New Orleans Pelicans: Why the return of Wenyen Gabriel could matter

Wenyen Gabriel of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images)
Wenyen Gabriel of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images) /

Wenyen Gabriel will return to action soon, which could help the New Orleans Pelicans.

You don’t have to be a basketball expert to know that the bench has been a big problem for the New Orleans Pelicans this season.

They’ve gotten zilch from anyone not named Josh Hart and the bench has consistently blown leads or allowed the other team to go on big runs.

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Stan Van Gundy must be wondering what he can do, as sharpshooter J.J. Redick can’t hit a shot, Nicolo Melli hasn’t hit one since some time in 2019, Jaxson Hayes is still learning (though improving) and Nickeil Alexander-Walker has been erratic, swishing one 3-pointer then air balling the next.

What has been particularly concerning is the lack of backup bigs. Against the Pacers, Hayes was the only big man to come off the bench, while Steven Adams and Zion Williamson played a combined 66 minutes.

Luckily, there may be some relief on the horizon:

Wenyen Gabriel is no All-Star, but he can add some depth to the bench. Here are the specific ways he can help.

New Orleans Pelicans: Wenyen Gabriel could be an important bench addition

If you are not sure who Wenyen Gabriel is, you are not alone.

The 22-year-old has played only 30 games between stints with Sacramento and Portland last season. His numbers are nothing to look at and he was probably thought of as deep bench material coming into the season.

But now the New Orleans Pelicans might need him.

Gabriel is a lanky, athletic power forward who should be able to defend multiple spots and block some shots. At the very least he can provide some minutes just to get Zion and Adams some rest.

There are also specific lineups in which he could be a factor. Against the Pacers in the second quarter, the Pels ran a lineup with four guards and Zion.

It was predictably a disaster on defense, though did flash some nice ball movement and potential on offense.

Lineups with Zion Williamson at the five could be weapons for Stan Van Gundy, but not if they require Josh Hart and Nickeil Alexander-Walker to defend power forwards and centers.

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Gabriel could potentially be a defender in that group, playing power forward with Zion and three guards. These lineups would be fast, have plenty of shooting, could create mismatches on offense and hopefully not offer as many on the other end.

Wenyen Gabriel is not going to save this team, but right now anything is an upgrade. If he can block some shots, defend and run the floor, he can add an element to the Pels’ small-ball lineups that is currently missing.