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Julius Randle makes for fantastic elixir to New Orleans Pelicans slow first quarter starts

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The team may be a stronger unit with Niko out on the court overall, but it’s vital someone throws their body around and brings copious amounts of energy at tip-off.

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

As I wrote last week, the New Orleans Pelicans are fantastic frontrunners and this still holds true. When they’ve been ahead upon the completion of the first quarter, they have posted a 10-3 record thus far on the season; when they’ve trailed, the W/L column reflects a disappointing 3-10 mark. The solution remains obvious: a strong start should be prioritized and Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, and the rest of the starters must stoke the coals from within before each and every tip-off to come out with that necessary fire in their bellies.

However, a different, more tangible fix appears to have emerged. Without thinking, who would you say is the Pelicans biggest ball of consistent energy yet is also capable of singlehandedly manhandling the opponent as soon as he steps onto the floor?

I hope Julius Randle was the first name that popped into mind because it did mine.

According to per 36 minute data, Randle is right there with Davis in a lot of statistical categories: points, rebounds, assists, field goal attempts and free throw attempts. However, there’s one important caveat which Julius does possess the edge over AD and the rest of his teammates: a high-revving motor coupled with a willingness to start banging against multiple opponents as soon as he walks onto the court.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Davis is the team’s star who fulfills his overburdened list of responsibilities on a nightly basis really damn well, but Randle just exudes, “I’ve got no time for you, and oh btw, I’m here to flat-out kick your ass.”

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Portland Trail Blazers Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t know, maybe it’s the years of having to prove himself since finishing high school. A lot of people have dwelled on Randle’s flaws and he’s seemingly been undervalued since entering the league. From the time draft experts declaring he would be a bust to watching six other Lakers average more minutes per game last season on a 35-47 Los Angeles squad, Randle has never lacked for critics. The same definitely can’t be said for Anthony Davis, who was presented the role of Atlas upon his arrival in New Orleans — but at least he was accoladed consistently for his efforts from day one.

Perhaps this is the key in developing a Kevin Garnett-like intensity, cause truly, how many individuals are born with such a raging inferno inside that can be summoned during the very first minute of action of a regular season game? Regardless, we’re not here to ponder theories or discuss why Randle demonstrates incredible aggressiveness on each and every possession but to discover how best these Pelicans can start contests clicking on all cylinders — seemingly a must for this team to win games.

At first glance, both Randle and Nikola Mirotic have performed admirably alongside Anthony Davis, but the grouping with Threekola has produced greater efficiency in two-man lineups and his spacing is thought to be necessary to keep the lanes open for penetration. However, when exclusively focusing on Alvin Gentry’s starting lineups thus far and then examining the results from first quarters, the evidence from NBA.com/Stats suggests Julius should continue to draw the starts once Niko returns on Friday for the matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies.

**NOTE: Points off turnovers, fastbreak points and points in the paint are per 36 minute data. Category bests are highlighted in bold lettering.

Lineup Minutes Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Net Rating Pace Points off Turnovers Fastbreak points Points in Paint
Holiday-Moore-Johnson-Mirotic-Davis 136 107.3 111.0 -3.7 106.51 7.7 13.5 41.9
Payton-Holiday-Moore-Mirotic-Davis 65 125.2 98.6 +26.6 107.42 13.8 19.4 60.9
Holiday-Moore-Johnson-Randle-Davis 55 128.7 105.0 +23.7 103.60 7.9 5.3 48.7
Frazier-Holiday-Moore-Mirotic-Davis 36 122.9 107.1 +15.8 112.13 28.0 19.0 42.1
Frazier-Holiday-Hill-Randle-Davis 26 136.8 94.9 +41.9 105.12 19.0 24.5 54.4
Frazier-Holiday-Moore-Randle-Davis 22 100.0 105.9 -5.9 108.21 17.7 12.9 51.4

The original starting lineup — the one led by Elfrid Payton which possesses a sparkling 5-0 record when they’ve taken the floor together — has posted some fantastic numbers, both on offense and defense. They’ve shot the ball extremely well (59.3 eFG%), rebounded nicely (71.6 DREB%, 35.8 OREB%), lived in the paint (60.9 PITP) and have gotten out in transition (19.4 FBPS).

In comparison to the rest of the lineups, it’s readily apparent why the team needed another point guard alongside Holiday ever since Payton went down, but that problem as been temporarily solved by the inclusion of Tim Frazier into the starting lineups. However, what’s really exciting is that Gentry may have finally stumbled upon the answer he’s been looking for since after the first week of the season. Even prior to the 132-106 blowout of the Mavericks on Wednesday, the odd Frazier-Holiday-Hill-Randle-Davis group looked outstanding on paper (+87.6 Net Rating, 68.5 eFG%, 84.6 DREB%, 36.4 OREB%)!

Yet, the news gets even better when examining these aforementioned lineups in first quarters only.

**NOTE: Points off turnovers, fastbreak points and points in the paint are per 36 minute data. Category bests are highlighted in bold lettering.

Lineup Minutes Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Net Rating Pace Points off Turnovers Fastbreak points Points in Paint
Holiday-Moore-Johnson-Mirotic-Davis 56 103.8 117.8 -14.0 110.87 10.2 15.4 43.5
Payton-Holiday-Moore-Mirotic-Davis 30 113.0 100.0 +13.0 108.26 14.3 20.3 59.7
Holiday-Moore-Johnson-Randle-Davis 22 118.8 120.8 -2.1 105.29 9.9 3.3 49.4
Frazier-Holiday-Moore-Mirotic-Davis 17 112.2 102.5 +9.7 114.92 25.5 25.5 51.1
Frazier-Holiday-Hill-Randle-Davis 8 133.3 105.3 +28.1 116.08 28.2 47.1 75.3
Frazier-Holiday-Moore-Randle-Davis 9 121.1 105.0 +16.1 109.05 8.4 16.8 67.1

Alvin Gentry has harped about pace, pace and pace since Media Day, but it’s no secret that the team also wants to be able to take advantage of their big identity featuring the dynamic threesome of Davis, Mirotic and Randle — without sacrificing the whole kid and caboodle defensively. According to these mind shattering numbers (look at those per 36 minute fastbreak points (47.1) and points in the paint (75.3)!), the Pelicans might have unearthed their version of the Holy Grail considering how painful some first quarter lulls have been to watch.

Oh, there’s no doubt that small sample size banners need to be posted everywhere and let’s wait and see what happens if Davis, Randle and Hill can’t buy a bucket from the outside, but after witnessing the nuclear capabilities of this New Orleans Pelicans squad at the outset of the season, one couldn’t help but think the loss of Payton should be mitigated somehow.

Utilizing their size and playing at a ridiculous speed is the key to success, but it needs to be apparent as soon as the team walks out from the locker room. Gentry wants pace, wants the team to dominate the paint, wants to see good effort from the start yet not allow the opponent to run roughshod, too.

As soon as the referee lobs the ball into the air to begin a contest, Julius Randle is that bull in the china shop raring to go that can assist in making all of these things come true.

Why not keep him in the starting lineup until the next dilemma arises?