The New Orleans Pelicans have taken a “next man up” approach this season and it has helped them become a contender in the Western Conference despite their two best players, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson, both missing a handful of games.
Ingram has already sat out 16 out of the 31 games that the Pelicans have had this season while Williamson was sidelined for six, most recently due to the league’s health and safety protocols. Starting shooting guard Herb Jones was out for nine games as well, yet New Orleans has not missed a beat.
The depth of this team has helped them weather these absences. C.J. McCollum and Jonas Valanciunas have more than willingly shouldered the offensive load when they sit out.
In their most recent 126-117 win against the San Antonio Spurs, McCollum stepped up in the absence of Williamson and Ingram. He scored 40 points–his highest total since December 2020–and added eight rebounds, nine assists, one steal, and two blocks. Valanciunas, fresh off a season-high 37-point performance in their prior win over the Milwaukee Bucks, added 16 points, 10 rebounds, an assist, and a steal.
However, the real strength of the Pelicans, currently 19-12 and a half game behind the top seed in the Western Conference, lies beyond these two accomplished veterans.
Reserves Trey Murphy III, Naji Marshall, Dyson Daniels, and Jose Alvarado have all had to fill in bigger roles at one point in time this season to make up for the absences of their teammates. What helps is that Murphy, Marshall, and Daniels are versatile players who all stand between 6’7 and 6’9 which means that they can fill-in a wide array of roles depending on what head coach Willie Green needs from them on a game-to-game basis.
The 22-year-old Murphy has been a revelation when given minutes. He is averaging 13 points, 2.4 threes, 4.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.2 steals in 18 games as a starter this year and his ability to space the floor is an invaluable asset on this roster filled with ball dominant players. Murphy is hitting 39.4% of his three-pointers and a bigger role even when this team is fully healthy should be in the cards for him if he can continue to shoot at this clip.
The third-year forward Marshall and the rookie Daniels have also made similar statistical leaps when given consistent minutes. Marshall has averaged 13.8 points per game in five appearances as a starter and Daniels has put up 9.6 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 6.7 assists in the three games where he has played over 30 minutes.
The capacity of these three players to play multiple positions and seemingly plug any holes on this team make them an ideal fit in the modern NBA. They have been the secret weapon of New Orleans’ early success and they should continue to contribute, especially once they grow more comfortable with their roles.
Williamson may be the face of this franchise, but it is clear that he is not the sole reason for their success early in this campaign as these Pelicans easily go 10-deep.