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Wesley Johnson: Alvin Gentry’s starting lineup gambles may have uncovered a decent New Orleans Pelicans rotation

Rotation Roulette: After losing two starters and a rotation piece Alvin Gentry was forced to cobble together several lineups during a brutal road trip. The duct tape was not overly effective, but he may have found some super glue in Wesley Johnson.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at New Orleans Pelicans Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

When Wesley Johnson was acquired in the Alexis Ajinca dump, there were two schools of thought: he’s a serviceable yet unspectacular body that can give minutes at the three or four, or there was the, “he’s never going to play a meaningful minute — Dell just wants his salary for a bigger splash down the road” denomination.

As with all opposing schools of thought, the truth is likely somewhere in the middle — or in this case maybe all of the above.

Wes Johnson is a, “starter house.” He’s sound enough to not leave you out in the cold, but if an opportunity for a dream house were to come along, he’s also very flippable. However, you view him — it seems he’s doing enough for Gentry to place this starter house on top of the tattered remains of Solomon Hill.

While I firmly believed that Dell Demps would find a way to move Solo at some point this year — as his cap space next season will be needed to bring back Nikola Mirotic, Elfrid Payton and/or Julius Randle, I did hope and expect to see a more competent Hill on the floor. I wasn’t expecting Paul George, but I was expecting...well...umm...Wesley Johnson. After averaging right around 20 minutes per game in games 2-6 though, Hill saw his minutes decrease to just over 12 in game 7 and 9 in game 8 before being buried on the bench with DNPs over the last 3 outings.

Undrafted Kenrich Williams entering the Bulls game before Solomon may have been the proverbial nail in the coffin for the Solomon Hill Bad Time Experience Band.

To sum up how rough of a start that it’s been for Hill, he somehow posted a negative 13 +/- in the 12 minutes he played opening night against the Rockets — a game the Pels won by 19 points. Darius Miller had the 2nd worst +/- with a negative 5 in nearly 20 minutes. No other Pelican outside of the victory cigar lineup rotation posted negative numbers. His on/off numbers also paint a grotesque picture, but not the kind that inspires a gross fascination, just the kind that summons a hot acidic burp from the depths of your gut.

While the injuries to Davis, Payton and Miller shat all over a previously spotless record, they have have led to lineup experimentation. Some of these moves may prove to be lasting long term solutions. Wesley Johnson has been inserted into the starting lineup over the last three games with mostly promising results — if you throw out the Thunder game — an anomaly where Anthony Davis’ elbow injury looked more like a zombie bite. However, Johnson’s breakout against the Bulls could cause a permanent shuffle that would solidify the entire rotation once the Pelicans are back to full health. (Though the backup point guard position is still of some concern.)

The Pelicans haven’t had a reliable TRUE three since Peja Stojakovic was getting giant photos of his head impaled on sticks run around the stadium by the McDonald’s Swoop Troop. E’Twaun Moore has been fantastic this season — even while playing out of position again, but the insertion of Johnson into the starting lineup solidifies defense, doesn’t kill you with shooting, improves rebounding and makes life easier for Moore and it makes that second unit much more potent.

If Johnson can continue to hit the open three (46.2% this season), he can be a solid complement to the starting four as his usage rate is only 13.1% this season and 15.7% for his career. He’s fine with not being a top focus of the offense, but is adept enough to make opponents pay for sleeping on him when an opportunity presents himself, whether that be an open three, a pump fake and drive or a well-timed cut off of the ball. And then there’s defense.

As Davis says with Wesley Johnson being in the starting lineup, it allows the Pelicans to keep Holiday on the main threat from the guard position. It makes life easier for Jrue and Moore. Moore can be more of a focal point offensively on the second unit flanked by Julius Randle and Darius Miller — and with the right rotations, Moore should still see a lot of time with the other key members of the starting 5.

This move and Payton’s return should also cut into the minutes for Ian Clark and Tim Frazier — both who will hopefully soon be replaced by Frank Jackson once he’s more seasoned. In the interim, Dell would be wise to seek out another reliable floor general, perhaps pick at the carrion in Washington to pry Tomas Satoransky free or send Jerry West a 2nd rounder to reclaim Tyrone Wallace — whose offer West chose to match in restricted free agency, but who can’t get off of the bench in LA with 5 DNPS and just 3.3 minutes per game in those that he’s played.

Until then, may Wesley Johnson continue to play well enough to give Alvin Gentry rotation options and assist in adding wins for the New Orleans Pelicans in the standings.