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Should Alvin Gentry consider inserting Julius Randle into New Orleans Pelicans starting lineup for certain matchups?

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The Bird Calls Podcast: Episode 161

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NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The New Orleans Pelicans are rolling again. The Pelicans simply ran away from the San Antonio Spurs with a 140-126 final score that was not as close as indicated by the 14-point margin of victory.

But the story of the night has to be the simmering feud between former Kentucky teammates, Julius Randle and Anthony Davis.

With 5:52 remaining and an 18-point advantage — and Anthony Davis closing in on his 10,000th career point, the eighth fastest player to do so — AD was subbed out just six points short of the mark in favor of the star of the evening, Julius Randle. Davis was initially upset, having come so close to the benchmark in front of the Pelicans’ faithful. Davis was also clearly irritated as Gentry pulled him in favor of Mirotic with 4:26 remaining in the third.

Clearly the fault lies with Julius Randle.

“Ask him why he subbed me out the game?!” — Anthony Davis told Jen Hale in a fit of rage after Randle’s deliberate shine-stealing performance.

“He wanted to be ‘Defensive Player of the Year’ or something. He took a shot to the face, and that’s his fault. I can only do what coach tells me to do.” — Julius Randle

The discontent continued in the locker room as the other Pelican’ cornerstone, Jrue Holiday, expressed HIS frustration.

All kidding aside, it’s clear these guys are comfortable in their own skin, and the bonds are fast developing with a team that’s having fun carving their way through the NBA and the Western Conference. In the midst of a three-game win streak, and winners of six of seven, the Pelicans are 8-1 at home, and have returned to near elite form with a healthy Anthony Davis at the peak of his powers.

“It’s amazing. All these guys are my brothers. We’re all extremely close. We do a lot of things outside the court together.” — Randle told Hale

Head coach Alvin Gentry now has a delicious conundrum. He has six, or arguably seven starting caliber players on the roster, and a few options. The cast of The Bird Calls broke down each scenario once a healthy Elfrid Payton returns to the lineup here, but with the steady play of Wesley Johnson, and the elite level production from Julius Randle, the quandary only grows:

Should Julius Randle be in the starting lineup?

At one time an on/off catastrophe to the despair of some, Randle has since mitigated those numbers to -1.5 per 100 possessions, taking into account that he shares space with bench mates Ian Clark (-4.7) and Tim Frazier (-19.6!).

At 17.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 2.8 assists to just 2.4 turnovers in 25.6 minutes, Randle has already cemented himself as an early favorite for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award in the eyes of many local fans. However, should the Pelicans seek a larger workload for the 250-pound hammer, his per 36 minutes bring him to 25 points, 12 rebounds and four assists — numbers that are eerily similar to Davis.

The Pelicans still suffer from shifts in energy from time to time, as we have pointed out on multiple occasions, and that’s where Randle’s specialty and game-changing effect becomes so prudent. He’s basically Cheick Diallo on steroids. A relentless motor, tireless rim-crasher with facilitating skills and top flight finishing capabilities, he utilizes both his strength and nimble footwork to get to the glass at will.

In the absences of Rondo and Payton, the Pelicans typically faced trouble with the entry pass into the post, and AD can at time struggle to take larger defenders off the dribble. This is where Julius Randle becomes so useful. His combination of size, speed and athleticism give him the wherewithal to get a great look at the rim without being prompted by a teammate.

He creates separation in a variety of ways: his footwork, his speed, and cutting under his defender, or even uses his body to create separation and employ a soft hook.

Should the Pelicans’ seek to bring Randle off the bench, that could relegate Nikola Mirotic to sixth man duties, and that is a questionable decision indeed.

At 19 points, 11 rebounds and a 56% eFG percentage, Mirotic is the perfect floor spacing complement and low post defender to pair with Anthony Davis. His penchant for executing beyond the perimeter opens up the floor for Davis in a way that Randle has not yet achieved. Mirotic’s +17 per 100 possessions when paired with Anthony Davis also dwarf those of Randle’s, +8.

One could also argue that these numbers have more to deal with the players around AD and Julius than anything else. The two-man pairing of AD and Randle often comes with the aforementioned Frazier, Clark and Darius Miller, and come without Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore. Julius Randle is shooting 27% from three, it’s true, but has shot 50% or better from deep range in five of his 17 contests this year (in small sample sizes).

So next, should the Pelicans consider moving Moore to the bench and sliding Mirotic to the three? This is no from me. Mirotic is an adequate defender in the post, but is not well-suited to chase quicker wings around on the perimeter or accept switches from distance.

More importantly, removing E’Twaun Moore from the starting lineup would be certifiably insane at this point.

I’ve given you all of the reasons here .

So, what is Alvin Gentry to do?

Here us discuss this in greater detail on the latest episode of “The Bird Calls Podcast!”

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