The New Orleans Pelicans have one of the deepest rosters in the NBA, which they showed last night in a preseason win over the Chicago Bulls.
Having a lot of players competing for minutes is a “good problem to have” according to head coach Willie Green, as everyone stays sharp and knows they have to compete at a high level at all times.
This has led to some tough decisions at the back end of the rotation, where there are a number of guys fighting for minutes off the bench.
Naji Marshall, Jaxson Hayes, Devonte’ Graham, Willy Hernangomez and Dyson Daniels all came into the offseason knowing that their role and minutes were not a given.
They made Willie Green’s job even more difficult after last night, as all of them played well off the bench for the New Orleans Pelicans and made their case to be in the rotation.
New Orleans Pelicans: The battle for minutes
Naji started the game for the New Orleans Pelicans last night and played well in the first quarter, knocking down a 3-pointer early and picking up a couple of assists. He showed that he can initiate the offense and made a couple of nice passes off dribble penetration.
But he also had a tough time sticking with DeMar DeRozan defensively, picking up some early fouls. He also turned the ball over a couple of times, though the play was sloppy all around, especially later in the game. Marshall only hit 2-of-6 shots overall, which is something he is going to need to do to get consistent rotation minutes.
Daniels did not have a good night shooting against the Knicks, but he did a lot of other things well, especially defensively, as he ended with three steals and two blocks to go with five rebounds and 15 points.
He did get to the rim and to the line, showing how he can break down a defense and use his size to finish around the rim and draw fouls. He and Devonte’ Graham will be battling for minutes at the backup guard spot, but they also got some minutes together last night. The rookie didn’t make coach Green’s job any easier with his play, as he looks like a defender who has the chops to play right now.
Graham was aggressive on offense last night and got to the line eight times to go along with eight 3-point attempts. It would benefit him to be more than just a 3-point shooter and to try and punish defenders with his quickness and get to the line. Graham led the team with 21 points and made his case to be the primary bench scorer.
Willie has been playing well all summer, as he won the MVP of the FIBA EuroBasket tournament after a stellar run for Spain. Willie kept that momentum last night, scoring 15 points and adding five rebounds, three blocks and two steals in just 19 minutes. Hernangomez wants to prove he is more than just a 3rd center, and he looked the part last night, even knocking down 1-of-2 from long range to show he is expanding his range. It’s going to be hard to keep Hernangomez off the floor, but he is a great backup to have waiting in the wings if anyone gets hurt.
For me, the big standout off the bench last night was Jaxson Hayes, who played with energy on both ends and was really making an impact everywhere. He too is fighting for backup minutes with Hernangomez, as well as Larry Nance Jr. who recently signed an extension.
Hayes was running the floor hard all night, putting pressure on the defense at the rim, and trying to dunk every miss. He can be a weapon on the offensive boards when he plays with that kind energy.
With guards, wings and centers all competing for time and playing well, coach Willie Green is going to have a tough time trying to figure out how to get all of these guys minutes and keep them sharp, happy and ready to go. It’s not going to be easy, but like coach Green said, this is a good problem to have.