In the Pelicans last three games, Quincy Pondexter has played 21, 17 and 20 minutes. This, despite Anthony Davis seeing a grand total of 13 minutes, Ryan Anderson 23 and zilch for Jrue Holiday. More troubling is the fact that for the month of February, Q-Pon has found his shot. In 6 games, he has a 45.2 FG% and an impressive 42.1 3FG%. He hasn't shot over 40% from beyond the arc for a month since his best season in Memphis in 2012-13. As evidenced on FindTheBest, he provides a versatile game, one that would have been rather useful of late.
On the other hand, Dante Cunningham has been struggling. Really struggling. In the last three games, he's made 1 field goal out of 11 attempts, and for the month, he has a poor 35.7 FG%. Looking deeper, he has taken 21 jumpshots in February but has only made 6 of them (28.6%).
Considering his primary role on offense is to serve as a release valve, normally somewhere from midrange, he's lately become a bigger detriment than usual. This was readily apparent against the Pacers. I noticed time and again, C.J. Miles cheating well off D.C. towards the paint. Already having to deal with Roy Hibbert inside, Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon found absolutely no free room to operate in the paint, combining for just 5 total shot attempts (1 make).
Thus, it shouldn't have been a surprise to see the Pelicans scored only 35 points in the first half. With Eric Gordon cold from the outside, our only true perimeter deep threat among the starters in the last game, the Pacers were further able to crowd the middle. When Cunningham proved to be ineffective from mid-range, it was game, set, and match.
Look, the chance the Pelicans were going to emerge with a win against a veteran ball club that is rounding into form (thanks to health) was small due to the Pelicans missing too many of their best players. However, that doesn't mean we shouldn't be allowed to critique the strategy or execution. There will probably come another time in the future that the Pelicans will be without one of their key cogs or two. Whether it's for an entire 48 minutes or for stretches within a game.
There is no question, when the team is healthy, Cunningham has proven to work alongside the starters. With Holiday/Gordon/Davis/Asik, the 5 man unit has produced a +4.4 NetRating. With Evans/Gordon/Davis/Asik, this lineup has posted a +11.3 NetRating. They've produced winning basketball and it's not difficult to decipher why. Three of the Pelicans are very adept at offense so the shortcomings of Asik and Cunningham are not fatal.
However, when this harmony is disrupted, opposing defenses find their jobs easier when the Pelicans lack the proper balance on the floor. Against the Jazz, Gordon and his teammates were en fuego (a rarity) from the perimeter so collapsing and sealing off the paint wasn't an option. Against the Pacers, New Orleans couldn't buy any sustained success until garbage time.
Going forward, the Pelicans need to be better cognizant of maintaining balance but to remember their strength remains on offense. To ignore their better performing side of the floor, one that is ranked inside the top ten, intentionally puts them at a greater disadvantage.
According to NBA Savant, Dante Cunningham has proven to be better at dissuading opponent field goal attempts than Luke Babbitt or Pondexter. However, context forces one to also evaluate what is occurring on the other side of the floor. If the improvement in the offense would justify the decrease in defensive performance, a change is necessary.
In the last three games, the Pelicans have not surprisingly had a 96.7 Offensive Rating and an 46.4 eFG%. Cunningham has been ice cold; conversely, Q-Pon has been warm all month. Thus, there isn't a valid enough of a reason why the more adept offensive player has seen the fewer minutes.