Following word that both Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday would be unavailable to start the season, the remaining guards on the Pelicans roster began training camp on equal footing, with all eyes fixated on two very big prizes. Today, I want to exclusively focus on the battle at shooting guard between E’Twaun Moore and Buddy Hield. Although Moore has the NBA experience and two preseason starts under his belt, it’s time for Alvin Gentry to give the sixth pick from the 2016 NBA Draft a shot with the starting lineup.
Before New Orleans first exhibition game against the Dallas Mavericks, Hield pointed out the fact that he hasn't come off the bench since his freshman season at Oklahoma. One wouldn’t know it by his performances through two preseason games. Buddy Buckets has fully lived up to his famous moniker, leading the Pelicans with 18.5 points and 2.5 three-pointers per game. Shooting at a clip of 57.7% from the field, one can scarcely believe this is the same player who struggled immensely at finding the bottom of the net during the most recent string of summer league games.
Different level, same Buddy.— USA TODAY Sports NBA (@usatodaynba) October 5, 2016
18.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.5 apg, 15-26 shooting – the Pels' rookie is starting his NBA career on the right foot. pic.twitter.com/pmISq3cNgf
Now, understand the argument to see Hield in the starting lineup is not because Moore has floundered. Far from it. His per 36 minute scoring statistics are eerily similar to Hield’s, right down to the field goal percentage (~57%). In addition, Moore’s defense has been noticeably much more effective than that of the rookie’s. Rather, it’s because of several other details that could lead to a better balanced starting rotation.
Usage: The starting lineup needs another high usage player alongside Anthony Davis.
It’s been just two games, but Davis’ usage is through the roof at 45.5%. A significant reason for this is because he’s averaged just 15.1 minutes a game; hence, Davis is looking to make an impact in his limited appearances. However, the concern comes from what will happen once Davis is back to playing in his customary 30-minute range.
As we learned at the start of last season, Davis struggled when the onus was on him. He’s not a volume scorer in the mold of a Kevin Durant or Carmelo Anthony — he depends on other players to get his. And in addition to needing a point guard like Holiday, Ish Smith or Tim Frazier to get him the ball in his comfort zones, he also needs someone alongside of him to relieve some pressure.
According to nbawowy, when Holiday (28.9%), Evans (24.7%) and Ryan Anderson (24.7%) were off the floor last season — the three highest usage players not named Davis — AD struggled. In 338 minutes, he had a 44.5 FG%, averaging a very mortal 1.03 points per possession.
Moore (19.8%), Langston Galloway (15.5%) and Solomon Hill (8.9%) have yet to eclipse the 20-percent mark this preseason. Conversely, Hield is sitting at a 30.2 USG% -- right in line with his last two years in college — and more importantly, he’s looked good doing it. He’s played within the offense, taken what the defense has given him, and enjoyed a lot of early success.
Center position: Asik’s defense/rebounding are more necessary than Ajinca’s offense.
After last year’s disappointment, the Pelicans need to get something more from one of their two traditional centers. Alexis Ajinca worked hard on his conditioning over the summer, but the results to date have been mixed, at best. His plus/minus sits at -10, and I personally witnessed him encounter a lot of trouble on defense and the glass in Tuesday’s loss to the Pacers.
Although I supported giving Ajinca a deep look at the starting 5 gig, it did come with one key condition: Asik and his mobility. If the Pelicans were going to stick with the Turkish big, he needed to regain some of that lost bounce in his step, so that he could at least be a positive difference maker on defense again. The eyes and numbers seem to be in positive agreement because his conditioning appears stronger than at any time last season and the early statistics support his case.
As to where Ajinca has the worst +/- among the guaranteed contracts, Asik has the best (+13). Omer’s defensive rating is a sparkly 87.0 and his total rebounding percentage is at 20.8%. Right now, the two biggest issues plaguing the Pelicans are Asik’s strengths. Further, in needing to take a look at Hield at the starting 2, Asik could alleviate plenty of the lost defensive mojo with Moore moving back to the bench.
Alvin Gentry stated a week ago that he’s likely to look at a number of different starting combinations during the exhibition season, with Anthony Davis as the only lock. After two games, it’s time to make some changes, at least to take a good, hard look at other options. Buddy Hield has proven not only the fact that he belongs in the NBA but has also emitted the idea that he may thrive. That’s fantastic news for the Pelicans on so many fronts, but for the time being, it’s immediately beneficial because Anthony Davis is likely going to need some help while the likes of Holiday and Evans remain out indefinitely.
Moreover, if the Pelicans front office believes they drafted their future shooting guard, why not put him to the test now when the games don’t count? E’Twaun Moore is used to a reserve role, Hield is not. Asik needs to be given a chance with the starting lineup to try to plug the holes in the defense and rebounding departments. I’m sure Hield will make plenty of rookie mistakes, just as he’s done defensively thru two games, but with playoff expectations on the low side, I don’t see the harm in experimenting with the 2017 Rookie of the Year candidate.