Tag: Alvin Gentry

Anthony Davis

51 Questions: Can the Pelicans make a leap forward in the crowded Western Conference?


51 Questions in 51 Days. PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27.

The hardest leap to make in the NBA is the one that takes you from good to great. Three years into Anthony Davis’ career, the New Orleans can definitely be classified as “good.” They won 45 games, good enough for the eighth seed in a brutal Western Conference. Even with the Thunder’s injuries creating that opening, New Orleans earned their spot. They navigated injuries to Jrue Holiday (who missed 42 games), Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson (21 games apiece) and put up a surprising fight against the Warriors in the first round, even though that series ended in a four-game sweep.

Despite earlier reports that head coach Monty Williams was working under a playoffs-or-bust ultimatum, Pelicans management decided that a postseason appearance wasn’t enough. They fired Williams after the first-round loss and replaced him with Alvin Gentry, widely seen as the chief architect of the offense in Golden State that ultimately took home the Larry O’Brien Trophy. It’s a clear upgrade — the idea of a player as talented as Davis in an offensive scheme like Gentry’s is absolutely terrifying for the rest of the league. More importantly, making a major coaching change coming off a season of upward progress sent a clear message: this is a team aiming to take the next step, solidifying themselves as not just a surefire playoff team, but a real threat.

Whether they were successful there is a different story. The Pelicans’ offseason moves were mostly insignificant compared to their West competitors — their biggest acquisition was Kendrick Perkins, who at this point can’t be counted on for more than spot minutes as a fourth or fifth big. In lieu of a roster overhaul, the Pelicans are counting on three things to elevate them to contenders: Davis’ continued otherworldliness, improved coaching under Gentry and a healthier, more consistent supporting cast. All three of those things are possible; some are surer things than others.

As long as he’s healthy, Davis is the NBA’s next generational superstar. In his third season, at age 22, he put up a 30.81 PER, the 11th all-time mark for a single season, putting him in a class with Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and LeBron James. Already an offensive monster around the basket, Davis made enormous strides as a defender and further honed his midrange shot. Now, he’s making noise about wanting to shoot more threes and adding 12 pounds of muscle. If either of those things is even sort of true, there’s not much the rest of the league can do about it.

Becoming a contender is easier when you have a transcendent superstar, and the Pelicans are lucky enough to have one. But that’s not all they need, especially in a brutal Western Conference that looks to have six legitimate contenders ahead of them (the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder, Clippers, Rockets and Grizzlies). There’s a lot of talent on their roster, but outside of Davis, everybody has question marks stemming from either health or fit.

Holiday will still be limited in training camp, still recovering from surgery on the same leg that’s given him problems in both of his seasons in New Orleans. When healthy, he’s an underrated defender at the point guard position and a devastating pick-and-roll partner for Davis. The rest of the Pelicans’ backcourt is talented but not without its risks. Gordon was quietly very solid in the second half of last season, shooting 44.8 percent from three-point range. Tyreke Evans should also be terrific in Gentry’s offense. But both of them need the ball, and both have injury concerns.

The Pelicans’ frontcourt situation beyond Davis is similar to its backcourt: a lot of talent, but not a lot of natural fits. Anderson provides valuable spacing in the frontcourt, but his fit is odd considering New Orleans re-signed Omer Asik to a five-year, $60 million deal this summer. Anderson can’t play much small forward, and he’s a limited defender, so his ideal fit is alongside Davis at power forward — but it’s unclear how much Davis will play at center and how much he’ll play with Asik, who’s a legitimate liability on offense.

Beyond Gordon and Evans, the Pelicans have serious question marks on the wings as well. Quincy Pondexter isn’t expected to be healthy until November at the earliest, which could mean Dante Cunningham will have to play out of position at the three. If everyone is healthy, Evans can slide to small forward and play alongside Holiday and Gordon, but that’s a big if at this point.

There’s plenty of intrigue on this roster beyond Davis, who alone should make the Pelicans a playoff team in a year when two of last year’s contenders, Portland and Dallas, are expected to take major steps back. But even as good as Davis is, and as perfect a fit as Gentry’s offense is for this team’s strengths, it’s tough to see them making much noise once they get to the postseason. The West is simply too deep, and most of the teams at the top are either getting key players back from injury (Oklahoma City) or made major moves to improve (San Antonio and the Clippers). It’s going to take time for everyone to get comfortable with the new coach, and injuries have prevented the kind of natural chemistry building that most teams go through in their formative years.

But this team’s future is bright. They’ll have flexibility next summer to add talent, and Davis is only getting better. Regardless of their unlikeliness to be a true contender, he alone makes them appointment television. The rewards will come down the line. For now, it’s about growth and keeping this positive momentum going.

Report: D’Antoni wants to add McMillan or Gentry to staff

Nate McMillan Mike D'Antoni

The Lakers need to play better defense next season… unless they enjoyed how this season went. Thanks to terrible transition defense, shake perimeter defense and Dwight Howard’s back slowing him, the Lakers finished 19th in the NBA in points allowed per possession.

As does everything with the Lakers right now, some of that blame is being directed at Mike D’Antoni. So there is talk of him trying to bring a defensive specialist as an assistant coach on staff.

And he wants Nate McMillan — and if not him Alvin Gentry — according to Ken Berger of CBSSports.com.

With the Lakers in full-on evaluation mode after getting swept in the first round by the Spurs, coach Mike D’Antoni is actively exploring his long-standing desire to add a defensive-minded assistant. D’Antoni’s first choice is believed to be McMillan. But with the fellow Team USA assistant expected to land a head coaching job, coaching sources believe D’Antoni will get the green light to add former Suns coach Alvin Gentry to his staff for next season.

McMillan is the frontrunner in Detroit and will get the chance to interview pretty much anywhere else he wants.

I find Nate McMillan an odd fit with D’Antoni for two reasons. One, McMillan’s teams played notoriously slowly. His style was the complete opposite of D’Antoni. Still the two forged friendship through Team USA, where both worked as assistants to Mike Krzyzewski, so maybe that works.

The other thing that’s odd — McMillan’s teams were never great defensively. He has this reputation as a defensive coach based on his teams not giving up many points per game, but that was because his teams played at a painfully slow pace. In the 10 years he was the solo head coach of a team here is where his squads finished in league rankings of defensive efficiency (points allowed per possession): 17, 17, 27, 27, 28, 26, 17, 13, 15, and 14. Basically, his teams were never better than average. (Kelly Dwyer breaks it down in more detail at Ball Don’t Lie if you want.)

Gentry coached some good defensive teams back in the day in Detroit but his recent run with the Suns was not impressive (although the roster wasn’t exactly filled with defensive stoppers).

One way or another, look for the Lakers to make a move for a veteran coach on the bench beside D’Antoni next season. Which, if you’re looking to make a coaching change again mid-season, makes things far simpler. Just pointing that out.

Alvin Gentry hears Marcin Gortat is frustrated, shrugs

Denver Nuggets v Phoenix Suns
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Marcin Gortat is getting few touches and he’s not happy. He’s getting 2.4 fewer shots per game so far this season compared to last, his usage rate dropped from 20.8 (percent of the possessions when he was on the floor) last season to 15.1 this season.

Gortat vented his frustrations to a Polish publication, saying this year’s Suns don’t share the ball and are ignoring him, plus he threw some blame at Suns coach Alvin Gentry.

When Gentry learned about it, he shrugged. Basically. Here is what he said is it’s on Gortat to fit in, according to the Arizona Republic.

“Nothing’s going to change,” Gentry said in response to the comments. “We try to throw him the ball, and we’ll try to get him the ball as much as we can and … . We’d love to be able to throw him the ball and have him post up and score for us. That hasn’t been one of his strengths, really.”

Gortat has gotten 19 percent of his shot attempts this year out of post ups, and he’s shooting 47.1 percent on those plays. He’s not bad if you can get him the rock on the block.

But Gentry is correct in that what the Suns are doing hasn’t changed much. Last season 21.6 percent of the Suns shot came off a pick-and-roll, another 20.4 percent on spot ups, while just 7.5 percent were isolations. So far this season 18.6 percent of shots are pick-and-roll (a Gortat strength), 21.3 percent on spot ups and 8.5 percent in isolation.

They just aren’t as efficient at any of hit without Steve Nash. Gortat is going to have to adjust to life without him as well.

Gentry wants Michael Beasley to shoot more. Be careful.


Steve Nash is gone and it’s rebuilding time in Phoenix.

But that’s a process, and in the interim the points still have to come from somewhere. Alvin Gentry expects that to be Michael Beasley, who has shown little reluctance to shoot the rock.

But through two preseason games Beasley has 24 points and 7 dimes, and he’s trying to facilitate more. Believe it or not, Suns coach Alvin Gentry is a little frustrated about that, tweets Craig Grialou of Arizona Sports 620.

What’s impressive is that through two games Beasley has hit 9-of-17 shots — that’s insanely efficient for a volume shooter like Beasley. He’s a career 45.5 percent shooter, a guy not known for good shot selection. Two preseason games is no way to tell if he has turned over a new leaf, but do you want the guy to start chucking again?

Gentry needs to be careful what he wishes for.

Not that we don’t expect Beasley to revert to his old form either way. But the Suns can dream.

National attention on the way for a Suns team that’s earned it in recent weeks


Suns owner Robert Sarver made a rare appearance at Alvin Gentry’s pre-game media session before Sunday night’s game against the Rockets, which the head coach traditionally holds in a very relaxed atmosphere in his office.

Sarver was in good spirits and wanted to joke around a little, and with the way his team has played over the past month or so, his mood was completely understandable.

Curious to know the various media outlets that were there in attendance, Sarver walked the medium-sized room, looking at the credentials hanging around the necks of the assembled press, taking them in his hand and reading them aloud.

When he got to mine, since I was one of the few people in the room representing national coverage, Sarver decided to ask some questions. He was very good-natured while grilling me, and there were plenty of laughs while this was going on. But he wanted some answers.

“NBC. How come you don’t show us on anything,” he challenged.

I reminded him I’m here for just about every home game.

“I know. But nationally, nothing. It’s like we’re not in the league right now,” he exclaimed.

It’s coming, I told him. (And that’s true: It was the plan anyway if the Suns were able to beat the short-handed Rockets.)

“Does anything get covered?!”

Plenty gets covered, I told him.


I promised to send him the link — one which will be on its way directly after the Suns took care of business and beat the Rockets 99-86 to move above .500 for the first time all season, and within just a half-game of the eighth and final playoff seed in the Western Conference standings.

Just a month ago, a climb back into the race for a spot in the postseason — especially this quickly — seemed like an impossibility. Back on Feb. 17, Phoenix was a dismal 12-19, had lost four straight and five out of six, and looked more like a team planning a trip to the draft lottery than one interested in making a run to the playoffs.

Since then, however, Phoenix has won 11 of 14, and finds itself relevant and realistically looking at a postseason chance for the first time since training camp. The only team with a better mark is the Chicago Bulls, who went 12-2 during that stretch, but who also have the best record in the league at 37-10.

You could see those stretches coming from that Chicago team. But this run from these Suns wasn’t anywhere close to being expected.

As the players and coaches have been asked to explain the sudden success in recent days, the immeasurable metric of chemistry is the one that comes up again and again.

“I really think the chemistry has just come together,” Gentry said. “And I don’t know how that happens, and I don’t know if anyone can really tell you how that happens. But I think our guys feel really good about themselves.”

One way it happens is that guys who find themselves out of the rotation — whether for one game or for a few weeks — stay ready.  They don’t cause problems in the locker room by griping about playing time that wasn’t earned, or opportunities that weren’t there to be given. They remain professional, and support their teammates who do get those chances on a consistent basis.

“I don’t know where I’ve had a team where it’s been this good,” Gentry said of his bench players not complaining about missed minutes. “Guys, I’m telling you, it’s really tough to sit over there and not play. And you can make it miserable on the coaching staff or on your teammates, and none of those guys do that here. None of those guys do that.

“I think the big thing for them is that they always feel like at some stage, they’ll get an opportunity again.”

Michael Redd, who’s had his fair share of DNP-CDs this season but broke out for 25 points in Sunday’s win over Houston, echoed Gentry’s sentiment, while offering a reason why.

“Because the agenda is winning,” he said. “Shannon Brown’s won two championships, he knows what it takes to win. Grant (Hill) and Steve (Nash) have won. I’ve been in some winning situations. When you have guys who have experienced winning, it kind of permeates throughout the team. And the team kind of follows suit, and guys prepare themselves.

“We genuinely want to see each other succeed, and that’s big.”

The bench unit as a whole has been the key to the Suns recent surge. Early in the season, as Gentry struggled to find the right rotations, the second unit would allow large leads to disappear, and their ineptitude would force the starters to play long minutes, leaving them gassed in the fourth quarters of tight games.

Lately, the consistency has been there to the point where Gentry has found a competent 10-man rotation where the five guys he uses off the bench can each function for 17 minutes or so a night.

“Amazing,” Nash said of the way the bench has played. “Obviously it was a special one (last Thursday) in L.A., (when Phoenix beat the Clippers with Nash and Hill out) but since the All-Star break really, the bench has been really good, and it’s kind of turned our season around.”

Shannon Brown has provided perhaps the most consistent spark off the bench, and he told NBCSports.com that chemistry comes easily when everyone has a hand in the team’s overall success.

“Whenever you come together as a team and win, and win consistently, where everybody contributes, that’s the main goal,” he said. “You want everybody that’s playing to go out there and contribute in the way that they know how, and that’s what we’ve been doing.

“We feel good about ourselves, we’ve got a little win streak going, and we’re making a real conscious effort to try to make it to the playoffs.”

Playoffs were the goal in Phoenix before the season began, a mantra that was recited repeatedly by everyone from top to bottom throughout the organization. After the painfully-slow start the team got off to by going 7-9 in its first 16 home games, it’s once again a topic on the table thanks to this recent run of victories.

Nash was asked after Friday’s game if the results of this homestand were beyond his expectations.

“It’s getting there,” Nash said. “Maybe not even just the home stand, but the season, where we’re beginning to exceed what people thought of us.”

As the Suns continue to exceed expectations, the national media will catch up. Maybe not quite yet, though, considering Phoenix does play its next two games back-to-back on the road in Miami and Orlando. But if the way the Suns have played during this stretch continues, while the qualities of confidence, chemistry and “cohesion” (as Nash likes to say) that have finally started to show themselves on the court remain in plain sight, then Phoenix has a completely legitimate shot at making that coveted trip to the playoffs.

And that will net Mr. Sarver all of the national coverage he desires.