Solving the Riddle That is the Pelicans Rotation

Published: September 27, 2017

The New Orleans Pelicans spent this summer putting together a talented, yet somewhat confusing roster. In a league that has run from the big man like the plague, it contains perhaps the two best big men in the league. In a league that values shooting, it has perhaps the two least respected perimeter shooters in the league, for guys who get heavy minutes at least. And in a league that values 6’7″ wing players that can do multiple things more than anything, it really has none.

It is the ultimate zig when others zag roster, and the team is hoping to Do it Big, as everyone else goes small. But the other confusing part is that the Pelicans have so much “small” talent to go with their twin towers. It can easily be argued that their five most talented players after AD and Cousins, are all 6’4″ or shorter. This means that either the Pelicans play less talented players to fill the wing, or they go small most of the time next to their two towers. The possibilities are endless, and the likely outcome will be totally unconventional. In this piece, I will try to lay out what I think the rotation will be, and to do that I begin with a set of rules.

The McNamara Rules

Rule 1: Rondo has to play more than most expect

For most, it seems, that Rondo is more of a role player who just so happens to be a starter. He will play 22-26 minutes and it will depend on matchups. I disagree. The Pelicans are going to be running an offense where the playbook is likely to be comprised of 80-85% new plays, schemes, etc. now that they are shifting to a focus on the two bigs and have brought in Chris Finch. Rondo is, by miles, the smartest player on this roster. He will have the playbook memorized by day 2 – and not only what he should be doing, but every player on the court as well. If Rondo was coming in, and the Pelicans were running the same stuff they did last year, I don’t think they would need him as much. But with the average (at best) IQ players the team has outside of Rondo, Gentry and Finch will need a coach on the floor more than ever as they try to digest the new playbook. Rondo will be that guy.

Rule 2: Dante only gets minutes at the ‘4’

There are too many good guards and perimeter players for Dante to eat up any minutes at the 3. He needs to spend every minute in the front court, where the Pels are thin. We know that we can’t rely on Ajinca or Asik, and Diallo is still too raw to get regular minutes. If Dante starts, and plays a lot of 3, then Ajinca or Diallo will have to play. If Dante plays the 4 exclusively, the Pels have plenty of good players to eat up the 144 minutes needed at the 1-3.

Rule 3: Rondo and Tony Allen cannot play together

You can hide one of those guys. Have them cut off the ball, crash the offensive boards, and make teams pay that way, etc. You can not play them both at the same time. While the defense might be good, the offense will be so terrible, that it is bound to be a negative unit, and perhaps one of the worst in the league.

Rule 4: All 48 minutes have at least one of AD or Boogie

This one is simple. When AD sits, Boogie is on and vice versa. Nuff said.


Rondo – Jrue – Miller – AD – Cousins

The beauty of starting Miller with these four is that you are not asking him to do much, but defend as hard as he can, swing the ball, and knock down the occasional wide open three. If you put him on another unit, he might try to force it too much, but with this lineup, his mind is clear. Defend, make the simple pass, shoot. That’s it. This unit should be able to do everything (defend, rebound, shoot, draw fouls, etc) at an above average to excellent level.

First Substitution: Cousins and Rondo out, Moore and Cunningham in

Cunningham slides in at the 4 as AD moves to the 5 at a point in the quarter where the opposing teams center is either worn down or off the court. Jrue shifts down to PG, but Moore and Miller both help with some playmaking duties.

End of First Quarter Sub: Miller out, Crawford  in

The first quarter ends with Crawford going hard at a tired defense. AD is the focal point to end the quarter, with enough shooting around him to get some space, which will likely mean quality shots or trips to the FT line.

Beginning of Second Quarter

Rondo – Crawford – Clark – Miller – Cousins

The beginning of the second quarter is where most teams let off the gas. It’s 3-5 reserves for the first 4-6 minutes, as they try to get their starters a break. Meanwhile, the Pelicans come at you with Boogie, three shooters, and Rondo. This should be where they extend leads if they play their cards right.

Substitution at 6 min: Crawford and Miller out, AD and Jrue in

Back to the starting lineup, but with Clark in place of Miller

Substitution at 4 min: Cousins and Clark out, Dante and Moore in

Cousins gets a quick breather, so he can end the half strong.

Substitution at 2 min: Rondo and Dante out, Cousins and Crawford in

Pelicans end the half with Jrue – Crawford – Moore – AD – Cousins, in what could be their most explosive lineup.

Rinse and Repeat

Let’s imagine that the Pelicans essentially keep the same rotation in the second half. What would we be looking at minutes wise? Well, here is a breakdown:

AD – 36 minutes

Jrue – 36 minutes

Cousins: 32 minutes

Rondo – 32 minutes

Miller – 26 minutes

Crawford – 26 minutes

Moore – 20 minutes

Cunningham – 16 minutes

I. Clark – 16 minutes

T. Allen, Diallo, Ajinca – 0 minutes

Other Variations

Admittedly, Miller’s minutes seem a little high, as do Crawford’s and Moore’s seem a little low. You could also make the case that Clark deserves more minutes and Allen deserves some minutes. Bottom line, I see 104 minutes for guys not named Cousins, Rondo, AD, and Jrue to fight for. The reason I like Miller for so many minutes is because I like him to start at the 3, and I think he can play the 4 in some lineups. Guys like Moore, Clark, and Crawford can’t do that. I also think it’s hard for Allen to get minutes, because I refuse to play him with Rondo and if Rondo gets 32 minutes, there are only 16 available minutes for Allen to play. And there are just too many other talented guards that I need to get playing time.

But what if Allen was just too valuable from an effort, energy, and defensive standpoint, and I had to get him minutes? Well, I could put him in when Rondo comes out at the middle of the first and third quarters. I could ask him to relentlessly hound a slightly exhausted top team perimeter offensive player. Let’s say Kawhi is at 85% stamina, and Allen comes in super fresh and knows he is only playing those 6 minutes. He can go all out and make Kawhi’s life miserable for those minutes. That could have a lot of value. That takes some minutes from Miller and Crawford, most likely, so it might work.

I could also see Dante starting, and then that throws everything off, because it likely means far less minutes for Miller and perhaps another guard or two, and it should mean a couple of minutes for Ajinca or Diallo. Lastly, I could see Crawford’s 19 games last year being a total fluke, and him just flaming out of the rotation all together. Same with Miller, and that opens up 52 minutes for a bevy of players. But personally, I am rooting for those two guys, because if they perform well, they give this Pelicans team elements that nobody else on the roster can bring.

Crawford could be a true X-factor in a Jamal Crawford mold, where he can almost single-handedly spark a run. Miller gives the Pelicans their one shot at a true wing who can defend and knock down the three ball, with the ability to handle a little bit, and pass as well. Guys like Moore, Clark, and Allen have a higher floor than those two, but also a lower ceiling. And if the Pelicans are going to make an impact this season, they need a few unexpected guys to hit their ceiling, and that is why I am hoping for the rotation I have posted above.

What are your thoughts? Who gets minutes and when? What would your rotation be?


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