It was one of the most perplexing things about the Pelicans the last couple seasons. When the game would get tight late, one of their guards would walk the ball up the court (allowing the defense to fully get set), then usually pound the ball into the ground with his dribble before trying to create a shot for himself in the final seconds of the clock.
The Pelicans played slow (27th in the league in pace) and went away from Anthony Davis in the fourth quarters of games.
New head coach Alvin Gentry will change that.
Gentry was the best offensive mind available on the coaching market. The past two seasons he was the lead assistant for Doc Rivers with the Clippers then for Steve Kerr with the Warriors — the two best offenses in the NBA. Gentry had a heavy hand in both.
Gentry’s philosophy is to keep attacking and keep the defense on its heels — which means playing far more up tempo. The Pelicans should have been doing that already. Davis is their best player and runs the floor like a gazelle, the young big will beat his man down the court almost every time and either score or create matchup nightmares to be exploited.
Gentry told Pelicans’ GM Dell Demps and the rest of the New Orleans front office they simply were not using Davis enough, something reported by Monte Poole of CSNBayArea.com.
Gentry believes the Pelicans have underutilized Davis’ offensive skills. Not only did he express this during his initial interview with (head of basketball operations Micky) Loomis and Demps, but Gentry also came into that session equipped with charts and graphs to illustrate his point.
By underutilize, he doesn’t just mean more touches, he also means better ones. Davis was too often the safety net for the offense, with his chance coming late in the clock after the guards exhausted options for themselves. Then in the fourth quarter the Pelicans would just stop feeding him the ball at all.
Change that dynamic and combine it with a point guard like Jrue Holiday and a sharpshooter like Ryan Anderson running to the arc and there is great potential. (It should be noted here both of those guys were injured much of last season, just having them back healthy improves this roster.)
My guess is we will see a lot more of Davis as the center, with Anderson at the four, and less of Davis paired with Omer Asik (who will come off the bench). Davis and Holiday can run a devastating pick-and-roll, especially if the floor is spread with shooters. Also, expect Davis to get the ball at the elbow and the offense to run through him more.
The offense is tantalizing, but it is the defensive end where Gentry needs to make the biggest impact. The Pelicans were bottom 10 in defensive rating last season.
He’s not known as a defensive coach, but the last two teams where he was an assistant — Golden State and the L.A. Clippers — were very good on that end. The Pelicans have the personnel to be better, but it will be interesting to see what schemes Gentry puts in place. Don’t be surprised if his lead assistant is a defensive specialist.
For the next couple weeks, Gentry can “relax” and not worry about the challenges of the Pelicans, all he needs to deal with is LeBron James. Gentry will stay with the Warriors through the NBA Finals before jumping on a plane to the land of gumbo.
Gentry was a good hire by the Pelicans, a guy who has both knows the league and is learning new things from elite franchises. Did you really want to see how Tom Thibodeau would grind down Anthony Davis after a few seasons? Gentry landed the best job that will open up this summer in the NBA — with Davis this team has incredible potential for growth.
Now he just has to get them to play faster and get the ball to Davis in the fourth quarter.