Against the Utah Jazz this last Saturday, the Pelicans starters were run off the court, but the game wasn’t a total loss. In playing guys further down the bench, Alvin Gentry may have discovered something. The group of seldom-used reserves made a valiant comeback, erasing a 28-point deficit to a measly eight points following a Wesley Johnson three at the 6:34 mark of the fourth. Although New Orleans never got any closer, it begets the questions: What, if anything, would you change about the rotation? Should be playing certain guys more minutes, utilizing different lineups, ... ?
(These answers were compiled prior to the matchup against the Denver Nuggets, but as you’ll read, a lot of us were right on target.)
Kevin: Less small ball, but more Frank Jackson
I like having two legit bigs on the court at all time — even if this means going with Jahlil Okafor a bit more early on. While Solomon Hill has had decent moments and it’s important for the coaching staff to get him going, I still think we’d be better off with him seeing less time.
I’d also like to see a little more Frank Jackson over Ian Clark. Frank has flaws and there will be a lot of growing pains, but his energy and his decisiveness when attacking seems to impact the game more than what Clark is bringing. With everyone healthy, I’m not talking about giving him 20 minutes a night, maybe 8-12 per game.
Chris: More Frank Jackson, less Ian Clark
We know who’s the most explosive guard between the two, but Jackson’s electric style isn’t the reason alone for my selection. In fact, the offensive side of the basketball won’t even be mentioned here because Ian Clark has simply been hard to watch defensively so far for the Pelicans.
Opponents have continued to run high screen and rolls to get Clark caught in a web and immediately the whole team is out of position. This causes the rest of the defense to rotate early which eventually with good passing can lead to an open bucket. Clark’s size limits his ability to shed picks effectively, which is a huge problem for a defense looking to feature two bigs the vast majority of the time. Jackson’s defense has been a running joke ever since the preseason started, but if there’s one thing we can count on, Jackson has a strong motor, possesses good fight and his awareness will improve exponentially.
Jackson may not be ready at this moment, as the coaches still have to feel overall trust in the 2nd year rookie, but it may be soon worth a peek.
I think the matchup overall should continue to dictate the rotation. Smaller styled quicker teams should see much more of Wesley Johnson — and at multiple positions. Larger front-courts should see more of Jahlil Okafor who proved beyond capable of contributing in his first few meaningful minutes of the season.
Jamile: Insert Frank Jackson into the rotation
I would love to see Frank Jackson get non-garbage time minutes. I’m not saying they need to play him 20 minutes a night, but he has the type of shooting and athleticism this team may need later in the season. If Gentry could give Jackson some developmental minutes to build the young player’s confidence, it could pay big dividends later in the season.
Preston: Remove Solomon Hill from the rotation
Through five games, Solo has been a walking negative net-rating. While the Pelicans defensive rating remains virtually the same, the Pelicans’ league-leading unit in the NBA (according to NBA.com) drops seven points on the offensive end, which drops the Pelicans to tenth, and only a few hundredths of a point from 15th. Even with Solomon’s Hill’s potential as a defensive stopper on elite level NBA wings, the Pelicans can simply not afford that much of a deficiency on the offensive end. The Pelicans are best at scoring the basketball. Thus, it’s time to take Solo out of the rotation and replace his minutes with Frank Jackson and Wes Johnson. Jackson’s speed and scoring penchant from the perimeter further threatens defenses and exposes the paint. Wes Johnson, at 31, may be beyond his days as a meaningful NBA contributor, but as evidenced in Saturday night’s matchup versus the Jazz, he has the confidence and ability to knock down the three.
Charlie: Begin experimenting with Mirotic-Randle-Davis trio
I have mostly liked what I’ve seen from Alvin’s rotation, except I want more of the bigs. Together. Specifically, I feel Alvin needs to be playing AD, Niko and Randle together whenever situationally possible to see if the trio can work. If it’s not something we’re going to actually consider doing, it only emphasizes the team’s need to trade for an established wing that can close games alongside AD and whichever big is out there. The team is desperate for more shooting and if we can’t have our supersized lineup like we dreamed, then we need to address the other holes on the roster.
Like probably everyone else, I also want more Frank Jackson, and personally more Jahlil Okafor. The young guys need the reps if they’re going to be counted on down the line.
Oleh: Get the talented bench mob minutes
Alvin Gentry didn’t rely on the bench much at all during the 2017-18 regular season, as the group averaged the fifth fewest minutes per game across the league. Surprisingly through the first four games of this campaign, the head coach seemingly developed even more trust issues as the bench mob was averaging an almost league-low 15.5 minutes of action. Only Mike D’Antoni had played his starters more minutes in Houston.
Playing at an ultra-fast pace, utilizing a roster’s depth is important. Plus it’s not a bad option when there’s legitimate talent sitting on the roster. Since the summer, I’ve been a huge proponent of seeing what Jahlil Okafor and Frank Jackson can do. Eventually injuries will strike — just as they have — and at some point the guys will have to get their feet outside of garbage minutes. There’s no better time to experiment than on the upcoming five-game road trip. The Pelicans, in my opinion, are probable to lose more games than win, but in the long run, this stretch would be looked upon as favorably as any win streak for the delicious talents uncovered.