Monty Williams caught a lot of flack for his coaching and lineup decisions during his tenure with the New Orleans Pelicans. Adding Alvin Gentry and his fresh championship ring, we hoped would fix some of the issues with bad lineups. Injuries robbed the team of the continuity this franchise hoped to build on, along with most of training camp.
Before the season I highlighted a number of lineups the Pelicans should play quite a bit. Five different Pelican lineups logged at least 70 minutes last season with a positive net rating. Two of those five featured Quincy Pondexter who has yet to suit up. The remaining three lineups have logged a TOTAL of 28 minutes this season. If the same players aren't actually playing together, it isn't continuity.
Instead, Alvin Gentry has played 15 different starting lineups in 27 games. Just two of those lineups have started three or more games. Both have been dreadful.
Trash Starting Lineups
|Asik - Davis - Gee - Gordon - Evans||15-16||63||105.5||108.2||-2.7||92.98|
|Asik - Davis - Gee - Gordon - Holiday||15-16||60||77.0||98.6||-21.6||98.33|
This would be much less infuriating if superior options were not available. Such options, even with the toll of injuries, could be played and instead have not. One such permutation replaces Alonzo Gee with Dante Cunningham at small forward. Last season Monty Williams started that lineup in 11 games, and together they compiled an impressive 7-4 record. That lineup has been available every game since Tyreke Evans returned from injury on December 1st. Of the 485 available minutes Gentry has played them together for just 10.
|Asik - Davis - Cunningham - Gordon - Evans||14-15||210||108.4||97.0||11.4||91.94|
|Asik - Davis - Cunningham - Gordon - Evans||15-16||10||127.3||94.0||33.3||95.81|
That's just inexcusable. I understand that Gentry wants to get players on the court who are willing to put forth the effort. Alonzo Gee, for all his faults, is a high-energy player. Still, how many times do you watch the Pelicans and think Dante Cunningham of all players is not giving it everything he has that night?
The only reasoning I can find for keeping Cunningham is reserve is if the team is planning on playing him minutes at power forward while sliding Ryan Anderson to center. That is a horrible idea. Alexis Ajinca is available and lately Kendrick Perkins is getting substantial minutes. Cunningham is a small forward on this team except for end game defensive situations. He's also on a longer term contract and clearly demonstrated his value against LeBron James two weeks ago.
LeBron James vs Dante Cunningham: 3-17, 7 points vs others on Friday: 10-12, 30 points— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 5, 2015
Cunningham won't be that good every night but he is the best option on the roster until Quincy Pondexter is back to 100%. Not only is Cunningham a superior defender to Gee he is also demonstrating the touch behind the arc. So far this season Dante is shooting 37.5% from three, and impressive mark considering he was 2-38 from deep before the season.
The Death Star - Finishing Five
|Davis - Anderson - Evans - Gordon - Holiday||13-14||91||123.5||119.8||3.7||96.69|
|Davis - Anderson - Evans - Gordon - Holiday||14-15||106||118.5||115.3||3.1||97.46|
|Davis - Anderson - Evans - Gordon - Holiday||15-16||13||154.2||75.1||79.2||110.30|
In these same ten games, the Finishing Five has logged just 13 minutes. Thanks to Jrue Holiday's back-to-back restriction this lineup was only available in eight games, but the 13 minutes is not enough. It is no surprise that both come from behind victories in the fourth quarter on the road featured this lineup heavily to pull out the victory.
@thebirdwrites so Pels just gotta keep it close, then unleash the death star???— Christian Chuindja (@chuistian9) December 21, 2015
This lineup is not recommended for long stretches of the game; it is a basketball representation of a glass cannon. Over a pretty substantial sample size we can see they melt faces and cannot defend to save their lives. Is this the lineup to play with the lead in the fourth quarter? Probably not. But it should be scheduled to see minutes every game, especially to break up those lulls in the second quarter that have plagued the Pelicans this season.
Come back soon Quincy
As Mason Ginsberg pointed out over at Bourbon Street Shots, Quincy Pondexter is a huge part of what the Pelicans are missing. His presence in two of the Pelicans most successful five man units is no accident. The combination of his return and a much easier schedule as the calendar turns to 2016 provides hope that this team can go on a run and get themselves back into the playoff picture.
There isn't a great chance of that happening, and the Pelicans have only themselves to blame for the massive hole they dug to start the year. Maybe progress can begin by learning some five man groups just don't work, and New Orleans isn't a good enough team to start a poorly matched lineup every game.