At any one time in the NBA, there are at best a handful of guys who will go down as legendary, all-time great NBA players. The men mentioned in the same breath as the best ever to lace them up. Right now there is LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan…
And Anthony Davis.
Davis is just 22, and we are a decade from knowing if he should ultimately be compared to the Duncans and LeBrons of the game — but he is on that trajectory. After just three NBA seasons, he is undoubtedly a top five NBA player and arguably in the top two. His PER of 30.8 last season was 11th best all time in the NBA; the only people ahead of him are named LeBron, Chamberlain, and Jordan. He will wear the crown of best player on the planet in a few years. He has an NCAA title, an Olympic gold medal, two All-Star games and one All-NBA Team to his credit, and he’s still just tapping into how great he can be.
It falls in part to new Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry to help him reach his potential.
Gentry talked with NBA.com’s Ian Thompson about that burden, what he has spoken with Davis about, and what he has to do as a coach to guide Davis to that potential.
“It is up to us to make him as good as he can possibly be, and not settle for him to be less than great in this area or that area. I told him that I have no doubt that he is going to be an MVP in this league. And I said to him, ‘We are going to be really, really good if you also win Defensive Player of the Year….’
“It’s like I said to him: As great as he is right now, I see his game expanding in so many areas,” says Gentry of Davis. “And the thing I like about it is he is still willing to learn. I sent Darren Erman, who is my associate head coach and defensive coordinator, to work with him, and he showed him a couple of little things from last year that he had to improve on. And every day Anthony has been working on them. Every single day. Guys usually don’t work on defensive things when you are having a workout, but he has been great at it.
“He is just a special player, and we can’t set limits on him. We have to try to take him to a level that he didn’t feel he could get to — or that no one thought he could get to. We have got to make the sky the limit for him.”
Gentry picked another great player with a legendary work ethic as a potential role model for Davis — Kevin Garnett.
“I told Anthony this — and I think it’s very important — about Kevin Garnett,” says Gentry. “I never had the opportunity to coach him, but I know guys that coached him, and they say that every day Kevin Garnett came into the gym, he had to know that when he left he was a little bit better than he was yesterday.”
Gentry’s style will help here, too. Gentry wants the game to be fun (something he said Steve Kerr emphasized last year). He wants the Pelicans to play faster, which will help Davis both get some transition buckets and get deep position more often. He has emphasized defense (the Pelicans struggled on that end last season). New Orleans is going to take a step forward this season, the only question is now big (and how far they can go in a loaded West).
But in a lot of ways, Gentry’s job (and GM Dell Demps’ job) is to get everything around Davis right. Davis himself will be amazing, but as we have seen through LeBron’s career the players around him will matter, getting those players to buy into the system will matter. Davis isn’t winning rings — which he will need for his legacy — by himself.
It’s a lot of pressure, but there may be no guy more ready for it than Gentry.