Let’s get this out of the way: if you are a Pelicans fan, an Anthony Davis injury is literally the last thing you want. No one wants him to miss time, and the offensive stats over the last two losses illustrate that better than any words I could ever type.
But if you’re the type of fan who looks for good in all things, who tries to maintain a positive attitude even when bad things happen, there was a lot to enjoy last night. Particularly, AD’s injury and injuries to other players opened up the rotation for Alvin Gentry, who decided to give his young Pelicans Frank Jackson and Cheick Diallo meaningful minutes. And Jackson and Diallo seized upon that opportunity to impress and make a case for more minutes like this in the future, even after Davis comes back (hopefully tomorrow!)
It took some time for Jackson to get going, but once he did, it was clear that he can compete on an NBA level. He hit half of his shots, including 2 of 2 from three, and went nearly 27 minutes without a turnover. But the real impact he made was on defense.
These two plays on Murray late in the game were very impressive for a rookie, especially against a player who has delighted in torching the Pelicans. And according to Gentry, that’s the type of effort that will win you consistent minutes.
The big thing for Frank Jackson is that he's showing some major progress on the defensive end. Gentry said that's the best way for him to earn more minutes moving forward
— Will Guillory (@WillGuillory) October 30, 2018
Diallo also showed energy on both ends, which is necessary after the glut of big man signings forced him to the end of the rotation. Diallo still showed the overexcitedness that has cost him in the past, biting at pump fakes and picking up silly fouls. However, his effort helped lead a third quarter charge that turned an ugly halftime deficit into a manageable final frame. The patience he showed on this block was encouraging to see:
It’s obvious why Diallo and Jackson didn’t have a chance before this game. The Pelicans rotation is packed with players who have proven they deserve minutes. But the only way to prove you deserve minutes is to get those minutes in the first place. And with injuries to Elfrid Payton, Darius Miller, and Anthony Davis, there was more time for Diallo and Jackson to prove themselves against NBA competition. And their performance last night has given Gentry some decisions to make going forward.
Before last night, Gentry’s main guard rotation involved Payton, Jrue Holiday, Ian Clark, and amazingly Solomon Hill at times. If Jackson is going to crack the rotation once Payton comes back, it will involve Hill getting less minutes and spending all of his minutes at one of the forward positions, and it will likely affect Ian Clark. Clark only played five minutes last night, and his impact was minimal. Gentry isn’t likely to completely cut Clark’s minutes in favor of Jackson right away, but consistent Jackson minutes depend on Clark’s. In addition, last night Tim Frazier got burn and played well with Jackson on the court, so that could have an impact as well.
For Diallo, the road to consistent minutes is much tougher. As anyone who talks about the Pelicans knows, the strength of the team lies in its frontcourt. With Davis, Julius Randle, and Nikola Mirotic all healthy, Gentry wants to keep two of them on the court at all times if available. But if Diallo continues to improve and show that his energy can cause runs for the Pelicans, he may find a way into some games along with Niko or Randle. Lineups without Davis have obviously been negative throughout the season, so why not try and inject some energy into the lineup?
Anthony Davis needs to return soon, especially in the midst of this five game Western Conference beastly road trip. But if the Pelicans are going to go without their superstar, it’s at least good that the young guys are proving they belong in the NBA, and gaining confidence so that they can contribute when their superstar comes back.