As if things weren’t bad enough for the New Orleans Pelicans already! They had already lost Anthony Davis to a left hand injury that will sideline him for a month and now, Tyreke Evans is out as well, falling victim to an ankle sprain. The good news is he’ll only be out of the lineup for one to two weeks. But for a depleted lineup that was already struggling, this certainly doesn’t make things better.
Evans has had an up-and-down year in his debut season for the Pelicans. For the first few weeks, he fell into an enormous shooting slump, struggling to get any shot to go down. As the season progressed, however, Evans got into his groove and was reaching double digits off the bench. Admittedly, he was still having problems — his 3-point shot is completely dead, as he’s made just two from downtown this year — but it looked as though he had finally got back to normal and was adjusting to his life as a Pelican, so this was bad timing for such a setback. Still, he won’t be out long and when he returns, he will likely continue producing at his usual level.
For the Pelicans, however, Evans’ absence from the lineup will severely disrupt things in their rotation. Specifically, their bench will be extremely thin. When Davis was injured, Ryan Anderson was forced into the starting lineup. With Evans out as well, the Pelicans are now missing the two most prominent players of their second unit. With a severe lack of options, the Pelicans will have to get creative. Three-point specialist Anthony Morrow has started two games this season, but with such a thin bench, he makes more sense in a sixth-man role for the time being. Morrow’s excellent shooting can provide instant offense, while Al-Farouq Aminu, who is a much better defender than Morrow, makes more sense as the starting small forward.
The absence of Evans should also lead to more playing time for Austin Rivers, who has had a decidedly rough go of things since being selected by the Pelicans (then Hornets) No. 10 overall in the 2012 draft. He was awful in his first season, ranking as one of the worst players in the NBA by several advanced metrics. This year, he’s struggled to find playing time, ranking as the third shooting guard on the Pelicans roster behind Evans and Eric Gordon. It’s hard not to think that after Rivers’ embattled rookie season, Pelicans coach Monty Williams simply doesn’t trust him. Now, though, his hands are tied. With such a lack of scoring options, Rivers is going to get minutes. In high school, he was considered one of the top prospects in the country and his career since has been a grave disappointment. This is his chance to show that he can be a worthy contributor to an NBA team. If Rivers takes advantage of his newfound playing time and demonstrates the offensive skill that lead to him being drafted with a lottery pick, he can get the Pelicans through this difficult stretch while also improving his own reputation.
This, however, is hardly a guarantee, as Rivers hasn’t done much to show that he’s a great deal better than he was last year. The truth is, things might be tough for the Pelicans while Davis and Evans are out of the lineup. Morrow will definitely help, and Rivers has the potential to flash some skills, but the situation is still pretty grim. This team will be stretched to the limits these next two weeks, and it remains to be seen if they are deep enough to remain competitive.