Pelicans projected lineup and rotations heading into 2023-24 season

The New Orleans Pelicans have all the pieces to contend. It's a matter of health and continuity for Willie Green's team.
Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans
Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans / Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports
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New Orleans Pelicans starting small forward: Trey Murphy III

The Pelicans have a tough decision to make here, but Trey Murphy is on the verge of his NBA breakout. The Virginia product averaged 14.5 points and 3.6 rebounds on .484/.406/.905 splits in his sophomore season. That was already a considerable leap in production compared to his rookie year, with Murphy starting in 65 of 79 appearances due to Zion's absence. Well, even with Zion back in the mix, it's hard to imagine Murphy relinquishing his starting gig.

Murphy's baseline appeal was always his 3-and-D attributes. He's a strong, wiry 6-foot-9 wing who can absolutely torch the net. He averaged 6.3 attempts from 3-point range in 31.0 minutes last season. Murphy is the Pelicans' most reliable volume shooter, which in and of itself is enough to guarantee him a major role.

That said, Murphy's ability to go beyond his 3-point bomber reputation is what makes him such a prime 'Most Improved Player' candidate. The Pelicans will have a lot of mouths to feed, but there has been plenty of "potential star" chatter around Murphy. It's largely due to his remarkable efficiency as a shooter, but he's also becoming a dynamic driver. Defenders often find themselves rushing to close out on Murphy. At 6-foot-9, he's proving more and more comfortable attacking those errant closeouts and making strong moves to the rim. If that progress continues — and it will — Murphy is going to be one heck of a fourth option.

With a 7-foot wingspan and underrated strength, Murphy is also quite the defender. He's a genuine two-way force. While he doesn't have the same on-ball proficiency as New Orleans' other option here, Murphy can handle difficult assignments and the Pelicans will simply have too much length for most offenses to effectively deal with.

Primary backup small forward: Herb Jones

Herb Jones has started 135 of 144 games since being selected with the No. 35 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. That's not normal, and it's a testament to Jones' unique proficiency on the defensive end. He's the rare perimeter rookie who provided elite defense straight out of the gates. Jones is a next-level defensive playmaker, blessed with preternatural instincts and magnetic hands at the end of his 7-foot wingspan.

Jones is the Pelicans' top answer to the NBA's elite offensive creators, but he's equally — heck, more — dominant away from the ball. Jones is a deflection fiend who can completely take over possessions with his activity as a roamer. It's like the opening of The Batman, when all the criminals are running around Gotham looking at shadows with a deep sense of foreboding. That's how NBA passers feel when Herb Jones is on the floor.

The primary hangup with Jones, and the reason he will probably lose his starting spot to Murphy with the entire group healthy, is offense. Jones doesn't shoot well enough to command significant respect yet. He was 33.5 percent of 2.5 attempts from 3-point range last season, so there's a decent foundation in place, but the volume and percentage both have to improve.

Other players who could receive minutes at small forward: Brandon Ingram, Naji Marshall, Dyson Daniels