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Three-point shooting, role definition, experience have made Pelicans bench a strength

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New Orleans possesses so much depth on its current roster that the Pelicans are the only NBA team with five players who’ve drained 110-plus three-pointers in 2019-20, with reserves JJ Redick (team-high 156 treys) and Josh Hart (111) being part of that group. Furthermore, two other prominent subs, Nicolo Melli (65) and E’Twaun Moore (60) have combined on another 125 makes, despite both experiencing early-season stretches where they were out of the rotation.

That’s just one stat that demonstrates how much punch New Orleans (28-36) has received from its second unit, particularly during an in-season turnaround that saw the Pelicans go 21-13 after a 7-23 start. Melli and Moore both factored into Alvin Gentry being able to rely on a consistent nine- or 10-man rotation, backed by a bench that often outplayed the opponent’s reserves.

“Our bench has been key all along,” Gentry said Sunday of its impact this season. “No matter who we played, at some stage our bench has been a deciding factor in some games. They had the ability to get us (back) in games if we had slow starts or rough starts.”

While depth is always important in basketball, as training camps have opened in Orlando this weekend, it’s been a stated emphasis around the league, especially given the unprecedented nature of a four-month break from games. Gentry believes second units could be even more instrumental now.

“You have to have depth,” the head coach said. “Depth is going to really help the teams down here that have it, because this is something brand-new to all of the players, to be playing at this time of year. It’s not something they’re really accustomed to. It will be an adjustment. I think the teams that have deep benches will benefit from that.”

Due to early-season injuries to starters Lonzo Ball, Zion Williamson and Derrick Favors, the Pelicans were prevented from finding a predictable first string and rotation in November and December. After Ball and Favors returned – and Williamson later debuted Jan. 22 – the starting group and second unit rapidly developed chemistry. From Christmas through mid-March, for example, Redick’s aggregate plus-minus in 582 minutes was plus-61. Moore was plus-23 in 584 minutes.

“It makes it a little bit easier,” Hart said of the rotation and roles being solidified for the Pelicans. “Obviously if you’re a starter, you know what your role’s going to be. For the bench, it (went) back and forth (early in 2019-20). The last 30 games we were healthy for the most part and we were able to just go out there and know exactly what we have to do on a nightly basis. It takes the pressure off and the stress of not knowing if you are going to play or not play. That can kind of mess you up mentally.”

In addition to the talent and offensive firepower now coming off New Orleans’ bench, it also features several very experienced pros, including Redick (13 straight NBA playoff appearances), 31-year-old Moore and 29-year-old Melli, a “rookie” in name only after competing for a decade-plus in top overseas leagues.

“We’ve got guys who’ve started 70, 80-plus games for one, two or three (seasons),” said Hart, alluding to Redick’s 487 career NBA starts and 189 by Moore. “That experience is definitely going to help.”

New Orleans also plays at the NBA’s second-fastest pace in ’19-20, a style that can lend itself to requiring players to make frequent substitutions.

Hart: “We like to get up and down (the court) and sometimes it’s like a platoon system, where we sub three or four guys in at one time who are fresh, so we can keep that pace up. When you’ve got that experience and unselfishness and willingness to do whatever it takes to win, that’s how you build a winning culture.”

EltasZone Sportswriters, Sports Analysts, Opinion columnists, editorials and op-eds. Analysis from The Zone Team
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