Anthony Davis (left) and Terrence Jones on Media Day

Alvin Gentry says Pelicans starting lineups could vary based on matchups

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

A popular guessing game among NBA fans and media entering the season involves trying to figure out who’ll start and play heavy minutes for the 30 teams. While debating the New Orleans Pelicans, that riddle may be as difficult to solve as it is anywhere in the league. Case in point, when Alvin Gentry was asked after Wednesday’s morning practice about potential starting groups, he noted that it could be an evolving approach.

“We’re going to start whoever at that particular time is going to be best for us,” Gentry said, when asked if Anthony Davis could move to center in smaller lineups. “Sometimes it will be Omer (Asik), sometimes it may be AD at the 5, and sometimes it might be Alexis (Ajinca). We’re not married to anything. I think for us, we are still in a situation where we have to figure this team out, (including) rotations and the guys we have out there. It’s going to be a situation where on certain nights we’ll play certain guys; on other nights we’ll play other guys.”

NBA teams have been downsizing often in recent years, following a trend that has partly been popularized by Golden State’s success. Although made just two starts at center last season, Davis did play 54 percent of his on-court minutes in 2015-16 at the “5” spot, according to play-by-play data on Basketball-Reference.com. That was the first season in his four-year NBA career that he’s logged more time in the pivot than at power forward (for example, as a rookie, he played 95 percent of his minutes at PF, with just 3 percent at C).

Davis could continue to play a significant amount of minutes at center, but the Pelicans’ addition of Terrence Jones might mean that Jones handles some of those responsibilities in small lineups. Gentry said Jones’ imposing stature (6 feet 9, 252 pounds) allows him to handle the physicality of the position. Jones has spent 20 percent of his career minutes at center, even though Houston had Dwight Howard on its roster for the past three seasons.

“He’s a big, strong kid, athletic,” Gentry said of Jones. “So I think he can play center in certain situations. That’s why we liked him and picked him up.”

The addition of Solomon Hill also could add flexibility for New Orleans, because the muscular Hill (6-7, 225) has shown he can hold his own defensively and physically against power forwards.

“He can be a small-ball 4,” Gentry said of the former Indiana Pacer. “He’s capable of guarding multiple positions, also. We feel like he’s got toughness and he’ll do a lot of things for us.”

The Pelicans figure to use preseason partly to see which five-man units are the most effective and in what combination they’ll best be implemented. Saturday’s exhibition opener vs. Dallas will be an initial chance to measure on-court chemistry and how much New Orleans may be able to lean on non-traditional lineups that capitalize on an increase in roster versatility.

“I don’t think we’re going to be locked in to any particular lineup,” Gentry said. “A lot of stuff we do is going to be predicated on who we’re playing and matchups… We have guys who can play multiple positions. As coaches, we’ll try to figure out how best to use them.”

Other notes from Wednesday’s practice:

Gentry on his two centers, Ajinca and Asik: “Alexis is probably in the best shape he’s been in, definitely in the year I’ve been here. Omer is the same thing. I think they’re healthy and they’re playing well.” …

A big focus of training camp has been on defensive improvement. Gentry reiterated that better defense begins with stopping the ball and penetration on the perimeter. “It’s very difficult to win games if they’re penetrating your defense on every other possession,” Gentry said. “It’s no different than football: If you’ve got a great defensive line, then your linebackers don’t have to be great players and your safeties don’t have to be great players in order to contain the run. In order for us to be good at what we’re trying to do, we’ve got to be able to contain the ball.”

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