The New Orleans Pelicans have a guard problem with no easy answer

New Orleans Pelicans forward-center Larry Nance Jr. (24), guard Jose Alvarado (15), guard Devonte' Graham (4), forward Gary Clark (12) and center-forward Willy Hernangomez Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
New Orleans Pelicans forward-center Larry Nance Jr. (24), guard Jose Alvarado (15), guard Devonte' Graham (4), forward Gary Clark (12) and center-forward Willy Hernangomez Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports /

The New Orleans Pelicans were all over the place at the guard position this season.

They started the season with Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Josh Hart as big part of the plans, but ended up shipping them (along with Tomas Satoransky and Didi Louzada) to Portland in the CJ McCollum trade.

Kira Lewis Jr. suffered a season-ending injury, which opened the door for un-drafted free agent Jose Alvarado, who grabbed his opportunity with both hands.

Alvarado earned himself a full-time contract, and it was he and McCollum who played the primary guard roles in the playoffs.

Devonte’ Graham, who was supposed to replace Lonzo Ball’s 3-point shooting, had an up-and-down season and found himself pretty much out of the rotation by the end of it.

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It’s hard to imagine the Pelicans going into next season with three undersized guards, as CJ McCollum is not the greatest defender, which makes it hard to play him with another guard unless that guy can defend his spot. See Alvarado, Jose for recent examples.

When you add the fact that the Pelicans will have a top-10 draft pick in the 2022 NBA Draft and could very well add another guard, there aren’t likely to be enough minutes for all of them.

So how are the New Orleans Pelicans going to shake things up?

New Orleans Pelicans: A problem at guard

Jose Alvarado

Of their three small guards, Jose is the only one guaranteed to have a spot in the rotation next season. Alvarado’s defense was a revelation in the playoffs, as both the fans and his teammates rallied around his energy and hustle. Jose was a big part of the team chemistry this season and one of the few players to ever get in Chris Paul’s head. Jose is in New Orleans to stay, as fans would riot if the Pels traded him.

Kira Lewis Jr.

With all of the talk focused on Zion Williamson, Kira Lewis Jr. was the forgotten man, but he also lost a season to injury. It’s too bad, as Kira was playing well before he got hurt, getting more aggressive offensively and more comfortable running the offense. He and Jose Alvarado have some redundant skills, but could also make an interesting duo off the bench, as they could hound the ball defensively, get steals and push in transition, which the Pelicans love to do.

In addition, trading Kira Lewis Jr. now would be selling low, as he hasn’t really had a chance to prove himself and has flashed some high-ceiling talent at times. I am sure the Pelicans would include him in a trade if they were trying to land a big name, otherwise I think they’d at least like to see what he looks like in year three with the team at full strength.

Devonte’ Graham

Graham wasn’t a big part of the playoff rotation, as he proved difficult to play with CJ McCollum as a smaller guard who can’t defend. We never really got to see Graham in the role he was brought to New Orleans to play, as he was meant to be the catch-and-shoot 3-point option who would get a ton of open looks with Zion and Brandon Ingram on the floor. We never got to see it and it would be hard to say that Graham’s season was not disappointing even though he had some great moments, as he tallied his lowest scoring average since his rookie season and shot just 34 percent from 3-point range.

It’s hard to imagine a role for Graham next season, especially if the Pelicans end up drafting another two-guard like Bennedict Mathurin. But it’s also hard to imagine finding a trade partner for Graham, who is owed $11.5 and $12.1 million over the next two seasons and has a partially guaranteed third season as well.

The New Orleans Pelicans would almost certainly have to attach an asset to trade Graham, much as they did when jettisoning Eric Bledsoe. It’s not a great habit to get into, so if the Pelicans are going to use their pick to get off Graham, they need to do it as part of a trade that brings back a quality player.

All three of these players have skills the New Orleans Pelicans need, but there aren’t going to be minutes for all of them, which might force the Pelicans to make some moves.

Next. A trade to bring Jerami Grant to NOLA. dark