Tag: Anthony Davis

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.

Jrue Holiday will be cleared for Pelicans’ training camp — with restrictions

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Last season, New Orleans made the playoffs for the first time since trading away Chris Paul in 2011. They were swept in the first round by the eventual champion Warriors, but the Pelicans enter the season widely expected to make a leap and become a factor in the postseason this year. Having Anthony Davis, a 22-year-old MVP candidate and destroyer of worlds, helps. But a lot of the Pelicans’ success this season will depend on health, and so far the signals on that are mixed when it comes to a few of their key players.

Starting point guard Jrue Holiday had leg surgery this summer, and head coach Alvin Gentry tells John Reid of the Times-Picayune that he’ll be cleared to practice when training camp starts, albeit with some limitations:

New Orleans Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday has made enough progress in his recovery from offseason surgery in his lower right leg that he’s expected to be cleared for training camp later this month.

But Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said on Friday that Holiday is likely going to be under restrictions involving practicing just once a day when two-a-day practices are scheduled during camp, which is set to open on Sept. 29 at The Greenbrier in West Virginia.

Quincy Pondexter, meanwhile, will take a little longer to get healthy after undergoing knee surgery in May. Gentry says he won’t be available until November:

The outlook, however, is a little more bleaker for starting small forward Quincy Pondexter. It’s looking like the Pelicans may have to wait until this upcoming November for Pondexter to fully recover from undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in May.

The Pelicans didn’t do much this offseason in terms of additions, and they’re banking on a more offensive-minded coach to help them take a step forward after last year’s relative success. In order for that to come to fruition, they will need everybody to be healthy, and hope for no more setbacks to Holiday, Pondexter, or anyone else.

Warriors unveil practice facility championship banner (with names of every player)

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On Oct. 27 the Golden State Warriors will unveil a championship banner at Oracle Arena to the deafening roar of Warriors fans that waited 40 years — through some terrible ownership — to see another one of those. All while Anthony Davis glares.

But that’s not the first banner to go up.

The Warriors’ practice facility in Oakland is ringed with banners representing the great players in Warriors history, major milestones of the franchise, and a 1975 championship banner. Now that banner has a twin — the practice facility banner went up Friday.

And it had the name of every player on last year’s Warriors’ team.

You have to be happy for the fan base — they have remained loyal through two decades of ownership that would have been the worst in the NBA had Donald Sterling not set that bar so very low. You have to be happy for Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut and the players. It’s just a feel-good story, unless you’re a Cavs fan (and don’t worry, your turn is coming).

Anthony Davis “definitely” plans on shooting more threes this season

Anthony Davis

Fresh off signing a five-year, $143 million extension with the Pelicans, Anthony Davis is going into this season with high expectations on both an individual and a team level. The Pelicans made the playoffs for the first time in his career, and they’re now expected to be in the mix going forward. Davis has established himself as an MVP candidate and All-NBA caliber player, even as he has so much room to grow in his game at age 22. One thing he hasn’t done much of so far is shoot threes.

In a new interview with SLAM‘s Chris Cason, Davis says he plans on shooting more threes this year:

SLAM: There was a video out a few weeks ago with you working on your three-point shot. Can we expect you to step out and take more going forward?

AD: I’m going to mix it up. I love playing down low, but at the same time, if the opportunity is there; I’m definitely going to take them. That’s one thing for sure that coach Gentry has told me—“Shoot the ball,” “Let it go.” I’ve been working on it and I’m very confident in my game.

I’ve shot three’s all my life. I didn’t really need to shoot them over the past few years as much, but I’m never going to turn down shooting threes, especially if the coach tells me he wants me to shoot them. It’s something that I’ve definitely been working on. I definitely plan on utilizing it this year.

As incredible as Davis is, three-point shooting has never been one of his strengths. He’s shot just 27 threes in his three-year career, and made just three of them. But he’s extended his shooting range out to midrange, where he shot 41.9 percent last season. He shot 35.7 percent from 20-24 feet, and if he can even get his three-point shooting around there, to where defenses have to respect it, that’s huge. With all the other ways Davis can destroy you on the offensive end, if he adds even a respectable three-point shot, that makes him that much more lethal.

Pelicans strength coach says Anthony Davis is “stronger than he’s ever been”

Anthony Davis

Who’s excited for #MuscleWatch? Every year, as training camp approaches, you hear about players being in the best shape of their lives, or putting on 10 pounds of muscle. Sometimes it translates into results, and sometimes it doesn’t.

If this latest entrant turns out to be the real deal, that could be scary for the rest of the league. Pelicans strength coach Jason Sumerlin says Anthony Davis has put on 12 pounds of muscle, bringing him up to 253 pounds.

Via Pelicans.com:

“Our first phase was portion control,” said Sumerlin, taking over for Carlos Daniel, who left to further his education in the training field. “I wanted Anthony to eat more than he does, actually, because that’s the only way to gain weight. You have to get more protein, more calories. He’s never going to cut out pizza, but I finally got him to eat seafood, for the first time ever. He had salmon. He also has a chef now, so he’s become more adventurous when it comes to food and his diet. Changing his diet is a huge thing and probably half the battle.”

The second aspect of Davis’ muscle increase came from spending extensive time in the weight room with Sumerlin, getting on an uninterrupted lifting routine.

“He has been lifting consistently, doing all the small things perfectly and efficiently,” Sumerlin said of Davis’ regimen. “We are more consistent in his lifts and his corrective exercises. He’s lifted a lot more weight – he’s stronger than he’s ever been.”

The additional strength should allow Davis to hold his ground better against bigger frontcourt players he faces, some of whom have outweighed or outmuscled him in the past.

“He’s going to be stronger, faster, quicker and more explosive this year,” said Sumerlin, who has also emphasized core strength. “He talks about it all the time. He feels it. His trunk stability is a huge thing. Whenever he has been down low with the big guys, he kind of collapses (at his midsection). He’s starting to understand how to use his body more efficiently now.”

You obviously have to take any August reports about the shape a player is in with a sizable grain of salt, but the idea of a stronger but still agile Anthony Davis is absolutely terrifying. He’s going to be playing a lot of center in Alvin Gentry’s offense, so the added strength will come in handy for banging with opposing bigs. Davis is already in line to be the next generational superstar; this might be the year he overtakes LeBron James and Kevin Durant and becomes the best player in the NBA.