Pelicans’ coach Alvin Gentry talks defense, faster play, more Anthony Davis

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In a deep and talented Western Conference, the New Orleans Pelicans are a team on the rise. They have one of the game’s elite players in Anthony Davis, and next season should have key contributors Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson finally healthy. They are not contenders yet, but they could get there in a few years.

Which is why Alvin Gentry was hired as coach.

He’s player friendly, the guy in charge of the Clippers then Warriors offenses the past two seasons, and a coach who just picked up a championship ring. He’s a fantastic hire by the Pelicans.

So how does he plan to get the Pelicans to the next level? Here is what he told John Schuhmann of NBA.com.

Defense first: “We’ve got to do something about (their bottom 10 defense). First of all, we’ve got to get better perimeter defense out front, so that we’re not getting penetration from perimeter players, which causes our bigs to be in rotation. That’s the first thing that we’ve got to do. Secondly, we’ve got to be better as a team, in our rotations, in our protection of the lane. The big thing is that you’ve got to take away dribble penetration.”

Just to be clear, defense is the training camp priority? “Sure it is. That’s how we won the championship last year, make no mistake about it. Our offense was good, because our defense was great.”

More Anthony Davis: I think we’ll try to expand (Davis’) game. He’s a good enough shooter where he can step out and make corner threes right now. The big thing is that we’ve got to have more possessions per 48 minutes. The way you do that is you’ve got to play with faster pace…. The thing that I saw was that he was very efficient in transition, as far as percentage. But he was extremely low as far as opportunities. So obviously, we have to get more opportunities for him.

Get the guards healthy: Having (Jrue) Holiday healthy, having Tyreke [Evans] healthy, Eric Gordon when healthy the whole season. Our goal is to get those guys healthy and see that unit play as a group.

One other thing mentioned — and it was pretty much a given with Gentry taking over — is to expect a much faster pace from the Pelicans. They were a bottom 10 teams in terms of pace last season. This season Davis and those guards will get out and run.

I expect an improvement, a nice jump in the level of play from the Pelicans this season. The problem is, they are in the West, and it’s hard to move up a lot of slots when the Warriors, Clippers, Spurs, Thunder, Grizzlies, and Rockets are there, too. Still, look for this to be a year the Pelicans take a Davis-sized step forward.