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New Orleans Pelicans lineup options as training camp is set to begin

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As training camp is about to open let's take a look at what lineups Alvin Gentry actually has data on.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans do not have a ton of experience together. If basketball is indeed jazz (as a musician and basketball player I would agree) the Pelicans might as well be holding a different jam session every night with pieces moving in and out. The finishing five of Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson, Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, and Jrue Holiday has logged just 197 minutes together over the course of two seasons. A comically low total thanks to injuries both big and small to every single member. Alvin Gentry has very little data to examine on which five players to play at once; but let's take a look at what worked and what didn't last season with the lineups that return.

To begin, I limited the sample to lineups which played at least 40 minutes together during the 2014-15 season. Just 16 such lineups exist. Second, I went about eliminating lineups with players no longer on the roster. Now there are just 12 remaining. From these I separated them into three distinct groups: Slow, Fast, and without Anthony Davis. As you will see, the without Anthony Davis group is especially atrocious.

Slow Group

Lineup MIN ORtg DRtg Net Rtg Pace
Asik - Davis - Cunningham - Gordon - Evans 210 108.4 97.0 11.4 91.94
Ajinca - Davis - Evans - Gordon - Holiday 41 116.6 108.4 8.2 89.14
Davis - Anderson - Cunningham - Evans - Holiday 59 112.9 105.3 7.6 88.84
Asik - Davis - Pondexter - Gordon - Evans 346 109.0 104.5 4.5 92.38
Asik - Davis - Cunningham - Evans - Holiday 48 116.9 116.0 0.9 92.28

This group features three of the four best lineups the Pelicans tried last season for at least 40 minutes which did not include Austin Rivers. Weird, I know. New Orleans played well slow, and the team continued to pull back on the tempo as the season went along. The projected opening night starting lineup, as Oleh outlined earlier, has a solid sample size. They started 11 games together, ten of which were before the All-Star Break. While it is good to hear Dante Cunningham is taking a step behind the arc I do wonder if that will have any effect on how team's defend this poor shooting lineup. I suspect teams will continue to sag off of Cunningham for quite a while until he proves that he is both willing to take the corner three and capable of knocking it down. That process might take months.

All the remaining lineups have significant defensive issues. As we will see below substituting Alexis Ajinca for Asik while retaining the remainder of the 2014 opening night starting lineup juices up the offense. However, that move predictably turns a solid defensive group (98.5 DRtg) into a raging inferno (108.4) while simultaneously slowing the pace down considerably. Interesting when considering how most would consider Asik to be far more plodding than Ajinca.

Lineup MIN ORtg DRtg Net Rtg Pace
Asik - Davis - Evans - Gordon - Holiday 171 109.8 98.5 11.3 94.77
Ajinca - Davis - Evans - Gordon - Holiday 41 116.6 108.4 8.2 89.14

These lineups also contain one of the most promising pairings of Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson. It could also forecast the first substitution Gentry will make during most games while Jrue Holiday comes off the bench. Bringing in Anderson (for Asik) and Holiday (for Gordon) in the first round of substitutions provides a nice lineup the Pelicans could use to get Holiday into the flow without demanding he handle all the distributing responsibilities right off the pine. That group (Davis - Anderson - Cunningham - Evans - Holiday) is also the only five man group with both AD and Ryno that was not a catastrophe defensively.

Fast Group

Lineup MIN ORtg DRtg Net Rtg Pace
Asik - Davis - Evans - Gordon - Holiday 171 109.8 98.5 11.3 94.77
Asik - Davis - Pondexter - Gordon - Cole 42 99.7 95.4 4.3 94.15
Davis - Anderson - Evans - Gordon - Holiday 106 118.5 115.3 3.1 97.46
Davis - Anderson - Pondexter - Gordon - Evans 72 120.5 118.5 2.0 96.18
Asik - Davis - Babbitt - Evans - Holiday 201 100.8 100.9 -0.1 97.36

It is really too bad that the Pelicans opening night starting lineup played in just 13 games together all season. First Omer Asik missed a couple games with back spasms, then Eric Gordon tore his labrum, and finally when everything seemed on track Jrue Holiday went down with continued complications with his stress fracture. That lineup was extremely promising despite the very valid concerns of just about everyone on Tyreke's ability to play extended minutes at small forward.

I do wonder if the Luke Babbitt experiment could have succeeded against an easier schedule. The vast majority of the minutes Babbitt logged as the starting small forward came against the Pelicans' most difficult schedule during the season, from late November into early January. Alas injuries moved Holiday to the bench and the trade for Quincy Pondexter put Babbitt on the pine as well.

Here there are serious concerns about playing Davis and Anderson together in a fast paced environment. Those defensive numbers are an apocalypse of buckets allowed. Will assistant coach Darren Erman provide a more sensible plan to make Davis and Anderson viable together? Should we expect Anderson to take some step forward on defense thanks to his excellent offseason? The answers to those questions are going to be fascinating and the Golden State Warriors will provide a strenuous examination early in the season.

Too Many Eyebrows

Lineup MIN ORtg DRtg Net Rtg Pace
Asik - Cunningham - Pondexter - Gordon - Evans 124 97.1 99.1 -2.0 90.75
Asik - Anderson - Cunningham - Gordon - Evans 72 89.1 121.3 -32.2 89.71

Nope. Nope. Nope.

Have I said nope? Here.

Nope.

The Pelicans playing with ten eyebrows on the floor at once should be avoided at all costs. That bottom lineup actually started four games together. FOUR! Anthony Davis was injured at the time and some of the games will be very familiar. A loss to the Philadelphia 76ers ring a bell? How about dropping one to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. That group appeared in seven different contests all together. It was awful in all possible respects. Terrible on offense. Horrendous on defense. Slow as molasses.

Nope.

New Options

I am most interested in how Alonzo Gee is going to be woven into the rotation, especially early in the season. Until Quincy Pondexter is ready to go I believe Gee will be ninth or tenth man for the Pelicans behind Ryan Anderson, Norris Cole, and Jrue Holiday. If, and this is a huge if, Gee can shoot from behind the arc consistently for any sustained stretch (a reach considering his history) he might find a way to take the starting position away from Dante Cunningham.

It will also be interesting to see how Jrue Holiday's situation evolves. If things go as planned I expect the Pelicans would prefer to gradually increase his minutes load from opening night until January. Some have interpreted Alvin Gentry's remarks to mean that Holiday is on a firm 15 minute cap until January. Instead I see it that Holiday will begin at 15 minutes and over time slowly add on more minutes while likely avoiding back-to-backs. New Orleans plays eight back-to-backs in October, November, and December. By January Holiday could regularly play 25-30 minutes while also participating in back-to-backs.

This season the Pelicans have managed to avoid roster turnover while still providing significant intrigue. Thanks to injuries and trades during the season there are not many lineups with significant experience together as a unit despite greatly improved roster continuity compared to previous years. Alvin Gentry comes into a team with far more questions than answers on who plays best together. The ability of the coaching staff to quickly diagnose appropriate answers will have a great effect on this franchise's potential to take another step forward.