Grooming a superstar is a large part of winning in the NBA.
For the last three years, Monty Williams helped Anthony Davis grow on and off the court. AD’s potential was there long before he met the former New Orleans Pelicans coach, but Williams helped him go from a skinny teenager with a unibrow to one of the best players on the planet.
Now that torch will be passed to Alvin Gentry, who, as first reported by ESPN’s Marc Stein on Saturday, will be New Orleans’ next coach:
Later in the day, New Orleans confirmed Stein's report and announced Gentry as its next sideline general.
About three weeks ago, the Pelicans fired Williams after he transformed the team from a bottom-feeder into a playoff participant in the ferocious Western Conference during a span of five years.
Back in April, Davis was sensational and the resilient Pelicans fought hard in their first playoff appearance since 2010-11. But their efforts were no match for the top-seeded Golden State Warriors, the team from which NOLA is prying Gentry.
The 12-year head coaching vet has served as Steve Kerr’s right-hand man this season as the associate head coach. He’s been an integral part of why the Dubs were the NBA’s undisputed top dog.
New Orleans needs Gentry to bring that same level of fast-paced winning to the bayou. Perhaps more importantly, though, the team needs Gentry to give Davis a reason to be a Pelican for life.
Despite the number of highlights AD accumulated on the break, New Orleans was one of the league’s slowest teams this past year.
Gentry will change that—he helped orchestrate the Warriors’ top-ranked offense, which ran 100.7 possessions a night.
"We want to keep the defense on its heels by always staying in attack mode," Gentry told Sports Illustrated’s Ben Golliver. "That’s been our philosophy here.”
It’s been his philosophy elsewhere, too. From 2008-2013, Gentry spearheaded the Phoenix Suns’ up-and-down attack. Prior to that, he served as an assistant under Mike D’Antoni, whose rapid-fire offense made the Suns a contender and gave Steve Nash a pair of back-to-back MVP awards.
Williams’ firing initially didn’t feel right. After all this man had done for the team, why send him packing as soon as he started to win? But as Golliver wrote on May 31, it all makes sense now:
Now, with Gentry on deck, the logic behind the coaching change is clear as day: one of the league's slowest teams in recent years plans to significantly pick up the tempo. That's a frightening proposition for opponents, who now must contemplate Anthony Davis like they've never seen him before, in a fast and loose system that should utilize his obscene athleticism and above-the-rim finishing ability.
Davis played at an MVP level all year, with his game growing from beginning to end faster than a Chia Pet. He dunked and drove a ton, for sure, but AD’s jumper put defenses in a pick-your-poison scenario every night.
|Efficiency: AD's Jumper|
|Distance (2014-15)||Efficiency (2014-15)||2013-14||2013-14|
|Less than 5 feet||70.4 percent||Less than 5 feet||66.9 percent|
|5-9 feet||39.6 percent||5-9 feet||36.4 percent|
|10-14 feet||46.3 percent||10-14 feet||44.6 percent|
|15-19 feet||42.3 percent||15-19 feet||36.5 percent|
|20-24 feet||35.7 percent||20-24 feet||42.4 percent|
|Total jumpers||41.4 percent||Total jumpers||38.3 percent|
Not only did his percentages improve, he hit a ton more shots.
|Total shots: AD's Jumper|
|5-9 feet||55-139||5-9 feet||48-132|
|10-14 feet||69-149||10-14 feet||54-121|
|15-19 feet||152-359||15-19 feet||89-224|
|20-24 feet||20-56||20-24 feet||14-33|
|Total jumpers||296-715||Total jumpers||211-551|
Golliver expects Davis to spend much more time at center than he did this year, when the big fella shared the frontcourt with fellow 7-footer Omer Asik.
The result of such a lineup will be an increased number of pick-and-rolls, with defenses clueless as to whether Davis will spread his wings and soar to the cup or step back and sink an open jumper.
While Gentry will jumpstart this team’s offensive potential by letting Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday push the pace in the open court, he’ll have his hands full defensively.
Despite having a pair of stalwarts in the middle and some sound wings like Quincy Pondexter, NOLA’s defensive ranking was 22nd, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
After reporting that Gentry was heading New Orleans, Stein said the team was impressed with what Golden State’s associate head coach had done with the Warriors defense:
The foundation is there. Davis is an elite shot-blocker and a freak athlete with the rare, LeBron James-esque ability to guard nearly every position—point guards don't blow by him on switches. Holiday and Evans are stout on the perimeter while Pondexter and Dante Cunningham are capable wing scrappers.
Gentry has always been offensive-minded. But as SB Nation’s Tom Ziller points out, he’s never been an elite defensive wizard. A strong staff of veterans, like the one Kerr has in Golden State, will be huge if the Pels are to capitalize on that defensive potential.
ESPN TrueHoop’s Michael McNamara has a few names in mind:
In Gentry’s first season with New Orleans, expect to see a team that’s better on both sides, faster and more fun to watch.
But what happens after that?
Davis, just 22 years old, is heading into his fourth NBA season. Stein reported in April that the Pels were trying to sign him to an extension this summer, but that’s up in the air.
Unless something changes, AD will be a restricted free agent in the summer of 2017—which will be after two years with Gentry at the helm.
If the Pelicans aren’t a contender by then, or haven't at least come close, wouldn’t Davis be foolish not to seek out another landing spot? He’s truly capable of becoming the best player in the sport as soon as next year. And the best players want to win.
Coaching a potential all-timer is what made this job so intriguing. It’s the same reason Billy Donovan left his throne at Florida to coach Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on the Oklahoma City Thunder.
If all goes according to plan, Davis, Gentry and the rest of the franchise will rack up titles.
But if the decision to can Williams, with whom Davis had grown exceptionally close, comes back to bite the Pels, AD could seek out championship opportunities elsewhere.
It’s a bit of a risky move to let go of the franchise player’s mentor, but it's a shrewd one in the sense that Gentry will give Davis a better shot at adding some hardware to his trophy case.
In a few years, if New Orleans hits this one out of the park, Gentry could be doing the same thing with another superstar—The Brow.
Stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.