For the third time this season, the Pelicans are in a virtual tie with the Thunder for the 8th spot in the Western Conference standings. The Houston Rockets became the latest new friends of all Pels' fans when they won in Oklahoma City earlier in the day, giving the Thunder their fifth loss in the last six games.
However, both times New Orleans has been tied in the loss column with Oklahoma City, they've gone on to lose their next game and fall temporarily out of the picture. Only 6 games remain on the schedule and the Pelicans can't continue to rely on good fortune. Besides, the Thunder's schedule is getting ready to lighten up.
Consequently, let's talk about any in-game adjustments (rotations, offensive/defensive philosophies, etc) Monty Williams should look to make before New Orleans next game this coming Tuesday against the best team in the NBA, the Golden State Warriors.
The method I'm going to base some of my recommendations is rather simplistic: what's worked versus what hasn't. This is never more obvious than when comparing the individual statistics in wins and losses. Some players are better immune to poor performances than others. Below are the current Pelicans listed in descending order of minutes played.
Stats in Wins
Stats in Losses
The first thing that jumps out at me is that Anthony Davis is one steady eddie -- his efficiency doesn't waver between wins and losses. On the other hand, Ryan Anderson sits on the other side of the spectrum. Just look at those drops in his shooting percentages. What's worse, his impact has a greater effect in losses than wins (2.4 more minutes played in losses) because Monty is choosing offense over defense when the team is coming from behind.
In the Pelicans loss up in Portland Saturday night, Monty correctly held him to his lowest minute total of the season. His shot was off, and defensively, he was a huge liability as the Blazers repeatedly attacked him in the post through Chris Kaman.
Going forward, I hope Monty continues down this trend, but I wish he would apply it more readily and to other players. For one, Eric Gordon. Although, he's been wonderfully surprising since returning from his shoulder injury, Gordon shouldn't be exempt from an off night. In losses, Gordon is averaging the 2nd most minutes along with the 2nd lowest FG%, a poor recipe.
If Jrue Holiday returns in the next game or so, Monty should not be afraid to shake things up when necessary. As evidenced by the numbers above and in a piece I did several weeks ago, Jrue Holiday has been the Pelicans 2nd steadiest player this season. If he's healthy and shows little to no rust, Monty shouldn't fear doling out a large share of minutes to Holiday immediately.
The next player I think should be higher up the totem pole is Quincy Pondexter. He's been on FIRE! Like Holiday, his offense doesn't vary much between wins and losses. Then, when you consider the defensive abilities of both of these players, Monty can't allow Gordon's -8.2 +/- average anywhere close to 35.2 minutes when it's not clicking for him.
If Holiday is struggling to find his form, I've been intrigued by the Norris Cole/Toney Douglas combination. Although it's a small sample size, the statistics support exploring this duo further if required. In 64 minutes of action, the Pelicans have a +24.0 Net Rating when they're on the floor together.
I've already given my stance on Omer Asik. He needs to play more minutes. Period. When he's averaged over 28+ minutes this season, the Pelicans are 17-8. And, if the team needs offense, don't be so quick to go to Anderson because Ajinca is very serviceable (just look at his FG% in wins then losses.)
From a strategy perspective, there are several things Monty should considering altering.
First, his rigid personal foul management. For instance, when a player picks up 3 fouls in the first half, don't automatically bench him. When Asik picked up his third personal foul in the first half against the Blazers, Monty sat him for the final 4:37. The Pelicans deficit grew from 5 points to 12 before halftime, and Asik didn't pick up a foul for the rest of the game. Considering Monty doesn't play Omer starter's minutes and Asik has only hit the 5 personal foul level just twice this season, the Pelicans head coach needs to start trusting some of his players a lot more.
It worked out for Kevin McHale earlier today in the Rockets win over the Thunder. When James Harden picked up two quick fouls in the 1st quarter, he stayed in the game until the finish of the frame, 5:33 minutes later. During that time, Houston increased their lead from 2 to 10 and it set the trend for the rest of the game.
Second, Monty should consider running his typical non-Ryan Anderson offense throughout games. When Ryno first entered the game in Portland, he immediately stepped into a central role. No, he didn't shoot every time he touched the ball, but the offense bogged down significantly because it revolved nearly entirely just around him. Not only has the Flamethrower recently missed 5 weeks, he was having a down season before the knee injury. Why not treat him more akin to a peripheral player who gets his within the offense? Besides, one should believe he would still make for a great decoy as his reputation will proceed him with all remaining opponents.
So, what do you guys think? What kind of fine tuning should Monty Williams consider making during the remaining 6 games of the 2014-15 season?