New Orleans Pelicans loaded with backcourt depth
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
After adding All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday and potent wing scorer Tyreke Evans this summer, the New Orleans Pelicans placed Monty Williams in the challenging position of sorting out minutes for a wide array of capable backcourt players. NBA teams who are overstocked at a position use preseason as a way to determine roles and playing time, but if anything, the Pelicans’ 4-0 start has only made the decision-making process more difficult.
Pelicans returnees Brian Roberts and Austin Rivers have each shown clear improvement from their rookie NBA seasons, while free-agent pickup Anthony Morrow has been outstanding from the three-point arc, his specialty. Factor in that Eric Gordon is expected to return to the court soon, and Williams has at least six viable options to fill two guard spots. Evans and Morrow have also played some small forward in the NBA – providing one periodic solution to the logjam – but it will be virtually impossible to include all six players in a rotation.
“It’s a good problem for a GM (to have),” Williams said of the work Dell Demps has done to make the Pelicans significantly more talented than in 2012-13. “For a coach, it’s tough because guys work their tails off, and they want to play. Unfortunately somebody’s going to be the odd man out. It’s not a conversation I’m looking forward to having (with a Pelicans guard left out of the rotation).”
As the Pelicans have learned first-hand in recent years, injuries are virtually inevitable in the NBA. Last season, when Gordon missed the first two months of the regular season, the 20-year-old Rivers was pressed into starting duty. Veteran shooting guard Roger Mason also started 13 times, a role the 32-year-old was not suited for this deep into his career. New Orleans opened the regular season with a 6-23 record prior to Gordon’s debut on Dec. 29.
The current Pelicans roster is substantially deeper, appearing to be far more capable of compensating if the injury bug hits in 2013-14. Roberts (12.3 ppg in preseason) was the fourth-quarter MVP of road wins against Dallas and Orlando, while Rivers (11.8 ppg, 4.0 apg) has demonstrated better command of the offense and a knack for getting to the rim. Morrow is shooting 58 percent from three-point range (7-for-12) and scored a team-best 26 points in the Oct. 5 opener at Houston. Holiday (12.0, 6-for-9 on treys) also has shown why he is an All-Star caliber player, though he’s struggled early with turnovers (19 in 4 games).
“We’ve got a lot of talent at that guard position,” said Morrow, a starter in the first three games. “I think (Williams) is just playing with a lot of lineups, and that’s a really good problem to have. I think it’s going to make us that much more dangerous on that end of the floor.”
Morrow said New Orleans’ guard depth reminds him of the Golden State teams he played for early in his career, Warriors clubs that included the likes of high scorers Monta Ellis, Stephen Jackson and Stephen Curry. The competition Morrow faced on a daily basis in the Bay Area helped him quickly adjust to the NBA – Morrow scored 37 points in his first pro start. The sixth-year veteran sees a similar situation in the Crescent City.
“It’s only going to make us better,” Morrow said of going head-to-head with the NOLA other guards in practices. “We’re going to continue to push each other. It’s good matching up with those guys, especially from my standpoint. I know we can make each other better at the guard position.”