At a function sponsored by the 3 Point Club of New Orleans this past Thursday, Alvin Gentry revealed several important details that seemingly have determined what the starting lineup will look like against the Golden State Warriors on October 27, 2015, the opening night of the 2016 NBA regular season.
First, with the announcement that Jrue Holiday will be under a severe minutes restriction for at least several months, Tyreke Evans should be the Pelicans opening day starter at point guard. With Holiday adhering to a 10-15 minute window, it makes sense to let Evans be the team's floor general. Both for purposes of continuity and substitution rotations, having Holiday come off the bench is the best solution.
Soon after he was hired, Gentry had alluded to the fact that Evans was going to primarily play at point guard. Whether he was aware of Holiday's situation at the time is interesting to ponder (Norris Cole's yet unsigned qualifying offer anyone?), but now a statement made back in July will undoubtedly hold true.
As I wrote back in August, Tyreke spending most of his time at the one could result in a really good scenario for the offense. He was the only Pelican who regularly looked to push the issue in transition last season.
Evans was once a beast in the open floor, both in converting and playmaking, yet Monty's offensive gameplan often hindered his best facet. Despite the team's slow pace and at least one big often clogging the paint, he still looked to force the issue (notice the frequency of attempts among the three guards last season). But make no mistake, he wasn't going to beat the defense off the dribble more times than not when all five opponents knew he was alone in his endeavor.
Thankfully, that's not going to be the case anymore. As evidenced by the recent Summer League games, the Pelicans will have a sense of urgency of moving the ball up the floor after either a defensive rebound, turnover or likely even an opponent's made basket.
Tyreke Evans' game and personality will have him leading the charge, even if he's relegated to the sixth man role.
Well, we don't have to worry about a sixth man role any time soon. Tyreke Evans will have the keys to the new high octane offense, and suddenly he appears poised to have a career year. If I were still an avid fantasy basketball manager, I'd be buying loads of stock.
As for the other hole in the starting lineup, Quincy Pondexter was slated to be the team's starting shooting forward. However, his recovery from arthroscopic knee surgery back in May continues to move slowly.
Enter Dante Cunningham and he's reportedly armed with a new three-point shot.
"Dante Cunningham is going to be our three until Quincy gets healthy," Pelicans Coach Alvin Gentry said Thursday, at a dinner with the city’s new 3-Point Club. "He’ll probably start."
Partly in preparation for the role, but also in anticipation of Gentry taking over the helm, Cunningham has been working on increasing his shooting range. The 28-year-old has made just two three-pointers in his six-year NBA career, but this summer he’s focused on attempts from the corners, which are the shortest-distance treys.
"The confidence of just being at (small forward) more," Cunningham said on Thursday’s Black & Blue Report, when asked what’s different for him entering 2015-16. "Corner threes, I’ve been shooting those all summer long, getting the confidence in that. Now I’ve just got to translate it to the game."
Whether Cunningham can prove to be a proficient outlet from the perimeter remains to be seen, but Gentry appears confident enough in his ability to already name the likely starter.
Last season, Cunningham started 27 games at the three but averaged a meager 5.7 points and 4.5 rebounds in nearly 30 minutes of playing time. He didn't look to shoot the ball unless he was both wide open and standing either underneath the rim or anywhere inside an area from 16 feet out to just inside the three point line.
Expect for both Gentry and his teammates to hound him into shooting whenever he finds himself open from along the corners of the three point line to the rim. Otherwise, the Pelicans head coach will probably consider giving either Luke Babbitt or Alonzo Gee more playing time, especially if DC's rebounding continues to underwhelm.
In case you're curious, a starting lineup of Evans, Eric Gordon, Cunningham, Anthony Davis and Omer Asik spent 210 minutes on the floor and were extremely effective. It had a Net Rating of +11.4, a hair better than the +11.3 posted by Holiday-Gordon-Evans-Davis-Asik.
The problem, though, the squad with Cunningham was slow, averaging a pace of 91.94. In addition, they were not one of the better shooting groups as evidenced by a 51.5 effective field goal percentage.
Gentry's hope is that installing his offensive system, which will lead to a lot more shots earlier in the shot clock, will help improve upon those numbers from a season ago. If this new starting lineup can knock down their fair share of open looks, the Pelicans should be able to weather the absences of Holiday and Pondexter well until they can return and play their full allotment of minutes.