July 17, 2019, 12:07 am
There is one thing I can’t get around for the Pelicans: there are so many perimeter players, and therefore, so few perimeter minutes available. The Pelicans are now down to 15 players with their recent moves and, barring any changes, will be carrying as many as nine perimeter guys who will be fighting for minutes. A lot of these players are acquisitions from this summer, and minutes are of paramount importance to develop the younger pieces.
So let’s start with what we “know,” or as close as we can be to knowing something about the rotation.
Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball, and JJ Redick are the three most impactful guards on the Pelicans roster. Assuming 34, 32, and 28 minutes, respectively (I am trying to remain somewhat conservative), that already accounts for 94 minutes. There are three perimeter positions, meaning that 48 * 3 – 94 = 50 perimeter minutes left. And that doesn’t take into consideration any of the forwards on the roster.
Brandon Ingram is clearly a top option here and he will be getting 30-plus minutes a night assuming he is healthy, but I am leaving him out of the “we know” above intentionally for now (spoiler alert).
That leaves this list of perimeter players, in no order: Ingram, E’Twaun Moore, Darius Miller, Nickeil Alexander-SummerLeagueStar-Walker, Josh Hart, Frank Jackson and Kenrich Williams to fight for 50 minutes. Clearly, this is a good problem to have, but it is nonetheless a problem. If Ingram gets 30-plus minutes at a perimeter position, that leaves, at max, 20 minutes combined for the rest of these players if they are playing perimeter positions.
The frontcourt is much more certain: Zion Williamson appears to be a starting four and he’ll get somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 minutes, depending on his shape and how much the Pelicans want to ease him into the toll of travel and major NBA minutes. Derrick Favors will be shifted to his proper position of center and is likely to get in the neighborhood of 30 minutes as well. 96 minutes – the 60 allocated to them leaves 36 minutes up for grabs. David Griffin said that Jaxson Hayes will have something resembling a redshirt year, so he looks to be on the outside looking in for minutes.
This is where I think it becomes clear that the Pelicans are going to have to force perimeter players into sliding up to power forward. I think the candidates are obvious: Miller, Williams and Ingram are the three guys who can get minutes here and open up the perimeter some, and I would argue that Miller/Williams are best suited playing the four in today’s NBA anyway.
But how many minutes are going to be available will depend on how much the Pelicans can play Zion at center. If he is pigeonholed into playing the four, that would leave roughly only 16-18 minutes for these three guys. That also doesn’t mention the possibility of Nicolo Melli, who – yeah, I’m not going to pretend that I know whether he’ll be a mainstay of the Pelicans lineup.
Zion shifting up to center when Favors isn’t in gives perimeter guys the opening to shift up to four. Ingram, Miller and Kenrich playing up front leaves Josh Hart, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, and Frank Jackson better chances of picking up minutes.
Playing guys up a position on this team has its pros and cons. You probably increase the team’s overall mobility, but lose some value in rim protection. You probably add some shooting and some playmaking, but you also likely put more pressure on your team to rebound by committee. When Lonzo is on the floor, this issue is mitigated since he rebounds like a small forward, and Zion and Favors are both excellent defensive rebounders. But there are other lineups where rebounding could be an issue.
Can Alexander-Walker dial back a little of the passing aggression and contribute meaningfully on this team as a rookie? Can Frank Jackson convert more efficiently and create for his teammates better than he has in the past? Does the team stop giving minutes to E’Twaun Moore in order to accommodate the younger players on their roster?
These are questions that matter, because if the Pelicans want to invest top-to-bottom in their perimeter players this year, the bottom line is that a healthy version of the team is going to have to slide players up positions in order to create opportunities for them.