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Pondering Willie Green’s rotations and the return of Larry Nance Jr.

The New Orleans Pelicans lineups have largely been effective, but another tweak or two could prove beneficial

New Orleans Pelicans v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

Since the All-Star break, Willie Green has settled on a 9-man rotation but opted to go 10 deep against the Jazz and Nuggets due to their dominance in the middle.

It’s difficult to second guess any of the head coach’s choices for too long because the results have been fabulous. Had the ball bounced differently once or twice last night in Denver, New Orleans would be riding a 5-game winning streak.

While Zion Williamson is back in New Orleans to continue his rehabilitation, he remains without a defined recovery timeline. However, there’s an expectation that Larry Nance Jr. should return before the regular season ends. The 7-year veteran had arthroscopic knee surgery on February 11 and was stamped with a 6-week timetable.

“He’s progressing,” Willie Green said after Thursday’s practice. “I think he can shoot spot shots now. He’s getting better and better, but there’s not necessarily a time line on when he’s coming back and when he’ll get on the floor. But when and if we get to that point, we’ll give you guys an update and hopefully we can get him back.”

List your preferred top 9 players that should be in the Pelicans rotation once Larry Nance Jr. returns. (Let’s presume for this exercise that Zion Williamson does not return this season.)

David Fisher:

I want the Pelicans to win, first and foremost. I think when Nance comes back Willie Green will plug him into the current 9-man rotation we’re seeing (CJ, BI, Herb, Jaxson, Jonas; Alvarado, Graham, Snell, Naji). And that’s the right move because this lineup is working.

If it was solely up to me, I would have moved Trey Murphy III into the starting lineup directly out of the All-Star break. No matter, Willie Green’s rotations have been blowing opponents out of the water.

Going forward, and especially when Nance comes back, the Pelicans should send Murphy to Birmingham for a long stint to get consistent run. More importantly, since the buyout market has ended, I’d like for the Pelicans to sign Jose Alvarado to a real NBA contract ASAP. He’s earned it. The Pelicans have the entire MLE still available to give him multiple years beginning this season.

David Grubb:

Starters CJ McCollum Brandon Ingram Herb Jones Jaxson Hayes Jonas Valanciunas
Reserves Jose Alvarado Devonte' Graham Tony Snell/Naji Marshall Larry Nance Jr.

With the starters, I view Jaxson’s role as someone who rarely tops 20 minutes. His effectiveness still comes in doses rather than in extended stretches.

The Pelicans bench should primarily augment the defense and supply complementary offense.

Snell and Marshall give the Pelicans flexibility at the 2/3/4 defensively. Marshall is bigger and better in transition, while Snell is more proven and the much more consistent outside threat.

Nance can defend all three front court positions and create turnovers. Offensively, he is able to hit the corner 3 as well as finish around and above the basket.

Alvarado is already the best individual defender in the backcourt and provides fantastic on ball pressure. He probes as a ball-handler and creates in the pick and roll. His shooting is a bonus.

At this point, so is the shooting you get from Graham. He’s become a heat-check player for the Pelicans. If he’s rolling play him, if he isn’t then sit him.

There are 90-100 points coming from the starters on any given night. That means 15-20 from the bench. That’s not a lot to ask from this group.

Oleh Kosel:

Starters CJ McCollum Brandon Ingram Herb Jones Jaxson Hayes/Larry Nance Jr. Jonas Valanciunas
Reserves Jose Alvarado Devonte' Graham Tony Snell Naji Marshall Jaxson Hayes/Larry Nance Jr.

I hope Willie Green strongly considers going to a regular 10-man rotation when Nance returns for the simple reason that there isn’t an obvious player to demote right now.

Removing Marshall, for instance, would put a lot of pressure on someone to then make up for the missing individual on-the-ball defense when Herb sits. The Pelicans are at their best when they can force the action defensively, coming up with a deflection or even a steal. I don’t believe Snell could adequately fill Marshall’s role and Alvarado’s size limits his versatility.

One dramatic change that bears discussion: Nance eventually replacing Hayes in the starting lineup. Jaxson’s play, while scintillating at times, isn’t consistent. Nance, on the other hand, has proven to be fundamentally sound for years. His insertion into the starting 5 would allow for the Pelicans to continue playing bigger, but his edges in experience and skill set should prove a better complement.

My largest squabble with the current existing rotations, though, revolve around individual playing time. It feels Jose Alvarado and Tony Snell should be garnering more minutes in some games, and Devonte’ Graham, less.

It’s understandable for Green to keep giving Graham plenty of minutes. Establishing him as the primary bench scorer has benefits, but I ponder the necessity or fit. Graham’s game has clear limitations. He’s strictly a perimeter threat. He’ll never be a multi-dimensional scorer like Jordan Clarkson or Tyler Herro. Moreover, Alvarado and Snell both have quantifiable strengths and have been net positives in the vast majority of their appearances.

Travis Tate:

Starters CJ McCollum Brandon Ingram Herb Jones Jaxson Hayes Jonas Valanciunas
Reserves Jose Alvarado Devonte' Graham Tony Snell Larry Nance Jr.

I *really* want to squeeze Naji into the top 9 to give this team another ball-handler and someone to push the tempo, but just felt his lack of an outside shot is too burdensome to consider, especially with Snell available.

Call me a traditionalist, Snell’s past with Milwaukee is a factor. I saw him make a ton of 3s back then and his career as a shooter is above league average. He’s already at 47.2 3FG% on 4.5 attempts through eight games in New Orleans.

Would also love to get more time for Trey Murphy III, but the rookie needs to move down a chair during this CJ-trade-aided run. He’ll have time over the summer and next year to take minutes, rather than just play the ones he’s gifted as a first-round pick — that time he’s spent and should spend with the Squadron could be super helpful down the road.

I’d also of course go to Hernangomez depending on foul trouble or a particular matchup.