3 options to initiate the Pelicans' short-handed offense

Jan 13, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Jordan Hawkins (24) and Dallas
Jan 13, 2024; Dallas, Texas, USA; New Orleans Pelicans guard Jordan Hawkins (24) and Dallas / Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

While multiple Pelicans are comfortable handling the ball and initiating the offense, the point guard is traditionally the tip of the spear. CJ McCollum and Jose Alvarado are the one-two punch in the New Orleans backcourt that get the offense into gear most nights.

Unfortunately for the Pelicans they will be down both point guards for the foreseeable future.

McCollum left Friday night's loss to the Miami Heat in the second quarter with an ankle injury and he has been listed as out for Sunday's matchup with the Chicago Bulls. Alvarado has been suspended for three games following his scuffle with Miami's Thomas Bryant on Friday. Talk about adding insult to injury.

New Orleans is going to have to find a primary ballhandler from an unlikley source. If the offense looks anything like it did down the stretch against Miami (re: bad) when McCollum and Alvarado were unavailable, the Pelicans are in danger of sliding down the Western Conference standings quickly.

Who should initiate the offense for the Pelicans? Here are three options.

1. Zion Williamson

Point Zion has been in beta for his entire career. Now may be the time to hard launch the product.

Williamson can potentially be the lead initiator for the Pelicans' offense, but it will only be in short spurts. The big man has one speed, fast, and the added burden of full-time playmaking will burn out the fifth-year superstar. Zion is most effective as a change-of-pace ball handler after he's softened up the defense with a couple of barrels toward the rim. His playmaking ability was on full display in Thursday's blowout win against the Rockets when he finished the game with nine assists.

Adding full-time initiator to Zion's already full plate isn't ideal for the shorthanded Pelicans. Still, it may be a necessary evil for the team to tread water in McCollum and Alvarado's absence.

2. Brandon Ingram

This is contingent on him being fully recovered from his illness, but Ingram has the ball-handling and playmaking chops for it to happen. According to NBA.com, since being traded to New Orleans from the Los Angeles Lakers, Ingram's assist ratio has steadily climbed while his turnover ratio has steadily declined.

Those numbers don't paint the best picture because he's consistently been in a secondary play-making role, but they show that he has enough talent and basketball IQ to run an offense if given the chance. Throwing primary play-making duties on Ingram in his first game post-illness is a scary proposition, but again, it's all hands on deck while the Pelicans weather the storm of injuries and suspensions.

3. Jordan Hawkins

Hawkins is my number one choice for this role.

The rookie has had a solid first season in the NBA. If there was ever a time for his usage rate to pick up, it's now. The Pelicans are in the thick of a tight playoff race where the margins between home-court advantage in the first round and being stuck in the play-in games are razor-thin. However, letting the rookie get his feet wet in tonight's match-up against a porous Chicago defense is ideal.

Following tonight, the Pelicans have a tough matchup in New York against the Knicks, but following the trip to the Big Apple, they play back-to-back games against 26th ranked Indiana Pacers defense.

Hawkins rarely initiated offense at UCONN and he hasn't had to do it much as a Pelican, but the time is ripe for the rookie to take a leap. Hawkins is a decent playmaker and is the perfect connective piece as a movement shooter on a good offense. Letting him get reps as a primary ball handler in February and March could pay dividends down the stretch that very much outweigh the growing pains it will take to get there.