How should Pelicans fill the void left by Kira Lewis Jr.’s injury?

Kira Lewis Jr. #13 of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Kira Lewis Jr. #13 of the New Orleans Pelicans (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) /

A season marred with injuries has gotten even worse. New Orleans Pelicans’ guard Kira Lewis Jr. went down early with a knee injury which looked dire.

The outcome was just as disappointing. The point guard will miss the rest of his sophomore season with a torn ACL and sprained MCL. Lewis Jr. was slowly establishing himself as a small but important part of the rotation after a disappointing start to the season.

Now, New Orleans and Willie Green must adapt.

New Orleans Pelicans: Filling Kira Lewis Jr.’s void

Although not having a significant impact minutes-wise, Lewis Jr. provided a look and feel to the rotation that no other Pelicans player had.

An elusive guard with deadly speed up-and-down the court, Lewis Jr. provided penetration from the pick and roll and, and was scoring at a high rate at the rim albeit on a low number of attempts.

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New Orleans loses ten to twelve minutes per game from a rotation that was already thin on talent and they also lose the pressure Lewis Jr. put on second-string defenses. Lewis Jr. ranks second in field goal percentage (69%) in the restricted area behind centre Willie Hernangomez and was getting better at picking his spots as he learns the point guard position on the fly.

Tomas Satoransky and Devonte Graham are not confident finishers nor comfortable penetrating to score. Satoransky uses the pick and roll to set up the roll man or corner shooters. In contrast, Graham primarily uses screens for off-the-dribble three-pointers.

Josh Hart and Jose Alvarado seemingly are capable of playing this positional archetype in limited minutes. However, the latter brings many shortcomings that would hamper the unit in other areas.

The Pelicans could try to clear a roster spot and add another player but that seems unlikely.

This could be an excellent time for Green and David Griffin to bring in a fringe NBA player. One that comes to mind is Dante Exum.

Exum is an NBA-caliber guard who attacks the paint similarly to Lewis Jr. His size provides greater defensive versatility, which the Pelicans lack. Alternatively, calling up Birmingham guard Jared Harper may also serve as a worthwhile exercise. The 5’10 Auburn product is averaging a lofty 21 points and six assists-per-game.

Filling the void left by Lewis Jr., though only a small one, will prove to be a challenge. The best option may just be the alter the rotations.

New Orleans Pelicans rotation changes

The majority of successful lineups featuring Lewis Jr. included Brandon Ingram and Herb Jones. It is no coincidence that two of the best four Pelicans this season were included. Still, New Orleans should look to maintain these units with small changes.

Reintroducing Trey Murphy III into the rotation is an avenue worth exploring. Lewis Jr.’s most effective five-person lineup included Jonas Valancuinas, Brandon Ingram, Herb Jones and Josh Hart. Including Murphy III will open up driving lanes and will allow Ingram and Hart a greater opportunity to initiate offense.

Defensively, the inclusion of a wing instead of a guard gives greater flexibility to switch and adapt to any rotation changes made by the opposing team. Murphy III is not by any stretch an above-average defender, but then again, nor was Lewis Jr. or most rookies.

Murphy III will also gain valuable experience for his development. In a season where New Orleans is doing their utmost to stay in striking distance before Zion Williamson returns, reps now are a premium. They may help New Orleans down the stretch if they do make a push for the play-in game.

Overall, New Orleans may not have a starter or first player off the bench in Lewis Jr., but the different tempo and style of play he brought will be missed.

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