Pelicans Scoop: Eric Gordon Injury Impact

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Published: November 25, 2014

A few of our writers give their takes on what impact Eric Gordon’s torn labrum will have on the New Orleans Pelicans.

1) If it were up to you, who would you replace Gordon with in the starting lineup? Do you think this is what Monty will do?

Mason Ginsberg: This may be a dark horse candidate, but I’m going with Jimmer Fredette. Early in the season, I wrote about injecting him into the starting lineup in an attempt to give Gordon a spark by playing against opposing teams’ second units. While Jimmer brings next to nothing on the defensive end, he is a better shooter than Gordon, and putting him next to Jrue in the back court should help Tyreke’s ability to get to the rim and either score or provide “Kobe assists” for the Pelicans’ talented big men. Don’t get me wrong; I’m suggesting 10-12 minutes per game for him most nights (unless he catches fire), but I’d rather give Jimmer a shot than go with what I have seen so far from Babbitt (which is who I think Monty will go with). Doing so also keeps Rivers with the second unit, which really needs his contributions (though his minutes will obviously increase).

Nick Lewellen: Mason has a bad case of Jimmer Fever. I hope we can find a cure. Honestly, I’m staying away from Jimmer in the starting lineup. I don’t have anything against him, but he hasn’t been anything close to good this season. I would go with Austin Rivers. I like what he has given us this season, and I’d like to see him get a chance to play with the first unit.

Chris Romaguera: I’m going with Darius Miller. A player that everyone was more excited about last year until he broke his foot. Muller allows Evans to slide back to his more natural shooting guard position, and is the Pelican’s best wing defender by default. If he can integrate himself into the offense, he has the highest potential on both sides of the ball.

Michael McNamara: The future of this team has always been Jrue and Tyreke as the starting guards with AD and Asik up front. Why not get a peek at the future now, even if you have to start a vastly inferior small forward? Put the other 4 guys in the roles that they will be in when the team reaches contender status and insert any random warm body into the small forward position. Babbitt, Salmons, Miller, whatever. I don’t care. Just show me a Holiday/Evans backcourt. But if I had to guess I think Monty goes with Rivers at the 2. The more interesting question to me is who finishes: Asik or Rivers?

Michael Pellissier: I keep Rivers on the bench but give him starters minutes.  The “SFs” have given us nothing thus far and one of them would be inserted into the starting lineup by default, but the bench has been so bad and I can’t imagine how much worse it could be if there wasn’t a competent guard running the offense. So give Salmons, Babbitt, and Miller a shot and see what sticks.

 

2) Which current Pelicans bench player stands to benefit most as a result of Gordon’s injury?

MG: The short-term answer may be Jimmer, but long-term, it has to be Austin Rivers. With the Pelicans unfortunately declining his 2015-16 option, Rivers will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. Gordon’s injury gives Austin an even greater opportunity to pile up numbers that should benefit his value on the open market.

NL: This is why the “who starts?” question isn’t really the big one. Gordon has averaged 31 MPG this season. Rivers has averaged just over 21. So if we give 10 of Gordon’s minutes to Rivers, we still have about 21 minutes of guard play to make up. I think some of those minutes go to Jimmer. He probably has the most to gain financially out of playing more, except for maybe Rivers. If I’m being brutally honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Monty go with Salmons to take up a big chunk of those minutes. Frankly, I think the whole “veteran leadership thing” might win some minutes for Salmons with such a young and injured backcourt team.

CR: Jimmer Fredette. In the end, he is the most natural fit to fill Gordon’s role, as a two guard who can spread the floor and punish people if they close out fast on him. Fredette all but lost his spot in the rotation before Gordon got hurt, this injury frees up a lot of time and shots. If Fredette is going to make it, now is the time.

MM: I think it will end up being Russ Smith. Monty seems to prefer defense over offense, and while Smith’s defense seems to consist of just fouling now, I think he has the pedigree to be a very good defender. Because of this, he will eventually win the other guard spot over Jimmer, and will provide some much needed energy to the second unit.

MP: I think Rivers.  I think he finally has enough skill to capitalize on the extra time and build some confidence.  He’s going to get consistent minutes for sure and now is the time for him to showcase his improvement.

 

3) With the Pelicans’ wing depth now even further depleted, will Monty turn to playing Anderson, Davis, and Asik together more? If so, how successful can it be?

MG: I really don’t think he has much of a choice at this point. Gordon was averaging 31 minutes per game, more than both Anderson (27.6) and Asik (27.3), which is less than they deserve. Both of those players should be getting closer to 35 MPG, and with Gordon’s injury, Monty will either have to do just that or give even more minutes to below-replacement level players. When your lack of depth reaches a certain point, you have to just throw your best five guys out there – if feasible – and see how it works. It’s feasible in this instance (as I wrote about in detail three months ago), so he should give it a try.

NL: It is hard for me to say. I think that is a lineup that is almost entirely matchup dependent. Some nights it will work great. Other nights it won’t do that much for us. Also, I feel like Anderson can take more minutes, but I don’t think Asik can. I guess my counter would be that I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw more lineups that included guys like Babbit. That way we could push Tyreke to the 2 for a stretch. Of course, we could keep the 3 big lineup and just take some of Asik’s minutes to Ajinca, if his back is giving him trouble or he can’t run for more than 30 minutes a game.

CR: I don’t think so. Babbitt is healthy, Miller and Salmons are both back from various personal issues. Anderson still has the same issues at the three (transition defense, perimeter defense, everything defense) as a wing. Don’t see Monty trusting this lineup unless Gordon is out for the year, in which case Monty may commit to a zone defense.

MM: I think he will have to, simply because I think those three guys will end up finishing games. It would be hard to have Asik sitting and Austin Rivers on the court in crunch time of a winnable game, and you need to give your closing rotation minutes together at some other point of the game so they can get a feel of playing together.

MP: Yes, but I’m still very worried about that lineup.  I’m sure it could be very effective given the right matchup, but posting good unit numbers in the right situations and being a good unit can be two very different things. They can go zone, but that unit would get shredded by a team that could swing the ball around the perimeter and who has a big man capable of finding soft spots in the zone to facilitate and attack. But given our problems with depth, Monty’s hand might be forced.

 

4) Give your realistic worst and best case scenario for the impact of Gordon’s injury on the Pelicans team as a whole.

MG: Worst case: Monty keeps Anderson and Asik’s minutes pretty much the same, and Gordon’s playing time is replaced entirely by more minutes for Rivers, Jimmer, Salmons, and Babbitt. The Pelicans’ second unit continues to get trounced, and despite solid play from the team’s top five players, the team gets worse. Best Case: Monty replaces 15 of Gordon’s minutes with Anderson & Asik, 6 with Rivers, and the remaining 10 with Fredette. If the Jimmer experiment fails, transition a few of those minutes to Rivers and give Babbitt the rest. The Pelicans roll with their 3-big lineup and the resulting minutes distribution actually cause the team to improve.

NL: Worst Case Scenario: Our bench struggles mightily and no one picks up the slack. That would be bad, but I think the real damage would be destroying some of the younger players confidence. I’d hate to see guys like Smith or even Rivers get in a slump, if they struggle in their new role. Best Case Scenario: The opposite happens. Guys step up, and the young players get experience and gain confidence.

CR: Worst case scenario: Complete anarchy. Evans and/or Holiday is next. The team’s offense loses all fluidity. We realize that Babbitt, Fredette, and Miller are all not playing for a reason, and we end up drafting fourth, the highest pick that we’d have to send to Houston. Best case scenario: the Pelicans give more minutes to players who improve and carve out a role.Guys like Babbitt and Fredette play better with more shots available, and we find a gem in Miller. When Gordon returns, we have a legitimate 9-man rotation that helps up get through to the playoffs.

MM: Worst case scenario: The second unit becomes the worst in the league. I am not that worried about giving Gordon’s minutes to Rivers, but I am worried about giving Austin’s minutes to Smith, Jimmer, and/or Salmons. Now, the second unit will have to lean even more heavily on Ryno, and on the nights where he isn’t hitting, they could give up big runs because the defense will be terrible regardless.

MP: Worst case: no one steps up, the backups become even worse.  Best case: Rivers improves and someone on the bench unit steps up after getting more time on the floor.  Rivers for Gordon isn’t the problem: it’s that the bench was already vacant and now it’s even more vacant. Someone needs to step up.

 

5) If Gordon is ruled out for the season and the Pelicans receive an injured player exception to replace him, who would your top realistic target be with that ~$5.3 million exception?

McNamara: So, for people who don’t know about this exception, it basically gives you the ability to sign or trade for a guy who makes a salary of $5.4 or less and is on the last (or only) year of his deal. Not many free agents out there, but theoretically you can sign Ray Allen. Or Will Bynum is a free agent and could run the second unit if Rivers gets moved into the starting lineup. But the more likely outcome is that Dell would try to use this to trade for a guy on the final year of his deal. He got a similar exception last year for Ryan Anderson but never used it. However, this year is a little different because playoffs seem to be a legit possibility. With that in mind, here are some possible guys Dell could target, that teams might be willing to just give away to save some money:

Andrei Kirilenko, Jonas Jerebko, Gigi Datome, Chris Copeland, Mo Williams, Willie Green, Luc Mbah a Moute, Jeremy Evans, and Andre Miller.

The options really aren’t that great, but if I had to choose one I would go with Luc Mbah a Moute. He is a veteran defender who isn’t over the hill and could be re-energized by the chance to play with a playoff contender and the best player on the planet.

Lewellen: Honestly, we are probably only in the market for a wing that can shoot and defend (at least a little). I’m not sure there is a guy out there that really fits that mold perfectly. I liked Andrei Kirilenko as a kid, though. He had an awesome nickname and odd play style. The guy was just great. I think that part of his career is over, but childhood can last forever. I’m going with Kirilenko.

Romaguera: Tough to see the Pelicans finding a player that would make up for losing Gordon for the year. Andrei Kirilenko makes for an interesting option, since he and Brooklyn are at odds. He can defend bigger wings, and can attack off the dribble on offense. Luc Mbad a Moute is another interesting option, as a potential defensive option against either forward position, and someone who is working on his corner 3-point shot.

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