The Pelicans have had a remarkably active offseason. They’ve added new pieces, but they’ve lost a part of their core as well.
The central theme of last year’s offseason was continuity. Instead of seeking out a risky new direction, the Pelicans chose to re-sign the majority of their roster and chase another low playoff seed. They made a coaching change, but their roster remained stagnant.
Asik, Dante, Ajinca, and the rest of the Pelicans supporting cast were given contract extensions. Tyreke, Gordon, and Anderson were kept off the market and they made no effort to try and move into the 2015 draft.
In retrospect, betting on continuity seems like a mistake. Having won just 32 games this season and lacking any sort of tangible consistency, it’s hard to imagine there weren’t better options.
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Pelicans fans spent the season watching a team who had given up on themselves and didn’t have the grit or hustle to make the bad nights worth watching.
This off-season pushed the Pelicans in a very different direction.
Dell signed three new rotation players and drafted a core piece to build with in the future. Additionally, Dell was more than happy to let Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon go, two players he personally traded for and extended early in his career.
The elimination of the old and the introduction of the new will present a challenge to head coach Alvin Gentry, who will have to create lineups and rotations with his new army of players.
If the season started today, what might that rotation look like?
(Note: Tyreke is absent from this rotation. All signals point towards him being injured and it’s unlikely he plays the first few months of the season.)
Mar 12, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward Solomon Hill (3) posts up against Milwaukee Bucks guard Giannis Antekounmpo (34) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Starting Point Guard: Jrue Holiday – 30 minutes per game
Despite being the clear 2nd best player on the team, Jrue Holiday spent a significant portion of last season coming off the bench. Gentry remarked that he felt more comfortable as a 6th man, and the Pelicans stunningly unfortunate injury situation made staggering him and Anthony Davis’ playing time a wise decision.
This season will be different. The Pelicans have no shortage of guard depth and Jrue Holiday proved he is at his best playing alongside the teams young superstar. He will be the Pelicans on court commander, and the “Robin” to Anthony Davis’ “Batman.”
He’s good enough to warrant 34-35 minutes of playing time per game, but his injury history makes 28-30 minutes a more likely possibility. The Pelicans probably intend to re-sign Jrue next summer and will be thinking long-term when it comes to their franchise point guard.
Starting Shooting Guard: Buddy Hield – 28 minutes per game
Few non-top three picks are given starting jobs in their rookie seasons, but Buddy is almost a lock to claim the absence created by Eric Gordon’s departure. He’s 22 years old and has the physical frame to compete against NBA competition from day one.
Still, the minutes won’t pile on right away. He might finish the season playing over 30 minutes per game, but he won’t be conditioned to handle that load in his first few months. Even the most gifted NBA athletes take a while to adjust to the pace and intensity of the pros and Buddy will be no exception.
Starting Small Forward: Solomon Hill – 34 minutes per game
Newcomer Solomon Hill is a dark horse contender to average the 2nd or 3rd most minutes on the team. The Pelicans signed him for just under 50 million dollars this summer and he fills their most dire position of need. He’s young, healthy, and is a good fit next to anyone on the roster.
Hill will start at small forward, but a significant amount of his playing time will come at the power forward spot as well. Hill only “clicked” last season because the Pacers decided to go small and realized that very few power forwards could handle his mobility and penetration.
Hill’s defense and balanced offensive abilities mean he will likely finish games for the Pelicans at power forward. Anthony Davis played 53% of his minutes at center last season and that number will only increase now that the Pelicans have more versatile wings to slide down next to him.
Hill isn’t the Pelicans’ 2nd best player, but he can handle more burn than the majority of his teammates.
Starting Power Forward: Anthony Davis – 36 minutes per game
There isn’t much to breakdown here. Davis is the Pelicans superstar player and he’s young enough to handle playing up to nine minutes per quarter. Davis should thrive now that he has a bevy of competitive defenders around him and Buddy’s shooting will give him more room to work with on the block.
Still, AD is more of a center than he is a forward. Gentry will start someone else early to conserve Davis’ energy, but Davis will finish games at center with a small ball four (probably Hill) playing next to him.
Starting Center: Omer Asik – 18 minutes per game
Asik will start at center, but he will get far less burn than the Pelicans more versatile options. 18 minutes per game means he will probably start the 1st and 3rd quarters but will not finish the half or play in the 4th quarter.
He will exist to take the bruising from the leagues towering giants, but he won’t be in the game when the Pelicans need to make a run.
Gentry will try to make sure Asik and Tyreke share as few minutes as possible. He managed to shoot an acceptable percentage from deep last season, but the larger sample size which is his career suggests Tyreke is still far from a floor spacer.
6th man: E’Twuan Moore – 24 minutes per game
Moore got the largest contract of any of the Pelicans new bench players and is expected to carry the most load. He isn’t a volume scorer or a creator like Tyreke or Frazier, but his exceptional defense and shooting ability mean he will get the most playing time.
Moore will come off the bench, but he’s also likely to finish games in leu of Omer Asik. The Pelicans will start big with Jrue-Buddy-Hill-AD-Asik, but they will finish small with Jrue-Moore-Buddy-Hill-Davis.
7th man: Quincy Pondexter – 22 minutes per game
Quincy might still be rehabilitating, but he should be 100% ready to go by the start of the season. After being the missing piece on the Pelicans 2014-2015 playoff team, he will have an instant role on this roster and should fit in instantly.
If Quincy outplays Moore, he could become the Pelicans 6th man and might finish games as well. Jrue-Buddy-Quincy-Hill-AD offers the same versatility and adds a little more size.
8th man: Tim Frazier – 18 minutes per game
The Pelicans signed Frazier to a fantastic contract and his services will be absolutely necessary off the bench. Frazier doesn’t have the defense or shooting ability of Moore and Galloway, but his ability to create off the dribble makes him valuable against 2nd units.
Frazier is an unlikely candidate to finish games, but he will be able to play at a high usage next to other bench players. Expect Frazier to have the ball on almost every position he’s involved in and expect him to have some very impressive per 36 minute numbers.
9th man: Dante Cunningham – 18 minutes per game
Out of need, Dante has been forced to play at small forward these past couple seasons. This year, expect almost all his minutes to come at power forward as he takes the mantle as Anthony Davis’ main backup.
Dante could hold down the fort at the three, but he’s likely to be much more valuable playing as a big man. There he can take more off the midrange shots he’s so fond off and he won’t be hurting the Pelicans spacing in the process.
Dante is also valuable as a big because he is capable of switching unto opposing guards. If the Pelicans are playing against a team whose size is particularly daunting, he might finish games with AD at center.
10th man: Langston Galloway/Alexis Ajinca – 12 minutes per game
Galloway and Ajinca might not play at all if Gentry decides to run a 9-man rotation, but if he goes with two traditional 2nd units they will get some burn.
Galloway can’t really create off the dribble, but his shooting and defense are valuable and he has the kind of hustle coaches fall in love with.
Expect Galloway to have a similar role to last season’s Toney Douglas. If someone goes down or gets injured, Galloway is the guy who will absorb most of their minutes.
Ajinca offers inside scoring and size off the bench, so he will compete to steal Galloway’s minutes based on the oppositional matchup. For instance, if the Pelicans are playing the Pacers (who play Al Jefferson off the bench) Gentry will turn to Ajinca to counter his size. If the Pelicans play a team with more speed off the bench, everyone slides down one position and Galloway enters the game.
Nov 15, 2015; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks guard Langston Galloway (2) drives past New Orleans Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday (11) during the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden. New York Knicks won 95-87. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
The Pelicans have a revamped roster full of shooters, defenders, and high character athletes. They go 11 deep and can alter their lineups based on their opponents. More importantly, have the depth to survive a couple of unfortunate injuries.
In the past, losing one of two key role players has been a death sentence for this team. This year, it’ll be more of an annoyance. Win or lose, this roster will be fun to watch and impossible not to root for……