Piecing Together the Pelicans Rotation Without Gordon

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Published: November 25, 2014

Eric Gordon is out indefinitely with a torn labrum. Depending on whether he needs surgery or not, Gordon could miss two weeks, or the majority of the season. He has started all 12 games this season, averaging 9.5 points per game on 39.8% shooting from the field, 34.1% from beyond the arc, and 1.2 steals per game on 31 minutes a night. Over the last five games, Gordon was shooting 57.1% from the field and 58.8% from beyond the arc. On a team that has had some issues with depth, it will be interesting to see how they will adjust.

I am sticking with options that are currently on the team. Omer Asik is questionable for tonight’s game against the Sacramento Kings, but is day-to-day, so I am proceeding as if he will play most of the time that Gordon misses.

Austin Rivers

The starting lineup can go a couple of ways, and it starts with what Coach Monty Williams does with Tyreke Evans. If Evans remains at the small forward position, the team can slide Austin Rivers into the starting shooting guard role. This is what the team did on Saturday against the Utah Jazz to open up the second half. Rivers has clearly been the team’s 7th man this year, the first perimeter player off the bench. As a starting guard last year, Rivers scored 16 points per game and averaged 5.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists in four starts. The most used lineup without Gordon was Jrue Holiday-Rivers- Evans-Ryan Anderson-Anthony Davis as per 82games.com. The team was scoring 1.34 points per possession and .97 points per possession allowed. Three out of the five games that lineup played, they outscored their opponent. While that is a small sample size, I expect to see this lineup get a lot of run.

The team can turn to Jimmer Fredette off the bench to take some of Rivers’ minutes. Fredette is a fun option, since there is time and shots available at his position, but he has been buried on the bench of late, playing only twice in the last six games. One of which was the destruction against the Minnesota Timberwolves, and the other was in Utah after Gordon’s injury. In that game, he played eight minutes, missing both his shots and grabbing one rebound, one assist, and one steal. Fredette seems likely to get some run but not the starting position. It will be interesting to see if he can get some minutes and turn something positive out of them, since this may be his best chance to make something happen this season.

Rookie point guard Russ Smith can also get some run in this scenario. Smith has appeared in two games, playing four and five minutes, and in neither game did he accrue a point or an assist. Smith does play good defense, and this may be an opportunity to see what the team has in the Louisville product. If Rivers starts, Smith will be the only point guard on the bench, and should receive time, unless the team opts to sign a low-end point guard.

Evans as a shooting guard

After Gordon got injured last year, Evans excelled as a starting shooting guard. In the 13 games he started as a shooting guard last year, Evans averaged 18.5 points per game and 6.9 assists on 47% shooting from the field, all improvements from what he is doing as the starting small forward this year. It will be interesting to see if Williams moves Evans to shooting guard with Gordon out.

To do this, the team will have to go to one of three bigger wings they have on the roster. Luke Babbitt, Darius Miller, and John Salmons were all expected to contribute this year, but have run into various obstacles. Both Salmons and Miller missed time due to personal reasons, and Babbitt had an injury, so none of the three got off to an ideal start this season.

Darius Miller

He is the best defender of the three, and there was some excitement behind him last year until he broke his foot and missed camp. Miller started in seven games last year, all as a forward. He averaged nearly 30 minutes a game, scoring 9.4 points, 2.4 assists and 1.9 steals per game. He also averaged 34.6% from beyond the arc as a starter, which was quite a jump from playing on the bench. Miller is the closest thing the team has a to a 3-and-D player, and it would be interesting to see what the team looks like with that sort of wing next to Evans and Holiday. The move also alleviates some of the defensive responsibilities Holiday has had. Miller was drafted in the second round three years ago by the Pelicans, and it would be good to see what the team has in him. Miller played college ball with Davis, and is a player with some upside if the Pelicans can carve a role out for him.

Luke Babbitt

Babbitt is more likely to grab the starting small forward role than Miller. He is the only one of the bigger wings to have a regular rotation spot at the moment, and has been shooting lights out. The fact that Babbitt makes two out of every three shots he takes from beyond the arc means he has a greater gravity on the roster than anyone not named Ryan Anderson. The problem with Babbitt is his defense. As a starter he’d have Asik and Davis protecting the rim for him, and his defensive deficiencies can be eradicated a bit. The move can open up the offense for Evans and Holiday, who would have a pure shooter spreading the floor for them. The lineup of Holiday-Rivers-Babbitt-Anderson-Davis scored 1.46 points per possession, and gave up a very good .9 points per possession. The group played in four games together, and is a lineup I expect to see as Monty goes to his bench. Once again, a small sample size that I expect to see a lot more data with shortly, now that Gordon is out.

Ryan Anderson

Anderson at the “small” forward is something that is talked about, but I’m not sure I see it. I’d be very surprised to see him start, with teams being able to game plan against this lineup and run sets for their three immediately. It either takes Davis away from the paint or it forces Anderson to chase wings, the latter giving me nightmares. I can see this lineup getting a little run, but as a bench lineup. A Rivers-Gordon-Anderson-Davis-Asik lineup is the only one that registered enough minutes with the trio to be on 82games. They played six minutes together, being outscored by six points. If Gordon is out for a long time, I can see Williams trying to piece together a zone so that the team can utilize their length without giving up too many three pointers. This lineup still feels more like gimmick than solid, as the problems with Anderson playing as a wing still persist.

My guess is Rivers is going to start, since he is playing the best out of the potential starters. I wouldn’t be surprised if Babbitt gets the role though, similar to how Alexis Ajinca is a placeholder as a center so Anderson can come off the bench when Asik is hurt. Either way, it will be interesting to see where the team goes, as no matter how it’s sliced; some younger Pelicans will get an opportunity to carve a role out while Gordon is gone. Last year, the bevy of injuries meant the team was sunk, but a single injury like this could actually benefit the team, assuming Gordon comes back healthy soon and someone from the rough turns out to be a diamond. This is a moment the team can use to experiment with their bench, which has been a weakness up to this point. Here’s to debunking some of these smaller sample sizes.

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