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Winning Moves, Part IV: Correctly Maximizing Rotations

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Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

Before the start of the regular season, five specific areas will be discussed in depth that I believe will be key in getting the Pelicans to the postseason. They will be as follows:

  1. Greater Ball Movement
  2. Utilizing More Catch and Shoot Situations
  3. Increasing Front Court Touches for Anthony Davis
  4. Correctly Maximizing Rotations
  5. Establishing an Identity on Defense

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Mismanagement

A season ago, one of the biggest complaints by fans and stat geeks alike was the team's rotations. In particular, the creation of and continued deployment of the Unholy Trinity stood out above all other infractions.

Some lineups should never step onto the court once. The combination of Evans-Aminu-Stiemsma has earned this nickname, but what makes it sadder, is that Monty has allowed this cast of three to appear on the court together 22 different times!

Actually, this despicable trio ended up appearing in 32 games and 156 minutes in all. A Net Rating of -33.4 thanks to a 83.8 OffRtg and a 117.2 DefRtg. In case you are wondering about how their ineptitude ranked among the rest of the league, I've listed below the worst NetRtg 3 man lineups from each NBA team that appeared on the court together for at least 50 minutes.

Games Played Minutes Net Rating TS%
(NOP) Al-Faroug Aminu - Tyreke Evans - Greg Stiemsma 32 156 -33.4 45.1%
(GSW) Harrison Barnes - Kent Bazemore - Marreese Speights 25 133 -25.9 39.7%
(CLE) Andrew Bynum - Kyrie Irving - Dion Waiters 16 99 -42.2 26.9
(MIL) John Henson - OJ Mayo - Luke Ridnour 19 92 -69.5 37.3%
(PHI) James Anderson - Hollis Thompson - Tony Wroten 29 82 -39.0 41.7%
(CHA) Bismack Biyombo - Gerald Henderson - Jeff Taylor 15 79 -35.6 42.8%
(MIA) Michael Beasley - Norris Cole - Udonis Haslem 14 77 -22.9 50.8%
(NYK) Andrea Bargnani - Raymond Felton - Tim Hardaway Jr. 22 77 -56.4 48.2%
(BKN) Alan Anderson - Joe Johnson - Tyshawn Taylor 12 76 -36.4 45.7%
(MIN) Jose Juan Barea - Gorgui Dieng - Alexey Shved 17 74 -34.2 39.6%
(IND) Paul George - Roy Hibbert - Evan Turner 16 73 -25.2 45.3%
(HOU) Aaron Brooks - Francisco Garcia - Donatas Motiejunas 13 73 -30.1 46.6%
(BOS) Kris Humphries - Chris Johnson - Rajon Rondo 19 72 -30.0 45.0%
(ORL) Aaron Afflalo - Tobias Harris - Andrew Nicholson 21 70 -33.7 51.3%
(ATL) Mike Muscala - Mike Scott - Louis Williams 9 68 -52.5 42.1%
(UTA) Richard Jefferson - Enes Kanter - Jamaal Tinsley 6 67 -35.1 47.2%
(PHX) Eric Bledsoe - Archie Goodwin - Markieff Morris 17 64 -33.6 49.6%
(POR) Myers Leonard - Damian Lillard - Wesley Matthews 19 61 -31.8 50.1%
(LAC) Matt Barnes - Jamal Crawford - Byron Mullens 8 61 -31.3 50.2%
(CHI) Nazr Mohammed - Tony Snell - Marquis Teague 14 60 -28.1 39.7%
(DEN) Wilson Chandler - Randy Foye - Jordan Hamilton 12 60 -41.3 42.8%
(MEM) Marc Gasol - Mike Miller - Quincy Pondexter 12 59 -41.4 47.5%
(SAS) Jeff Ayres - Boris Diaw - Tony Parker 27 58 -17.1 49.4%
(TOR) Tyler Hansbrough - Steve Novak - John Salmons 14 58 -22.1 48.5%
(SAC) Aaron Gray - Ben MacLemore - Isaiah Thomas 17 57 -32.9 50.2%
(WAS) Bradley Beal - Nene Hilario - Jan Vesely 15 57 -38.2 37.2%
(LAL) Kobe Bryant - Jordan Hill - Jodie Meeks 5 56 -33.6 47.4%
(OKC) Steven Adams - Jeremy Lamb - Thabo Sefolosha 18 54 -31.6 50.1%
(DAL) Jose Calderon - Wayne Ellington - Monta Ellis 15 52 -37.7 48.2%
(DET) Greg Monroe - Kyle Singler - Peyton Silva 13 52 -32.5 45.2%

The Pelicans had the 21st worst Net Rating differential (-2.6) for the 2013-14 season. They were a below average team, but they were nowhere near the cellar. Thus, it's puzzling as to why the Aminu-Evans-Stiemsma trio was allowed to play together for a whopping 156 minutes. They topped all other 3 man lineups by appearing together in 39% of the games played. They even started 7 games! Why?!?

29 other teams, no matter their W/L records, didn't employ their worst 3 man lineups nearly as much as the Pelicans. What drum was repeatedly beat last season? That's right, you know this song - when opposing teams saw Aminu-Evans-Stiemsma, they set up camp in the paint!

What makes matters more laughable, Greg Stiemsma, my favorite anchor, actually improved the numbers of two Pelican wings when he was on the floor: Luke Babbitt and Anthony Morrow.

With Greg Stiemsma on the floor Without Greg Stiemsma on the floor
Points Per Possession (PPP) TS% Minutes Points Per Possession (PPP) TS% Minutes
Anthony Morrow 1.23 59.9% 376 1.19 56.1% 925
Luke Babbitt 1.21 54.3% 89 1.03 48.3% 288

Three point shooters, who were not gun-shy, gave the limited offensive duo of Evans and Stiemsma a fighting chance.

Games Played Minutes Net Rating TS%
Luke Babbitt - Tyreke Evans - Greg Stiemsma 12 65 +19,2 63.0%
Anthony Morrow - Tyreke Evans - Greg Stiemsma 35 233 -12.5 49.3%
Luke Babbitt - Anthony Morrow - Tyreke Evans - Greg Stiemsma 10 41 +21.9 60.4%

If the name of the game is winning, did it make any sense to proclaim Luke Babbitt cannot play a wing position, but continually send out the combination of Aminu-Evans-Stiemsma? This, when the numbers point out the fact that aggressive shooters help mitigate an obvious weakness? Missing multiple rotations or not grasping all defensive schemes is less than ideal, but it's infinitely worse trotting out a proven flop.

Maximizing the Rotations

If the Pelicans are going to win their share of close games, Monty Williams or someone on his bench is going to have to be more cognizant of what works versus what does not. In-game adjustments can be made without sacrificing long term team goals. It should be the role of every staff to best make use of their personnel to walk away from each game victorious.

How should the Pelicans stagger the rotation this upcoming season? First, let's solve the debate at shooting forward.


With Luke Babbitt
on the floor





Points Per Possession (PPP) Points Per Shot (PPS) TS% USG% TRB% PF per 100 Minutes
Austin Rivers 1.00 .99 49.7% 25.3% 7.5% 4.17 323
Tyreke Evans 1.14 1.13 56.3% 31.9% 8.9% 3.33 227
Darius Miller 1.00 1.07 53.8% 13.0% 4.1% 6.95 174
Alexis Ajinca 1.33 1.39 69.5% 21.7% 19.6% 8.70 137
Anthony Davis 1.47 1.40 70.2% 24.1% 17.7% 4.08 133
Jeff Withey 1.33 1.37 68.5% 16.8% 15.8% 2.69 115
Eric Gordon 1.24 1.29 64.6% 25.2% 2.8% 2.22 70
Ryan Anderson N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Jrue Holiday N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A


With Tyreke Evans
on the floor





Points Per Possession (PPP) Points Per Shot (PPS) TS% USG% TRB% PF per 100 Minutes
Austin Rivers .93 .92 45.9% 17.4% 4.7% 6.25 661
Luke Babbitt 1.17 1.09 56.3% 31.9% 11.1% 5.23 227
Darius Miller 1.16 1.12 55.9% 13.0% 4.3% 6.53 358
Alexis Ajinca 1.17 1.24 69.5% 21.7% 17.2% 11.73 454
Anthony Davis 1.19 1.17 58.7% 24.7% 16.8% 4.15 1158
Jeff Withey 1.11 1.10 55.2% 11.9% 12.2% 7.01 371
Eric Gordon 1.10 1.10 55.1% 20.8% 5.6% 2.78 752
Ryan Anderson 1.27 1.20 60.2% 21.5% 10.5% 3.38 409
Jrue Holiday 1.02 1.08 53.8% 23.3% 7.1% 3.95 429


With Darius Miller
on the floor





Points Per Possession (PPP) Points Per Shot (PPS) TS% USG% TRB% PF per 100 Minutes
Austin Rivers 1.06 1.04 52.1% 23.5% 7.8% 3.81 434
Tyreke Evans 1.04 1.08 54.1% 31.5% 7.9% 3.34 358
Luke Babbitt 1.07 .95 47.6% 16.9% 14.5% 3.32 174
Alexis Ajinca 1.09 1.17 58.6% 19.1% 18.2% 9.03 241
Anthony Davis 1.25 1.20 59.9% 28.8% 15.9% 3.67 242
Jeff Withey 1.18 1.26 63.1% 15.3% 15.1% 4.89 254
Eric Gordon 1.04 1.08 54.1% 29.4% 4.6% 4.12 98
Ryan Anderson 1.21 1.23 61.5% 24.5% 13.7% 2.78 52
Jrue Holiday .78 1.16 57.9% 25.7% 11.3% 9.09 24

Starters, Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis, overwhelming performed best alongside Luke Babbitt, but the sample size wasn't large enough to feel that confident. Looking back, it's a shame that Monty limited Babbitt's playing time, especially once the postseason had slipped through the cracks. However, examining a much larger sample, one that factored in the entire team's performance together with said players, proved quite decisive.

PPP TS% DREB% TRB% TOV Defensive PPP Defensive TS%
Pelicans 1.08 53.5% 73.8% 50.0% 14.0 1.11 55.8%
Pelicans w/Evans 1.07 53.5% 72.3% 49.1% 13.9 1.12 56.3%
Pelicans w/Babbitt 1.18 57.9% 79.4% 52.3% 11.4 1.12 57.2%

The clear choice to start at shooting forward this season is Babbitt. Although Tyreke Evans is the better player, and perhaps the best one on the roster not wearing the number 23, games should begin with him off the bench. As the charts indicate (thanks to NBAwowy!), the team's offense and rebounding is strongest with Babbitt, yet doesn't drastically reduce the defensive impact.

"What hurts him now," Williams says, "is that we just don’t have guys who can shoot. We have to add shooting. When we put more shooting around him, he is going to be unguardable." Davis mentions Anthony Morrow specifically as a guy with whom he enjoys playing, precisely because defenders can’t leave Morrow to crash down on his cuts.

Last April, Zach Lowe of Grantland wrote a wonderful article on Davis, but Monty should have worded more carefully about the Pelicans not having enough shooters. They did have shooters, they just weren't utilized -- whether through the fault of the drawn up offense or possessing one too many timid shooters.

Luke Babbitt would undoubtedly bolster the team's woeful catch and shoot attempts from beyond the arc. Next to Ryan Anderson, Babbitt is the next best option from the perimeter. It's one thing to be an excellent shooter, but it's another to be proficient and aggressive. Per 36 minutes, Babbitt launched 7.2 treys (Anderson 7.4). This preseason witnessed the same trend. Anderson led the team with 42 attempts and Babbitt launched 24 of them in 33% less playing time.

Starting Babbitt would also help ensure Davis' front court touches. A Holiday-Gordon-Evans soaks up a lot of usage, but replacing one of the guards with Babbitt would alleviate the situation. It would give Davis the room to maneuver he so coveted last season alongside Morrow.

Along the same lines, starting Ryan Anderson at SF instead of Babbitt wouldn't make sense despite this:

To make matters worse, and to further drive the knife deeper into our backs, Davis didn't even lead the Pelicans in points per half court touch! He was narrowly edged out by Ryan Anderson. That's right. The Pelicans had two players in the top 5 in this curious new Sports VU statistic, but only ranked 6th and 7th on the team in front court touches.

As mentioned in Part III, Anderson is solid gold; however, he was already 7th in front court touches a season ago. Starting him alongside Holiday-Gordon-Davis would only further reduce that usage, as last season, playing with these three, he posted a 20.4 USG%. For the entire 2013-14 campaign, that rate stood at 22.9%.

The Pelicans wouldn't be maximizing the multitude of their offensive talents by forcing them all to share one ball most of the time. At the end of the games, sure no problem. Otherwise, the philosophy should concentrate on balance without sacrificing strengths -- Davis, Drives, 3PA and ball movement.

Concluding Thoughts

The Pelicans have three wonderfully efficient passers (Holiday, Gordon, Evans) and four solid drivers (Evans, Gordon, Holiday, Rivers).They possess several gunners from deep (Anderson, Babbitt, Jimmer). They have two of the most productive front court scorers in the game (Anderson, Davis). There should be few reasons why any given lineup should go without one, or conversely, have all the similarly skilled personnel in the game for prolonged periods together.

To start the year, a Holiday-Gordon-Babbitt-Davis-Asik lineup makes the most sense on paper. Babbitt's shortcomings on defense should be alleviated with the arrival of Omer Asik. Conversely, Babbitt's outside prowess would better hide Asik's offensive deficiencies. Asik's best offense is his rebounding and studies have proved OREB's are most plentiful on initial shots around the rim and from beyond the three point line.

Two players who deserve plenty of usage, Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson, would fit best off the bench as instant offense. After viewing the preseason, it appears important to help stagger the bench rotations as much as possible as a number of them struggled with their games. In the past, Monty has rarely staggered rotations well. For instance, the real fear is if Holiday-Gordon-Evans start together, there will be too many instances where none of them would be present on the floor.

With a host of available options, finishing games should be much easier now. If it's preferable to go small, roll with Holiday-Gordon-Evans-Anderson-Davis. Need length and rebounding? Try Holiday-Evans-Anderson/Babbitt-Davis-Asik.

The Pelicans have a good core of seven players that deserve nearly all of the important minutes. I expect Austin Rivers and Alexis Ajinca will have their moments but the key for them all season will be consistency. Jimmer Fredette should serve as instant offense in certain situations. The rest need to be ready as injuries seem inevitable. Darius Miller, John Salmons and Jeff Withey are all just someone's missed game away from consistent rotation minutes.