The New Orleans Pelicans made their post-All-Star break debut last night in their 115-110 loss to the Toronto Raptors. But arguably more interesting than that was the starting lineup they made their return with.
Since Zion Williamson went down with a hamstring strain and Brandon Ingram returned from his toe injury, the Pelicans have been mostly running with a starting lineup of Ingram, CJ McCollum, Trey Murphy III, Herb Jones, and Jonas Valanciunas.
All five of those fellows were healthy entering last night’s contest. But interestingly enough, Coach Willie Green opted to start the newly-acquired Josh Richardson (playing in only his third game as a Pelican ever) over the 2023 AT&T Slam Dunk Contest runner-up Murphy.
Murphy had struggled in his last two contests, averaging 7 PPG/2.5 RPG/0.5 APG on 17.6% shooting from the floor. But he has been such an integral part of the starting lineup this year – starting in 46 of the 57 games he appeared in – that it seemed strange to remove him from the starting unit so suddenly.
To his credit, Richardson performed dutifully in his promoted role, posting a stat line of eleven points, three rebounds, three assists, and three steals on 4-for-8 shooting from the floor in a little under 29 minutes of action. And Murphy also had some inspiring moments off the bench, tallying nine points, two rebounds, and one steal of his own on 3 for 8 shooting in a hair over 23 minutes of playing time.
It is just surprising that Green would demote his talented young forward because of a slow stretch. The team clearly views him as one of the franchise’s central pillars (as evidenced by them not being interested in including him or Dyson Daniels in a trade package for OG Anunoby).
On top of that, Murphy is one of the team’s best shooters. And as a team that struggles with outside shooting and spacing, you’d think they would want to make sure they give the guys who can effectively burn opponents from outside much as run as they can.
Maybe Coach Green wanted to light a fire under Murphy, or maybe his hope is that he can anchor the team’s bench lineups. Who knows. What is certain is that this will be a fascinating story thread to monitor moving forward.