion

So, if you look at the likely rotations and project the second half to be much of the same, you are left with guys getting the following minutes in a typical game:

Davis – 37

Evans- 36

Gordon -31

Ryno – 25

Q-Pon/Gee/DC trio – 32

Asik – 16

Cole – 16

Holiday – 15

Ajinca – 10

The final 22 minutes are dependent on matchup, and will go to those two positions at the end of the second and fourth quarters. As I said, sometimes they could go to Asik, sometimes, a SF, or Cole, or Ryno, or Ajinca. Gentry has options. The real question becomes – What happens when the restrictions come off Holiday? You would assume that he would get 32-35 minutes, and that means those minutes have to come from somewhere. But where?

Will the team play with three guards for most of the game and steal minutes from their small forwards, or will Tyreke return to the bench, costing both he and Cole minutes? It will be a good problem to have if everybody buys in like they did last season in Golden State. Andre Iguodala, a player far more accomplished than Tyreke Evans, went to the bench for the good of the team, and got himself a ring. A healthy Jrue could mean Evans is asked to do the same, and if he welcomes it, this team could take off in the second half of the year.

Regardless, all of you who were concerned when the Holiday news was reported — take a look at that rotation, at those lineups. Look at the firepower, and look at the fact that AD is going to be on the court for 75% of the game. Then remember that when AD is on the court, the Pelicans dominate basketball games, and should do it even more so now that he is continuing his evolution. Would it be nice to have Holiday for 30 minutes, as opposed to 15? Sure. But is it necessary for this team to win games? Well, the fact that this was a team that won 60+ percent of their games coming down the stretch last year with no Jrue (and no Ryno for most of it) says no.

This is Anthony Davis’s team and it will go as he goes. Other guys will have roles to play, but like Lebron in his first stint in Cleveland, this team can win 60+ games if he takes that next step, regardless of who is on the court with him. What he needs his teammates for is the post season, and the Pelicans are doing everything to ensure that Jrue Holiday gets there healthy this year.

 

 

 

 

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