Payton, Randle still best suited as role players despite recent eye-popping numbers

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Elfrid Payton

The New Orleans Pelicans are nothing if not interesting every night.

They continued their run of dramatic finishes on Monday night to beat the Dallas Mavericks 129-125 in overtime.

Somehow, the Pelicans managed to overshadow Dirk Nowitzki on the night he passed Wilt Chamberlain for sixth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

Elfrid Payton made history of his own, picking up his fifth consecutive triple-double with 19 points, 10 boards, and 11 assists.

During his streak, which has allowed him to tie Chris Paul for most triple-doubles in a season (6), Payton has averaged 15.6 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 12.8 assists.

“He has been doing a good job for us,” said Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry. “The rebounding part, to me, has been the biggest surprise. To be a point guard and be able to come up with double digit rebounds night after night after night, that is really tough to do. Any time they mention you in the same breath as [Russell] Westbrook, you have to feel really good about it. If they mention you in the same breath as Oscar Robertson, that is another whole area. He is doing a good job not trying to force anything.”

The main beneficiaries of Payton’s improved play have been Julius Randle and Frank Jackson.

Jackson has been on his own scoring tear, now posting double figures in seven straight games, including 19 against the Mavs. Jackson’s three late in overtime was the backbreaker that sealed the victory. Gentry has noticed the growth in his rookie.

“The shot that Frank made tonight was a real, I guess I can’t say that word, a real good shot in that situation.”

With Anthony Davis’ limited minutes and Niko Mirotic now in Milwaukee, plenty of shots have become available. Julius Randle has had no problem claiming them for his own.

With 30 points on Monday, Randle picked up his fifth game with at least 30 points in his last 15.

And of course, there is the people’s champion, Kenrich Williams. His steal led to the Randle dunk that gave the Pelicans a chance to win the game in overtime.

“You have to be at the game, and you have to see the game, and you have to see the plays that he makes that are winning plays, that get you an extra possession, that come up with a big play when he needs to, or a rebound or a defensive stop,” Gentry said after Williams collected his third game with at least three steals in the last month. “Those are the things that you can’t really see. When I say he is a coaches’ player, those are things that I am talking about.”

All of that is really encouraging, and compared to the level of effort that Pelicans fans saw for most of the season, it’s downright exciting.

But everyone needs to take a step back for a moment and breathe.

It’s not a coincidence that Payton is picking up these triple-doubles with Jrue Holiday on the sidelines. There are no real distributors in the starting lineup outside of Payton and with Randle’s ability to finish quickly combined with his glaring green light; dimes begin to drop at a higher rate.

The Pelicans are also getting up an incredible number of shots as of late. New Orleans has taken more than 100 shots in a game 12 times this season; five have those have been in their last six contests.

Again, without Davis and Holiday around, there are plenty of rebounds available. More than ever, in fact.

New Orleans is grabbing 50 rebounds per game over it’s last six contests, up from a season average of 47.3.

That means there is some stat inflation going on right now, and everything has to be kept in perspective.

Payton is still a talented, but flawed point guard. His shooting is still erratic, and his overall value is still just slightly better than the average NBA player. During this triple-double streak, Payton’s +/- is a team-worst -10.6.

Of the four other Pelicans averaging at least 30 minutes per game during that span (Jackson, Randle, Williams and Darius Miller), none has a +/- lower than -4.4.

Advanced stats are no better for Payton. His Net Rating of -13.6 is nearly five points behind that of Ian Clark (-8.8) and worse than those of Kenrich Williams (-5.4) and Darius Miller (-6.4) combined.

The Pelicans can’t afford to throw top dollar at a player who still hasn’t proven he can contribute consistently in games that matter or affect winning.

Still the same player as well, Randle is benefiting from a higher volume. He’s taking 23 shots per game, up from his season average of 14.8. His field goal percentage has dipped slightly from 52.7 to 52.2 percent.

Randle remains subpar as either a one-on-one or team defender and his rebounds per 36 minutes is at a career-low. He also turns it over nearly as often as he makes an assist.

It would be very easy to get blinded by these surges in statistical production and expect the Pelicans to pull out all the stops to retain both players.

In reality, the Pelicans need to hold firm to their numbers with both players.

Anything other than short-term investments in either would be ill-advised during a transitional period. Making a long-term commitment before seeing their respective fits with the next regime, with all that entails, compromises the flexibility of the franchise, and that cannot happen.

Enjoy the show, but don’t get caught up. Both Randle and Payton are supporting players, not breakout stars. They may be strong ones, but we still haven’t seen enough to be certain.

In the meantime, stay tuned.

Notes:

The Pelicans are back in action on Wednesday night in Orlando as they face the 33-38 Magic. Orlando is 1.5 games back of eighth place in the Eastern Conference, so New Orleans will try to play spoiler.

New Orleans lost the first matchup between these two teams 118-88 on Feb. 12.

Anthony Davis went 1-9 for 3 points in 24 minutes in his third game back after his trade request.

Nikola Vucevic led the Magic with 25 points and 17 rebounds. He was one of four Magic starters to score more than 20 points.

Game time is 6 p.m. central.

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David Grubb

Featured Columnist

David Grubb has more than a decade of experience in the sports industry. He began his career with KLAX-TV in Alexandria, La. and followed that up with a stint as an reporter and anchor with WGGB-TV in Springfield, Mass. After spending a few years away from the industry, David worked as sports information director for Southern University at New Orleans…

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