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Changing of the Guard (and Hopefully the Forward)

Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Already this week, a lot has been made of the turnover woes of the Pelicans and by extension the play of the current starting point guard, who was supposed to be the former point guard turned current shooting guard in Jrue Holiday…whew (I promise Jason does a better of explaining the Jrue situation here). Anyway, Monday there was some surprise news on the Rajon Rondo front:

While it was only going to be a bit of Rondo, it was one step closer to seeing the team as it was envisioned. However, this is not an article about Rondo and his upcoming, limited to 14 minutes, start tonight. This is more about the pieces around the impassioned point guard. Namely, this is about the Dante Cunningham issue.

The New Orleans Pelicans will have spacing issues

Stop me if you have heard that one before. Every Pellies fans’ favorite offseason criticism is back and this time it makes more sense. While the Boogie and AD questions were put down, the weakest player when watching the Pelicans starters is Dante Cunningham. I want to start off by saying much like Jrue, he is currently being asked to start and that is not where he is best. I think Cunningham is an okay role player, and that like all role players, DC has his weaknesses. Namely, spacing and scoring. Even with these weaknesses, I think the bigger problem with DC is his fit.

Last season, when he was converting on around 40% (1 shot per game) it was less of an issue. However, this season he has not been able to be a reliable threat, shooting less than thirty percent. For whatever reason, the shot is not falling for him early on. No time more glaring than Monday night, when he missed four out of five wide open 3pt attempts in the third quarter. This brings us to the biggest issue with Dante. While spacing data can be a bit flukey, all but one of his attempts have fit in the “Open-Wide Open” (4-6ft+) range of NBA stats parameters. Teams seem to be sagging off of him specifically and clogging lanes, slowing down the Pelicans’s Big Birds™.

The Rondo Complication

This all brings us to the fit question. How many non-threats can you have on the perimeter before it becomes an issue? Monday night we saw a bad team sag off of Cunningham and clog the lane with double and triple teams. This led to more of an ordinary night for both AD and Boogie, nearly costing the Pels the game. Does the problem get worse when Rondo, who’s modus operandi has always been to be more of a drive and kick threat, start with Cunningham and Jrue? Can they afford to lose Moore’s shooting? If Gentry still doesn’t want a 3 guard lineup, is it time to bring in Darius Miller?

The Solution?

Personally, I would like to see more Darius Miller with the starting group at some point, even though I’m not entirely sold on Miller’s improvement just yet. That improvement by the way, is that he has shot nearly 60% on 30 three point attempts in November. I think it’s best to give him the cushion provided by the bigs inside to hopefully continue his upward trajectory. I also feel like E’twaun Moore can be trusted a bit more if he’s asked to provide the scoring punch off the bench. No matter the direction that Gentry decides to go in, its time to put Dante Cunningham into a role more fitting to his strengths and style. He’s a better option at this point as a backup big rather than starting on the wing.

As Rondo gets more minutes, hopefully we see a shakeup of roles for improvement as the schedule gets harder. Bottom line, a returning Rondo and slotting DC down helps with some of the team’s other issues, like spacing and the mileage being put on Jrue, Boogie, and AD who are all still top 5 in minutes per game.

Who do you think should start? Cunningham? Moore? Miller? A catapult set up in the corner to only shoot threes? Let me know. 

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From New Orleans by way of Escondido, Luis Enrique Corzo is one of the original moderators of the Pelicans SubReddit and contributed work to the now defunct Stoop Sports.

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