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The NBA regular season can be split up into three sections. The first section goes from opening night until New Year’s and is when teams play with the personnel they assembled during the offseason. The second section goes from New Year’s until the trade deadline and is the period where teams decide to make changes depending on how the team has performed to that point. The final stretch goes from right after the trade deadline until when the playoffs start and at this point teams have decided whether they’re playing for the postseason or for next season.
We’re right in the middle of that second section and quite a few teams have made moves. While they haven’t all been high-profile moves such as trades, lineup changes are just as critical and happen quite often during this time of the season. This week, I’m going to go over how lineup changes have affected former Hoosiers and their teams. I won’t be going over Eric Gordon’s situation as he is still a few weeks from returning and things will likely change again for the New Orleans Pelicans during that time so there’s no need to speculate how the current lineup changes affect Gordon.
Victor Oladipo: Guard, Orlando Magic:
@ Memphis (L 108-102): 5 points (1-10 FG)(3-3 FT), 4 rebounds, 6 assists, turnover, 3 personal fouls, 37 minutes.
@ Milwaukee (L 107-100): 18 points (3-7 FG)(10-11 FT), 3 rebounds, 5 assists, steal, 3 turnovers, 4 personal fouls, 30 minutes.
@ Boston (L 113-94): 11 points (2-6 FG)(7-9 FT), 3 rebounds, 2 assists, steal, 28 minutes.
Vs Boston (W 119-114): 11 points (5-13 FG), 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 3 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 28 minutes.
@ San Antonio (L 107-92): 19 points (6-16 FG)(6-6 FT), 3 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 steals, 4 turnovers, 3 personal fouls, 35 minutes.
@ Oklahoma City (L 117-114): 37 points (13-20 FG)(8-8 FT), 7 rebounds, 4 assists, steal, block, 4 personal fouls, 41 minutes.
Vs Los Angeles Clippers (L 107-93): 18 points (5-12 FG)(7-8 FT), 3 rebounds, 3 assists, steal, 4 turnovers, 5 personal fouls, 36 minutes.
Vs Atlanta (W 96-94): 19 points (9-13 FG), 5 rebounds, 3 assists, steal, block, 3 turnovers, 44 minutes.
The Orlando Magic are the exception when it comes to waiting until midseason to make lineup changes as it feels like they’ve made a lineup change every other week. However, the latest lineup change brings a lot of intrigue and centers around IU’s own Victor Oladipo.
One of the main reasons Oladipo went to the bench in the first place was because there was no spacing between him and Elfrid Payton this season because Oladipo wasn’t a threat from deep. Instead, Evan Fournier and his 39% shooting from behind the arc started at shooting guard. It made sense later in the season that Oladipo returned to the starting lineup when Payton was out with an injury but with the recent lineup change they’re back to playing together again.
The reason for the change of heart is that Oladipo has found his three-point shot again and has been able to create the space needed for this offense to flow. Over the first two months of the season, Oladipo only connected on 26.9% (28 of 104) of his three-pointers. Since the start of January, Oladipo has been a scorching 45.3% (34 of 75) from behind the arc. It took a little while to see if this was an improvement or just a good shooting streak and after 75 attempts I think it’s safe to say it’s improvement.
While Fournier may still be a better shooter, Oladipo offers more versatility both on offense and defense. Fournier is a good enough ball-handler to take over Oladipo’s sixth man role and if he’s shooting lights out during a certain game he can easily transition to playing with the starters as a spot-up shooter. It’s also possible to play Fournier and Oladipo together like they did against the Atlanta Hawks because both can defend shooting guards and small forwards, although Oladipo guards both a little better.
Cody Zeller: Forward, Charlotte Hornets:
@ Sacramento (W 129-128): DNP – injury
@ Utah (L 102-73): DNP – injury
@ Portland (L 109-91): DNP – injury
@ Los Angeles Lakers (W 101-82): DNP – injury
Vs Cleveland (W 106-97): 6 points (3-7 FG), 7 rebounds, 2 assists, block, 3 personal fouls, 28 minutes.
Vs Miami (L 98-95): 6 points (2-7 FG)(2-3 FT), 8 rebounds, steal, block, turnover, 3 personal fouls, 25 minutes.
Vs Washington (W 108-104): 8 points (3-6 FG)(2-2 FT), 9 rebounds, assist, 3 steals, turnover, 3 personal fouls, 30 minutes.
A lot of things have been going on with the Charlotte Hornets and they all affect Cody Zeller in one way or another. While Zeller continues to flourish as the Hornets’ starting center, quite a few people have already affected and will continue to affect his production going forward.
The main person affecting Zeller’s production, mostly in the form of playing time, is Frank Kaminsky. The rookie big man has finally gotten past the first-year jitters and is showing a lot of promise. Since the start of December, Kaminsky has been averaging 9.2 points and 4.7 rebounds in 24.5 minutes after averaging only 4.3 points and 2.3 rebounds in 14.6 minutes over the first month of the season. The problem for Zeller is that Kaminsky really eats into Zeller’s minutes when the rookie is having a great game. Part of that is the Hornets trying to get Kaminsky playing experience and the other part is that Zeller has been in foul trouble quite frequently. I still honestly believe that Zeller and Kaminsky can play together in the future with Kaminsky at power forward but with a positional logjam at the power forward position, Kaminsky is a center for the time being.
Speaking of positional logjams, there’s about to be one at center now that Kaminsky is earning playing time and Al Jefferson is only a week or two away from returning to play. Jefferson makes things really complicated as the Hornets really want to keep him because of his post scoring but other than that both Zeller and Kaminsky are actually better options at center. Charlotte may have to make a tough decision at the trade deadline as I don’t think you can keep all three in addition to power forwards Marvin Williams and Spencer Hawes.
That brings us to the last lineup change, which is the return of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. MKG is a welcomed addition for Zeller because he takes some of the defensive pressure off Zeller. Kidd-Gilchrist could also help Zeller commit fewer fouls by at least making sure his man doesn’t drive to the rim. It’s just a shame that not long after MKG came back that Zeller may have to return to the bench if Jefferson is given his starting spot back. For now, let’s enjoy them playing together.
Noah Vonleh: Forward, Portland Trail Blazers:
Vs Sacramento (W 112-97): 10 points (5-7 FG), 7 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2 personal fouls, 23 minutes.
Vs Charlotte (W 109-91): 6 points (3-6 FG), 6 rebounds, block, turnover, 2 personal fouls, 19 minutes.
Vs Minnesota (W 96-93): 2 points (1-4 FG), 8 rebounds, block, 16 minutes.
Vs Milwaukee (W 107-95): 0 points (0-1 FG), 3 rebounds, 3 personal fouls, 16 minutes.
Vs Toronto (L 110-103): DNP – injury
@ Houston (W 96-79): DNP – injury
While I said I wouldn’t touch on how the Pelican’s lineup changes affect Gordon because he’s injured, the same can’t be said for Noah Vonleh. While Vonleh has missed the Portland Trail Blazers last two games and will likely miss a third (he’s listed as doubtful for Monday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies with an ankle injury), lineup changes affect him a lot more than Gordon because Vonleh’s starting spot is nowhere near as guaranteed as Gordon’s spot.
Whether or not Vonleh will remain a starter may depend on how replacement Maurice Harkless does during Vonleh’s absence. Harkless didn’t do much during his first game against the Toronto Raptors but he did play very well on Saturday against the Houston Rockets as he produced 14 points and six rebounds.
The good news for Vonleh is that the Trail Blazers are very focused on developing him and he has also played some solid basketball over the past month (5.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game in January). However, the longer Vonleh stays out , the more opportunities Harkless has to make a claim for Vonleh’s starting spot.
Eric Gordon: Guard, New Orleans Pelicans:
Vs Houston (L 112-111): DNP – injury
Vs Sacramento (W 114-105): DNP – injury
Vs Brooklyn (W 105-103): DNP – injury
Vs Memphis (L 110-95): DNP – injury
@ San Antonio (L 110-97): DNP – injury
Vs Los Angeles Lakers (L 99-96): DNP – injury
@ Cleveland (L 99-84): DNP – injury
Eric Gordon: 14.9ppg, 2.1rpg, 2.7apg, 0.95spg, 0.29bpg, 1.6tpg, 2.2fpg, 41.0% FG, 37.7% 3FG, 88.5% FT, 33.4mpg.
Victor Oladipo: 14.5ppg, 4.7rpg, 4.0apg, 1.33spg, 0.57bpg, 2.2tpg, 2.3fpg, 41.9% FG, 34.6% 3FG, 84.6% FT, 31.1mpg.
Noah Vonleh: 3.6ppg, 4.1rpg, 0.5apg, 0.46spg, 0.30bpg, 0.6tpg, 2.0fpg, 42.9% FG, 16.0% 3FG, 81.3% FT, 16.0mpg.
Cody Zeller: 8.8ppg, 6.0rpg, 0.9apg, 0.91spg, 0.70bpg, 0.9tpg, 3.0fpg, 48.9% FG, 0.0% 3FG, 73.8% FT, 25.0mpg.