Following the Pelicans practice on Thursday, Alvin Gentry still had a lot on his mind after the team's embarrassing loss to the Dallas Mavericks the night before. It saddened him, like the rest of us, that New Orleans continues to have problems with giving basic effort night in and night out, 34 games into the season. According to the head coach, changes are going to be made.
"Yeah, we've got to do something differently. I mean obviously what we're doing is not working. Maybe we expand our rotations. Maybe we change our starters. I don't know, but we've got to do something. We have another day to sleep on it and think about it, but there are going to be some changes made because what we're doing right now isn't working."
Since Gentry failed to divulge specifics, let's attempt to figure out what the coaching staff may be talking about from behind closed doors, and what we should hope to see Friday night against the Indiana Pacers.
Addressing the starting lineup
A lineup of Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Alonzo Gee, Anthony Davis and Omer Asik has ranked as one of the worst starting lineups in the NBA with a Net Rating of -4.8. For much of the season, that statistic has been demonstrably worse, hovering in negative double figures.
In 100 minutes played or more, nine teams in the NBA have had starting lineups with a Net Rating worse than -4.8. Seven of those nine have gone on and made changes.
- Los Angeles Lakers. Byron Scott removed Julius Randle and D'Angelo Russell in favor of Lou Williams and Larry Nance Jr., but it hasn't helped matters. Regardless, the beleaguered coach should get some credit for attempting to make a change, even if unpopular because it resulted in the benching of two important members of the Lakers future.
- Memphis Grizzlies. Both Zach Randolph and Tony Allen are now reserves because alongside Mike Conley, Jeff Green and Marc Gasol, the unit features an abysmal -14.5 Net Rating.
- Washington Wizards. Kris Humphries was removed from the Wizards lineup following a 111-78 trouncing to the Boston Celtics. Good deal because a Wall-Beal-Porter-Humphries-Gortat lineup has a Net Rating of -9.3.
- Orlando Magic. Victor Oladipo was sent to the bench after Scott Skiles decided to insert Channing Frye into the starting lineup to help spread the floor and for the team to field a more traditional 5-man group at the outset of games.
- Denver Nuggets. J.J. Hickson was not only removed from the starting lineup but has disappeared from the rotation altogether. The Nuggets have committed to their youth movement without any regard for J.J.'s trade value.
- Minnesota Timberwolves. Kevin Martin started 12 games before the Wolves decided to make him a healthy scratch. It's another scenario where development has taken precedence.
- Indiana Pacers. This team is borderline because C.J. Miles was consistently the starter, with Paul George occupying the power forward position, until Frank Vogel decided to play matchups (Miles sits against teams featuring traditional fours). Considering how poorly Miles has functioned in the starting lineup, the Pacers should consider making it permanent.
The Dallas Mavericks and the Milwaukee Bucks are the remaining teams with starting lineups currently posting worse Net Ratings than the Pelicans. The Bucks have been one of the biggest disappointments of the season, but their organization is correctly committed to further evaluating the young core of Michael Carter-Williams, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Greg Monroe. On the other hand, Rick Carlisle will likely stay course with Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews, Chandler Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki and Zaza Pachulia. Both Matthews and Parsons entered the season coming off major surgery so it should be expected their leashes remain longer, and unlike New Orleans, Dallas is sitting inside the playoff picture.
Tyreke Evans didn't return from injury until December, but it's probably not necessary to give the Pelicans current starting lineup too many more games together. The combination of Alonzo Gee and Omer Asik has been too much of a burden on the team's offense. The duo combine for 9.8 field goal attempts per 36 minute statistics. That's unacceptable as attested by their 95.1 offensive rating in 280 minutes on the floor together.
Which player should be replaced by a more offensively-minded option?
For the month of December, Asik had one of the best plus/minus statistics on the team; conversely, Gee one of the worst. I don't think it's any question that the coaching staff should look at making a change at small forward.
The prevailing thought was the Pelicans current starting lineup arrangement was going to be temporary until Quincy Pondexter returned. Well, with his status going from questionable to doubtful in the span of a few days, it's unlikely QPon will be back in the immediate future, let alone ready to start in the next few games.
Instead, Gentry has one of three options: move Tyreke Evans to small forward (and re-insert Jrue Holiday rightfully back into the starting lineup), start Dante Cunningham or bring Luke Babbitt back to life. The statistics beg for the Pelicans head coach to employ a 3-guard lineup. Holiday-Gordon-Evans-Davis-Asik have posted an incredible 152.0 ORtg and an equally impressive 80.6 DRtg. Before anyone points out the bad news that the group has seen only 13 minutes together, remember they did spend 171 minutes on the floor last season and posted an appetizing +11.3 Net Rating.
It's a no brainer, guys. Jrue Holiday is an instant upgrade on offense without the loss of much defense if any. Barring opponent's like Kevin Durant or Kawhi Leonard, this 5-man group should be able to handle most challenges. If a traditional coach like Monty Williams found a way to give Holiday-Gordon-Evans 342 minutes, Gentry's uptempo offense should be drooling at the thought.
The hope obviously is that Gentry makes one of his proposed changes in the starting lineup as mentioned above, but if he doesn't, that would only leave several adjustments available with the rotation. It's hard to imagine some combination of Kendrick Perkins, Luke Babbitt and Toney Douglas adding much to a reserve core of Holiday-Cole-Anderson. Babbitt and Anderson are too much alike with their individual strengths and weaknesses, a Holiday-Cole-Douglas trio sounds scary bad and Perkins is best-suited nowadays as an assistant coach.
No, Holiday needs to start and that would allow Alexis Ajinca, Toney Douglas and Dante Cunningham to find time off the bench with Norris Cole and Ryan Anderson. Naturally, it would be preferable if Gentry finds some combination that would work in conjunction with a starter or two, but the idea is this group could hold the fort down until Pondexter is ready.
Interestingly, following the loss to the Magic a week and a half ago, Gentry claimed the Pelicans probably couldn't stand pat, but the team did exactly that. This time around, he needs to follow through with his threat of action; otherwise, there can no longer be denying that a tank may be driving down Poydras Street on it's way to the Smoothie King Center to blow up the rest of the season.