If the New Orleans Pelicans want to be successful under Stan Van Gundy next season, then they’ll need a floor-stretching big
The anticipation is over, Stan Van Gundy will be the man on the sidelines for the next era of New Orleans Pelicans basketball, and now that the dust has settled, it’s time to explore how the Pelicans will operate under their head coach.
That’s why over the past two days, we’ve done a deep dive into Stan Van Gundy who made previous coaching stops with the Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, and Detriot Pistons before joining the New Orleans Pelicans.
In those previous stops, we found that Van Gundy was one of the NBA’s most innovative coaches, becoming one of the first coaches to emphasize shooting 3 point shots with the 4-out 1-in system he perfected in Orlando and brought to Detriot.
That system as named means that four of the five players on the court in Van Gundy’s offense are positioned to shoot from beyond the arc while one big man is positioned to work inside. That system as used by Van Gundy became one of the first to utilize the now common “stretch-four”, a power forward who can shoot it from deep on the corners.
Is it just me, or does this system suddenly indicate that the New Orleans Pelicans have a personnel problem they need to solve before they can excel under Stan Van Gundy?
Why the New Orleans Pelicans need to add a stretch big to their roster, and where can they find one?
Before Van Gundy was hired, adding a stretch big seemed to be just an interesting option to attack opposing defense, now it’s a necessity. We’ve seen in the past, Van Gundy’s system only works best when that stretch four is on the roster.
Look at Orlando, those Magic teams under Van Gundy excelled not just because of Dwight Howard’s greatness and Jameer Nelson’s steady playmaking but also because they had Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu standing at 6’10” and hitting shots in the corner.
The stretch big in Van Gundy’s offense is key because it stretches the defense and forces them to make a decision. Does the defense help stop easy scores in the paint, or does it allow shooters to hit open shots from deep? That’s the brilliance of the 4-in 1-out, the stretch four puts the defense in a bind.
Just like how it worked in Orlando, we saw Van Gundy’s system fail in Detriot. Rather than having legit floor-stretching power forwards, Van Gundy started his coaching in Detriot with the mediocre Jonas Jerebko in that role and he wasn’t a threat to shoot for the defense. Van Gundy’s system only recovered in Detriot when he added veteran Ersan Ilyasova to the team who could shoot.
Who becomes that stretch big on the Pelicans? Some say that Zion Williamson might be able to play in that role, but why would the team ever put Zion standing beyond the arc when he’s proved that he’s already when of the NBA’s premier physical forces?
The roster is barren outside of Williamson from anyone who could really excel at that role. So where do the Pelicans get that guy?
Option one would be the draft, the team holds the 13th pick in the first round, and the draft’s best shooting big man, Jalen Smith is projected to be on the board at that pick. I’ve written before that Smith would be the perfect big man to excel under Van Gundy, but selecting him all depends on if the Pelicans believe a big man is the biggest need for the team.
Then there’s free agency, mid-level targets like Meyers Leonard, Aron Baynes, and Davis Bertans are all players who could fill the role. The question with them is are they good enough to play in a starting line-up? That then leads to a follow-up question, can the team play Williamson at center?
There are a lot of questions for David Griffin and Trajan Langdon to ask themselves before draft and free agency begin, but no matter what it’s certain, if they want to put their new head coach in the best position to succeed then they need to find a floor stretching big man.