PHILADELPHIA — Sometimes, you just have to put your five best players on the floor.
That’s what New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams is able to do now that Ryan Anderson is healthy. And on Friday in Philly, Williams played his big five – Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Anderson and Anthony Davis – for 18 1/2 minutes, the most they’d seen as a group in the six games since Anderson returned from a fractured toe.
Prior to Friday, the group had played almost half of its 32 minutes in the fourth quarter. But in Philadelphia, Williams went to the lineup midway through the first quarter, with Evans and Anderson replacing starters Anthony Morrow and Jason Smith. And the big five went right to work offensively, scoring 23 points on 11 possessions to end the period.
Evans attacked in transition, while Anderson and Gordon spaced the floor, getting easy 3s off pick-and-rolls here and here (video) thanks, in part, to the attention Davis drew in the paint. Davis is the Pelicans’ best player and that lineup’s success starts with him.
“When he runs the court, all of the attention focuses on him,” Anderson said. “So he leaves an open shot for me or, if we actually get set up down at the other end, Tyreke’s going to attack the rim and force a lot of attention himself. I think we just have a group of guys that really just know how to play in that lineup.”
That lineup struggled in a stretch during the third quarter, but overall, scored 54 points on 38 possessions on Friday, a rate of 142 per 100, which is pretty incredible.
Defense was another story, and that’s the trade-off. The Holiday-Gordon-Evans-Anderson-Davis group allowed the Sixers to score 48 points on 36 possessions, a rate of 133 per 100, which is pretty terrible.
“We try to get to that lineup, but that’s not a cure-all,” Williams said afterward. “It is a lineup that can cause problems. But we just have to learn how to defend and share the ball better.”
In 51 minutes through Friday, the lineup has scored 132 points per 100 possessions and allowed 116. So far, the great offense has outweighed the bad D. But Williams doesn’t just want to accept that trade-off.
“You can’t just put a defensive lineup on the floor [to get better defense],” Williams said before the game. “Whoever you put on the floor has to play better defense. We’re a month into it. Our guys are going to figure that out. I would like to find more minutes for that group.”
He did find more minutes for that group. Of course, more minutes for that group could mean a heavy burden for Holiday, Gordon and Davis, who start the game and with a different pair of forwards and will remain on the floor to give the big five a good run. Holiday and Gordon each played season highs in minutes on Friday.
Williams knows that Gordon, in particular, needs monitoring. He’s now played in 15 straight games for the first time since January of 2011.
“I want to play him more,” Williams said. “But I have to be aware that this is the most basketball he’s played in 2 1/2 years. So I didn’t want to rush him into it and I’ve been talking to him lately about how he feels.”
How many minutes the big five lineup gets, as well as how it performs both offensively and defensively, will be something to keep an eye on all season. Williams clearly likes bringing both Evans and Anderson off the bench, but he’s still searching for a starting small forward. Al-Farouq Aminu started the first 13 games there, but was replaced by Morrow on Friday.
“The [starting] lineup can change the next game,” Williams said. “That’s where we are right now. We haven’t gotten a ton of production out of our starting small forward position.”
They have gotten a ton of production – at least on one end of the floor – from the big five.