Looking at the Pelicans’ rotational problems post-McCollum trade

Published: Feb. 18, 2022 at 12:57 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Through 5 games, C.J. McCollum is having one of his best stretches of the season with his new team in New Orleans but the guard and the rest of the Pelicans are not quite flying in synch yet.

Since the trade to acquire McCollum, the Pelicans are 1-5. The team was supposed to get better after the arrival of a true lead guard but acclimating new high-level players and adjusting rotations can take time. Though time is something the Pelicans are nearly out of, as they sit at 11th place in the West.

In the losses of the five-game stretch before All-Star Weekend, McCollum scored 30+ points and is making more than half of his shots from the field.

Despite McCollum’s best efforts, the Pelicans are falling short at the end of games. The answer as to why likely falls on rotational lineups, which are dramatically different with new cogs in place.

With Josh Hart and Nickeil Alexander-Walker outgoing in the trade with Portland, Willie Green has the task of replacing a starting guard and a player that was often the first man off the bench. This also has to be done in a short amount of time with incoming players McCollum and Tony Snell not familiar with a typical Pelican gameplan.

On the Pull-Up, a podcast hosted by McCollum, he said that prior to Thursday’s loss at home to Dallas, he had only been through one real practice and two shootarounds with the Pelicans. He noted much of the terminology his new team uses was different than the Blazers’, who he had been with for 9-and-a-half seasons.

As McCollum arrived, Devonte Graham, who had been struggling from the field the last several weeks, continued to start in the backcourt, which also caused Jaxson Hayes to slide down to the bench unit after having a breakout role playing power forward as a starter alongside Jonas Valanciunas.

Despite a 125-118 loss on Thursday, Green showed a willingness to make lineup adjustments. In following a trend that’s hot in the NBA right now, the Pelicans embraced “tall ball” by throwing out a starting lineup of McCollum, Brandon Ingram, Herb Jones, Hayes and Valanciunas and shifting Graham to the second unit.

Although Graham experienced a bit of a revival as a scoring leader off of the bench on Thursday, 11 points and 4 rebounds, the team lost their legs at times as Green deployed mostly an 8-man rotation.

It appears that as Graham moved to the bench, Green did not feel comfortable playing backup point guard Jose Alvarado for defensive purposes. Both Graham and Alvardo measure in at about 6-feet tall. Despite the lack of height, not playing Alvarado on Thursday turns away from the productivity he’s put up this month. In an average of 17 minutes per game, Alvarado is averaging 8 ppg and shooting 49 percent from the field. He’s also 100 percent on free throughs and playing defense with the effort of a player 6-inches taller than his size.

Alvarado has a traditional point guard set which should pair well with the offensive-minded Graham as long as they are paired with athletic wings that can defend and crash the boards.

Players that received DNP’s from Green on Thursday were: Alvarado, Naji Marshall, Willy Hernangomez, and Trey Murphy III. All players that have had significant contributions in the second unit before. Green may have found a permanent starting lineup moving forward but games will be won when down roster rotations are decided.

Since Nov., minutes for veteran Garrett Temple have averaged 20 or more until this month where he’s averaging 13.2. This is pretty hard to sustain for a veteran glue guy who is now 35-year-old. Since Dec., there’s been a noticeable decline in Temple’s play.

Temple’s averages in Dec.:

  • 21.3 mpg
  • 7 ppg
  • 44.3% FG
  • 39.5% 3PT

Temple’s averages in Jan.:

  • 21.3 mpg
  • 5.1 ppg
  • 33.3% FG
  • 20.8% 3PT

Temple’s averages in Feb.:

  • 13.2 mpg
  • 2.7 ppg
  • 27.8% FG
  • 28.6% 3PT

Green was asked in postgame on Thursday about why Temple continued to see consistent playing time despite struggles as of late.

“I don’t know,” Green replied. “I don’t know the answer to that one. That’s something that we’ll continue to look at and talk about. It’s ‘who are the top 3 to 4 guys in the second unit?’ And we haven’t figured that out yet but we will.”

The answer was vague but there could be implications there that Green is willing to make changes.

Temple is still valuable as a veteran voice from the bench and mentor for a young roster. But it may be time for him to play fewer minutes and to give opportunities to players like Alvardo, Marshall, and Murphy.

For a team that struggles from beyond the arc, Murphy could possibly elevate the Pelicans. Murphy started the season with shooting percentages of 38 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range in October. Though his minutes got cut in half in Nov., he continued to post similar averages.

Murphy had a poor December and that’s when his time starts to decline:

  • 11.2 mpg
  • 2.4 ppg
  • 25% FG
  • 22.2% 3PT

It may be time to revisit what Murphy can bring to the table and trust that he’s improved since one bad month in his rookie campaign.

The Pelicans return to action on Friday, Feb. 25 on the road in Phoenix.

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