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Alvin Gentry should start Terrence Jones if the Pelicans want any hope of saving the season

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One of Anthony Davis’ best friends might be able to slam shut a lot of problems in New Orleans.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

In case you haven’t been paying attention, New Orleans is near a state of surrender regarding the rest of the season.

At a stage where numerous NBA teams are coming together and making moves up the standings, the Pelicans has won just 3 of 12 games during the month of December. On cue, we’ve heard Alvin Gentry say the team needs to figure things out quickly, and various players have echoed the same sentiment over the past week.

So, dammit, why is New Orleans still defiant with using square pegs in the starting lineups, specifically of the 7-foot variety?

Omer Asik has started 18 games for the Pelicans and Alexis Ajinca, 9, but neither has produced the desired effect as evidenced on nbawowy.

Minutes Offensive Rating Defensive Rating eFG% opponent's eFG%
Alexis Ajinca 240 102.1 114.2 47.4% 52.2%
Omer Asik 460 101.1 104.6 47.7% 50.3%
Anthony Davis w/o Ajinca/Asik 587 106.3 106.9 49.4% 48.5%

Meanwhile, Anthony Davis offers hope for better things without a traditional five next to him on the floor. As the numbers illustrate, New Orleans has proven to be at least equally competitive with opponents in a sizable 587 minutes.

Hey guys, this should all ring a bell... say to last season? Notice how the Pelicans performed stronger when the slow-footed centers were not in the game during the 2015-16 season, too.

2015-16 Minutes Offensive Rating Defensive Rating eFG% opponent's eFG%
Alexis Ajinca 861 102.7 105.4 48.6% 50.2%
Omer Asik 1178 100.7 110.1 47.5% 52.8%
Kendrick Perkins 554 107.1 113.2 53.0% 54.0%
Anthony Davis w/o Ajinca/Asik/Perk 1174 108.7 110.0 49.8% 52.2

In years past, Ryan Anderson soaked up a lot of small-ball minutes next to AD, yet it often came at a price. The duo was the backbone to a good offense (109.6 ORtg), but the defense suffered immeasurably (109.4 DRtg).

With Anderson now in Houston and both Asik and Ajinca showing yet again they are far from the correct answer, who should be the fifth member of the starting lineup alongside Jrue Holiday, Buddy Hield, Solomon Hill and AD?

A quick glance at several numbers reveals the answer almost immediately.

2016-17 Minutes Offensive Rating Defensive Rating eFG% opponent's eFG%
Dante Cunningham 111 114.1 111.1 52.8% 50.5%
Terrence Jones 361 110.1 103.7 52.2% 46.6%

Further in his favor, Terrence Jones has been a starter for the majority of his career while Dante Cunningham was exclusively a reserve before coming to New Orleans.

In addition, starting seems to suit Jones. In his 4 starts for the Pelicans, he is averaging an eye-catching 18.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.5 blocks. He’s shooting a blistering 55.1% from the field, 45.5% from three-point range for good measure, and he’s committed only 5 turnovers in 125 minutes.

Albeit limited minutes (27), a Holiday-Hield-Hill-Jones-Davis lineup looks dynamite on paper, posting a 111.1 ORtg, an 83.0 DRtg and a mouth-watering 55.0 eFG%. The small sample size is somewhat alleviated because of how well all the team’s guards have fared so far this season when simultaneously on the floor with the Kentucky connection of Davis and Jones.

2016-17 Minutes Offensive Rating eFG%
Buddy Hield 132 123 56.8%
E'Twaun Moore 166 112 53.3%
Jrue Holiday 176 107 54.5%
Langston Galloway 171 115 50.0%
Tim Frazier 239 92 44.4%

From off the bench, Gentry could bring in Asik opposite Anthony Davis to maintain the presence of one elite rebounder on the court all the while distancing Omer from Hill to prevent too many offensive hiccups.

Or, the head coach could go an entirely different route and maintain the energetic pace by utilizing Cheick Diallo, surrounding the rookie with high usage guards in Frazier and Tyreke Evans (Kobe Assists!!) and maintaining the spacing on the floor with Moore and Cunningham.

Back in September, Alvin Gentry mentioned that Anthony Davis could start at center against certain matchups. No joke, I was excited because I had been adamant that Davis deserves to spend most of his time at the five. However, through 31 games on the schedule, he has started a mere 4 times and none with either Holiday or Hield in the starting lineup.

Although Gentry started Jones in place of Ajinca in the second half against the Oklahoma City Thunder, I’m far from confident this will become a thing — even though it should be — as Asik and Ajinca have taken turns on weighing down the lineups for practically the entire season. These two traditional centers have combined to play 706 of a possible 1518 (46.5%) minutes at center this season.

It’s all I want for Xmas. Seriously. #StartTerrenceJones #SmallBall