Jason Smith, Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis modeled the Pelicans' uniforms, but will they shine in the new digs this season?
The New Orleans Pelicans added two very talented players during the offseason with acquisitions of Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday, but there are a variety of questions facing the team's starting frontcourt.
Should Evans make an adjustment to small forward after typically playing guard for the Sacramento Kings, or will Al-Farouq Aminu keep his starting position?
Where do Ryan Anderson and Jason Smith fit in head coach Monty Williams' plans?
And, as a result of the Anderson/Smith debate, will Anthony Davis play power forward or center?
Before we delve into the interrogatives, let's look at what is locked in. The Pelicans' backcourt may seem slightly irrelevant, but it is actually a major factor in deciding which players should make up the starting frontcourt.
Greivis Vasquez was shipped to the Kings, so Holiday steps into Vasquez's point guard spot. Last season, as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, he tallied career-best per-game marks with 17.7 points, 8.0 assists and 4.2 rebounds. Holiday scoring points and creating open looks for Eric Gordon, his new shooting guard, all while being a distributor is an important asset.
Gordon missed 40 games in 2012-13, but he tallied 17.0 points per game on 40.2 percent shooting. Between Holiday and Gordon, New Orleans has plenty of scoring at the guard positions.
So, at small forward, Tyreke Evans brings an aggressive off-the-dribble offensive attack the Pelicans did not have last season.
The Associated Press (via ESPN) notes Evans conceded he does not know how he might fit in best with the Pelicans. "I don't know yet. It's a new process. We've got a good guard lineup, so I'm just looking forward to going out there and playing."
If Evans were to start, Al-Farouq Aminu would be relegated to a sixth-man role—though having a player of Aminu's caliber coming off the bench is a great asset for the Pelicans. But with Holiday and Gordon already starting, Evans might actually be a scoring overload.
Ultimately, when the Pelicans need to rest Gordon and Holiday, point-producers must come off the bench, and Evans is the best bucket-getting option to replace either guard. Aminu, on the other hand, will not light up the scoreboard, but his rebounding ability (7.7 per game in 2012-13) and quick hands (team-high 1.2 steals) are key contributions for a diverse team.
Moving to power forward, whether Ryan Anderson starts or comes off the bench does not matter, because the sharpshooter is a valuable weapon. He averaged 16.2 points per game last season, including 38.2 percent from distance.
According to Jim Eichenhofer of Pelicans.com, Anderson is expecting more open shots next season.
But that scoring, as mentioned with Evans, is needed from the second-stringers. Anderson started just 22 games in 2012-13, so he is used to being a backup. Additionally, a reserve lineup comprised of Austin Rivers, Evans, Anthony Morrow, Anderson and Greg Stiemsma is a whole lot more intimidating than other options.
Because Anderson does not get the starting nod, it would be in New Orleans' best interest to keep Anthony Davis at power forward. The former No. 1 pick started 60 contests, averaged 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game as a rookie.
Who should be the Pelicans' starting frontcourt?
Robin Lopez put together a career-best season for New Orleans in 2012-13, so his production must be replaced by someone, and Jason Smith is the leading candidate to at least take Lopez's position.
Smith appeared in 51 games last season and played 17.2 minutes per contest. He contributed 8.2 points, 3.6 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game in those limited minutes, so Smith was a very important role player.
Important enough that he should start in 2013-14.
The Pelicans' late-game, or "clutch," lineup must consist of Gordon, Holiday, Evans, Anderson and Davis. However, while it is entirely possible Monty Williams elects to start this five, New Orleans would be best suited with Evans and Anderson checking in for a starter.
Williams' starting frontcourt should consist of Aminu, Davis and Smith, and Ryan Anderson must be the seventh man for the Pelicans—something at which he will continue to excel.
Tyreke Evans, even though he is not accustomed to a reserve role, is a dangerous player, and New Orleans needs him most as an offensive leader with the second-stringers.
Overall, after a disappointing 27-win season, the Pelicans have an improved starting lineup with more options off the bench.