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Pelicans have talent to tread water without Zion Williamson for next 3 weeks

Trey Murphy and Naji Marshall have been spectacular in the absences of Z and B.I.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at New Orleans Pelicans Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports

Willie Green, the Western Conference Coach of the Month for December, is going to have his work cut out for him in January.

10 of the 16 games this month will take place on the road, where the New Orleans Pelicans have compiled a 7-10 record overall away from the Smoothie King Center, and it’s anyone’s guess when the head coach will have the services of his two best players.

Brandon Ingram has missed 18 straight games with a left great toe contusion and remains without a definitive timetable; however, another major hurdle appeared yesterday. Zion Williamson will miss, at a minimum, the next three weeks after sustaining a right hamstring strain in Monday’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Although they’ve posted a 4-1 record in games without both Williamson and Ingram, the Pelicans received consistent production from their depth. It’s going to be crucial to maintain those trends moving forward.

CJ McCollum and Jonas Valanciunas are a given to shoulder the load — and thankfully CJ has shaken free of his early season slump, but don’t overlook Trey Murphy and Naji Marshall, both of whom have put up big numbers in the absences of the team’s two biggest stars.

PTS REB AST TOV FG% 3PTM 3PT%
CJ McCollum 21.4 4.6 9.2 3.6 36.7% 2.8 35.6%
Trey Murphy 18.3 4.8 1.0 1.3 65.8% 3.3 59.1%
Jonas Valanciunas 16.8 9.2 2.0 1.8 55.4% 0 0%
Naji Marshall 16.4 5.6 3.0 2.4 53.8% 1.8 37.5%
Herb Jones 13.5 4.5 2.5 2.5 40.0% 1.0 28.6%
Jose Alvarado 11.0 2.8 2.4 1.8 38.5% 2.0 34.5%
Devonte' Graham 10.2 2.0 3.0 0.4 42.4% 2.4 44.4%
Jaxson Hayes 8.4 4.2 1.6 0.8 76.2% 0 0%
Larry Nance Jr. 5.7 2.0 1.0 1.0 53.3% 1.0 50.0%
Willy Hernangomez 6.8 6.0 2.3 2.3 38.9% 0 0%
Dyson Daniels 4.3 3.7 1.7 1.0 41.7% 0.3 33.3%

Murphy is an elite shooter. That’s not news. But in what’s tracking as a very fine sophomore campaign, he has become an integral part of the rotation because he’s simply a more complete player.

Armed with a stronger body and a much better handle, the improvements in his game are evident. So his minutes doubling from his rookie season are more than justified, as are 23 starts in 33 games when Ingram or Williamson have been out of the lineup.

Murphy is averaging 12.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.1 steals on the season, but when Ingram and Williamson have both sat, he’s adjusted well to an increased scoring role, averaging 18.3 points. His typical shooting splits (48.6 FG% / 42.6 3PT%) are also noticeably higher as evidenced above.

The same is true for Marshall. A quick glance at his stats and it’s clear he’s taken a step forward in year 3, but he’s been borderline special without the Ingram-Williamson duo: 16.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.8 threes.

Jaxson Hayes must also be mentioned now. Since becoming a mainstay in the rotation on Dec. 22, his numbers have impressed in 21.1 minutes: 10.1 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks, and his stats really jumped off the page in recent wins over the Thunder and Pacers.

And as we’ve witnessed, Devonte’ Graham, Willy Hernangomez and Dyson Daniels are all apt to contribute positives any given night.

The Pelicans have shown the ability to tread water as they wait for their stars to return, but it’ll be key for players like Murphy, Marshall and Hayes to continue producing at higher clips — especially if Jose Alvarado and Herb Jones take more time working through some recent struggles.

New Orleans’ depth has been a strength all season, but its biggest test yet looks to be staring them down in the face.

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.