A Most Intriguing Second Unit

Published: October 5, 2014

Since Monty Williams has been here, we have seen thousands of minutes without a single starter on the court. Usually, at the end of the first quarter or the beginning of the second, Monty likes to make wholesale changes and put all five reserves on the court together. Unlike most coaches, Williams doesn’t stagger his lineups throughout the game. Instead, he is a fan of building some chemistry in his second unit by playing them all together – something that has driven fans crazy in the past.

But this year, his plan just might work. Make no mistake, he will stagger his starters a bit, as Tyreke and Anderson figure to be the first reserves subbed in. Those two will play with the starters in the first and third quarters, and at the end of games as well. But expect the five man reserve unit to start the second and fourth quarters, and get a few minutes at the end of the first and third quarters as well. In total, expect this reserve unit to get on the court for 10-12 minutes a game against opposing reserves, and while we concentrate on the starters and the finishers, this unit could possibly swing 10-15 games this season with its firepower.

So, what should we expect this reserve unit to look like? Imagine Tyreke Evans with the ball in his hands while Jimmer, Rivers, and Ryan Anderson spot up for three, and the 7’2“, 275 pound Alexis Ajinca sets picks and pops for his buttery 17 footer. Or, picture Jimmer with the ball as Tyreke sets a pick, giving the opposition three choices:

1.) Go over and allow Jimmer an easy path to the bucket. When the D collapses, he can kick it to Rivers or Ryno for a three, or Ajinca for an alley-oop.

2.) Go under and Jimmer drains the 3.

3.) Switch and put your backup PG on Tyreke, who takes him to the block.

Imagine that team in transition, with Tyreke, Jimmer, and Rivers pushing and Ryno and Ajinca spotting up on the secondary break. Just imagine. Imagine all the points they can score in a very short amount of time. Now, the concern is obvious: What about the defense? This unit has, at most, two good on-ball defenders and an average rim defender at best. It has one guy who rebounds at an above average rate for his position, and multiple horrible defensive rebounders for their position. Due to those concerns, this unit would be admittedly quite awful against most of the top starting units in the NBA. But they wouldn’t be playing against starters.

Against Memphis, they would be playing against Nick Calathes, Courtney Lee, Tayshaun Prince, Jon Leuer, and Kosta Koufos. When Houston comes to town, they have to deal with Troy Daniels, Jason Terry, Trevor Ariza, Montiejunas, and Jeff Adrien. The list goes on and on. If you look at the units that most teams send out at that part of the game, it is chalk full of reserves, with one or two starters at most left in, and rarely do we see the elite players. At most, we see two serious offensive threats and one above average offensive rebounder.

While we can’t expect this unit to lock anybody down defensively, it could be good enough to contain opposing bench units, and a unit with an offensive rating of 112 and a defensive rating of 105 is just as good as a unit with an offensive rating of 102 and a defensive rating of 95. And that is what I expect from this second unit, if Monty does in fact choose to go with it. I expect this unit to outscore the unit it is on the floor with, and on some nights it might truly change the entire game. We saw (or heard) this in the Pelicans first preseason game last night, where a 17-5 run in the second quarter flipped the game and put the Pelicans ahead for good.

Jimmer and Ryan Anderson drained three’s, while Rivers attacked the rim. And they didn’t even have Ajinca or Tyreke last night. Regardless, last night was an example of what the Pelicans second unit can do. Can you imagine a world in which Anthony Davis comes back onto the court with bigger leads than he left with? Imagine a world where teams get blitzed by three balls, only to re-insert their starters down 10 and see Asik and AD standing at the rim, denying any chance for them to get easy buckets, which is what you need to get back into a game.

Anthony Davis is going to be a superstar. Eric Gordon seems poised to have his best season in New Orleans. Jrue Holiday is healthy and is ready to lead this team on both ends. Monty Williams has returned from Spain with a new mindset and philosophy on how to treat his players. While all of these things will be key to the Pelicans playoff push, there is a giant X-Factor that few, if any, teams will be able to match. The Pelicans bench unit has a chance to completely flip games, with two Sixth Man of the Year candidates surrounded by guys who are elite spot-up shooters for their position.

Games are usually won in the final five minutes, but for New Orleans, a few could be won during explosive stretches in the second quarter, just like it was last night.


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