Whether morally right or wrong considering the times, sports are back, with basketball and baseball returning to American lives. While baseball kicked off their regular season last week, the NBA will do the same this Thursday as the New Orleans Pelicans and Utah Jazz will open the eight seeding game schedule in Orlando’s restart.
Considering the reemergence of these two sports leagues so closely together, it gave me an idea. What if the Pelicans had been a part of MLB’s opening day? Could they have put out a fun team on the diamond? Well, with some help from The Bird Writes staff, I took a shot at building the best New Orleans lineup that could walk into a professional dugout and not embarrass themselves.
1: Lonzo Ball (CF)
Your leadoff hitter sets the tone for your team in many ways. It’s one of the closest things you have in baseball to “getting everyone involved.” No one can better fill that position for the Pelicans than Lonzo Ball.
While the infield could also be a look for Zo, his long range passing accuracy, calm demeanor, and quick first step make him a good fit in center field. He may still lack some polish, but if the Pelicans training staff and coaches can make waves in his development like they’ve done in basketball, Ball will be just fine.
2: JJ Redick (2B)
Traditionally, number two hitters are contact specialists with the ability to move their lead off guy into favorable scoring positions. These guys are smart, fundamentally sound, and make plenty of sacrifices individually. If needed, however, they’re more than capable of starting their own trouble for opposing pitchers.
JJ Redick fits that role as no one is more fundamentally sound and accurate as he on the Pelicans. You can trust him to make the right plays but also provide several splashes of his own when needed.
At second base, Redick’s short range quickness and ability to contort his body should do wonders at that position. You can say what you want about Redick’s NBA defense, but he’ll give effort. So the less ground he has to cover, the better.
3: Brandon Ingram (DH)
Your best hitter goes here so the selection should be self-explanatory, but let’s delve deeper. It’s hard to be a three-level scorer in the NBA, just as it’s hard to hit for average and power in the MLB. Ingram would be that guy. His work ethic should translate perfectly to being the Pelicans best hitter, most trusted run producer or providing whatever the situation calls for.
As Kevin Barrios said: “I’d bat him 3rd in the order because while he has homer potential he’s also the kind of playmaker that would be fine with sacrificing for RBIs or hitting midrange-like hits that move runners into scoring position instead of just swinging for the fences constantly.”
Here’s the predicament: a guy with Ingram’s athletic gifts shouldn’t simply be a DH, and with him not having to go through screens on a baseball field, he would automatically be a better defender. The problem is just that there’s not many places for a 6’9 fielder (sorry, I’m not buying he’s only 6’7). First base was the original thought, but there’s other options that fit better. I also thought about making him a pitcher, as his frame and demeanor would be perfect for it. Take a look at his ceremonial first pitch at a Dodgers game during his rookie year. There could be something there.
For now though, we’ll let Ingram focus on hitting, he could eventually become the best in the league.
PS: Baseball “purists” would love him because after every home run or walk off hit, he wouldn’t say a word or flip any bats.
4: Zion Williamson (1B)
Another easy selection. The fourth hole is your power slot, the “cleanup” hitter. Nothing defines that quite like Zion. They have a simple but very essential role on teams, and if they possess massive power, there’s your main attraction. You’ve seen pictures of Zion — home run records wouldn’t be safe. The same way Zion smashes rims, he’d smash baseballs, scoreboards and whatever else he damn well pleases. Don’t forget what his former high school coach once said.
Giant lefties and first base go hand in hand, but there’s more here with Williamson. I have colleagues that wanted to plug Williamson into other positions thanks to his incredible athletic prowess. But since I’m writing this article, first base it is. There’s something about his cat-like quickness and the way he’s able to contort his body around that makes first base my favorite spot. How many line drive hits would he take away with that vertical? First base just screams a gold glove future for the Pelicans phenom.
5: Jrue Holiday (SS)
A team can always use more power after the third and fourth hitters, right? Step up to the plate, Jrue Holiday. Fair or not, many still consider him as the NBA’s most underrated player. Welcome to arguably the most underrated slot in a baseball lineup, the fifth spot in the order. He isn’t the team’s best hitter, he doesn’t have the most power, but he’s just as important as anyone else in the lineup. Not only is Jrue one of the best two-way players in the league, he has a habit of being your favorite player’s favorite player — that should translate to our hypothetical baseball experiment!
“Playing shortstop is 75 to 80 percent anticipation, knowing the hitter and the pitch being thrown.” — Lou Boudreau
That’s Jrue Holiday in a nutshell. One can easily argue there’s no player in the NBA that can match Jrue’s defensive anticipation and the knowledge of the move his opponent is making. Shortstop is for your best-conditioned athlete, and with his range, body control and fantastic lateral quickness, Holiday’s the ideal fit...The Pels are shaping up to have quite the infield.
6: Josh Hart (3B/SS/CF/RF)
Some call the sixth spot a lineup’s second leadoff position. Considering Josh Hart is the Pelicans sixth man, this just had to happen. This part of the lineup is slightly an extension of the fifth slot but bodes well for players who can get on base. Hart’s do-it-all mantra would serve here well, as no matter if the situation calls for a sacrifice fly, bunt, single or RBI, you’d have the right man in the box.
I could have just listed “utility,” but that’s no fun. I’d like to see Hart be given the most run at third base though, due to his ability to react quickly and desire to make the necessary bodily sacrifices. Awareness and anticipation all play a role here too, and Hart is elite in those categories on the Pelicans. He’d rob quite a few hits over his head like he does grabbing rebounds from amongst the trees on the basketball floor.
7: Derrick Favors (C)
The seventh hitter’s lineup existence is rarely offensive related. It’s normally reserved for catchers who lack foot speed and are pretty much one base at a time players. Favors fits that mold because his offensive role for the Pelicans was never expected to be huge, rather his contributions were to come more from the other side. Even still, don’t be surprised if he knocks one out the park every so often.
As our own David Fisher put it, “He’s the backstop of the defense as it is.”
Catchers are the heart of almost everything you do defensively, especially before a pitch is thrown. A good defensive catcher can cancel out even the worst of hitters. While I think Favors would provide some late lineup pop, and wouldn’t be terrible behind the plate, this is his calling.
The Pelicans defense was a complete disaster with Favors out of the lineup, from a lack of communication to rebounding to rim protection. He is the true meaning of an anchor. Favors makes teammates around him better, and he would do the same on the baseball diamond. There’s simply a sense of calm big D-Faves brings — you need that from your catcher when they’re calling a game, framing pitches, and attempting tag-outs at home.
8: E’Twaun Moore (LF/3B/2B)
As we’ve seen in previous years for the Pelicans, Moore could probably step in and control a higher spot on the card when needed. If one needs a day off, Moore could slide in and offer some offense from various positions. But on this New Orleans team, there is just too much fire power sitting in front of him. There’s probably some sneaky power in that bat but the bloop singles — think the basketball equivalence of his floater — would play nicely too.
“On deep team, E’Twaun would make for a hell of a fourth outfielder.” — Oleh Kosel
Moore represents a nice utility player in manager Alvin Gentry’s dugout on good rosters, but for now he should be able to hold his own in the field. There’s a slight worry about throws to the infield — remember, Moore isn’t the best entry passer or lob thrower, but he’s savvy and hard-nosed enough to play in the outfield.
If you surround Uncle E with plenty of solid defenders, he’ll be just fine. His overall IQ isn’t given enough credit. Moore would give this baseball team the same thing he provides on the Pelicans: Flexibility, experience, and a guy who’s always ready to perform when his number is called.
9: Frank Jackson (RF/CF)
In this lineup construction, Jackson could be more important than most guys typically are at the bottom of a lineup. And given the coronavirus pandemic, that notion could ring true (we hope not) for the Pelicans during the upcoming Orlando restart of games.
Frank’s definitely a wildcard, but if Gentry is putting together the lineup, you have to believe Jackson finds his way onto it somehow. Gentry loves the hard-working, fearless types.
And that’s what Jackson is, flaws and all. Whether he strikes out or hits a ball deep, he’ll be back up next time swinging just as fast and hard. This lineup could use that confidence. Don’t expect for him to hit for a high average, but this team should score a lot of runs anyway, they’ll be fine.
We’ve seen Jackson play well in certain matchups defensively this season. Gentry has often raved about his energy and intensity, fighting through screens while trying to stick to smaller guards on the perimeter.
That intensity will be severely relaxed in right field, but Jackson has the athleticism to chase down some fly balls and even rob a few homers. Don’t think we’re talking gold glove here, but Frank could be a better outfielder than you think.
- Nicolo Melli was almost selected as the right fielder, but I’m not sure he could beat Jim Thome in a foot race. Pinch hitter/backup catcher feels about right. There’s definitely some power in that bat.
- Alvin Gentry would easily get thrown out of several games. I feel bad for those umpires; he’ll fit right in with some dumpster-fire complaints.
- Jaxson Hayes should be a pitcher of some kind. I don’t know which one just yet, but as David Grubb put it: “Pitchers are weird dudes. He’s Mitch Williams, just *expletive* throwing the ball, having a good ol’ time.” Jaxson brings a lot of force swatting down rim opportunities, an overhead pitch from his frame might make for some unhittable heat.
- Nickeil Alexander-Walker was unanimously picked as a relief pitcher. Mike Delayo mentioned: “NAW is wild at times, but he’s got nasty stuff that can get a bunch of whiffs on any given night.” He’s not kidding. Something tells me NAW could be filthy in spots if he commits to throwing lefty. Consistency is just what we would need.
- Pierre the Pelican would win any mascot race; the King Cake baby wouldn’t be allowed into any stadium.
- Outside of Brandon Ingram, a good majority of everyone listed has a ceremonial first pitch on their resume. Most weren’t very good, but it still makes for a fun watch.
Hope you all enjoyed this fun exercise!
Geaux Pels and please arrest Breonna Taylor’s killers. #BlackLivesMatter