The 2015-16 NBA Season starts soon, preseason hoops are in full swing, and playoff prognostications have begun in earnest. Since season previews can get bogged down by team-specific minutiae, and we cover every basketball team, we’re providing our readers reasons why you should care about all 30 teams in the Association.
The Anthony Davis ballyhoo keeps crescendoing and we’re wondering if it’ll ever even out, or at least relent. That’s not a knock on the Brow, but it’s how we always feel when the stratosphere becomes the new threshold for excellence.
But perhaps that’s the norm now that Davis is coached by Alvin Gentry. The expectation is the Pellies will make the playoffs like they did last season, but that they’ll actually improve upon their 4-0 first-round TKO to Gentry’s old team, the Warriors.
And part of that stems from Gentry’s free-wheeling offensive system, the same motion-heavy strategy employed by last year’s Dubs team and his old Seven Seconds or Less Suns. It’s an offense we all love, with bodies in constant motion, and the ball whipping around the perimeter as guys duck in and out of the paint. Misdirection is rampant, and it’s really just a ton of fun. Pelicans fans should be happy.
But their backcourt is in tatters after Tyreke Evans had surgery on his knee for the third time in two years — knocking him out for 1-2 months and casting a shroud over all the optimism Gentry’s hiring instilled. You see, their other point guard, Jrue Holiday, might be on a 15-minute restriction through New Years, and that means a lot of faith is put in Eric Gordon, the only other guard — with the possible exception of the newly recruited Nate Robinson, who can act as a valve for all the defensive pressure Davis will see where he’s roaming.
But in Gentry’s system, he’ll be a rover more than a power forward, capable of curling off screens at the elbow extended. And when Gentry puts Davis at the five and Ryan Anderson at the four, that’ll be their small ball, but with Davis playing the Steph and Draymond roles. Yeah, we’re pretty high on the Unibrow.
Anthony Davis, NBA MVP
Anthony Davis is nearly past the point of potential.
That’s what happens when a 21-year-old averages 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks per game while becoming the youngest player in league history to post a PER of 30.0 or more. By the time the New Orleans Pelicans franchise player flat-out dominated the eventual champion Golden State Warriors in the first-round of the playoffs, Davis was already basketball’s next big thing. But after introducing himself to a national audience in April, he became something even more – a meteorite of stardom the entire sporting world could see.
It’s impossible not to gush about Davis as a player today. A summer of dedicated training has the once skinny big man up to a thick 253 pounds. He’s coming off pin-downs for 3-pointers and leading the break by himself in preseason play, and has openly discussed the prospect of embracing his frightening recent past as a high-school guard.
And here’s the part about The Brow’s ongoing evolution that only basketball nerds are considering: Alvin Gentry’s breakneck system is the perfect fit to maximize his otherworldly gifts. Davis was going to take the next step in 2015-16 regardless of who roamed New Orleans’ sidelines. With Gentry at the helm, though, he’s poised to skip past it with one mind-bogglingly long stride to begin another.
Just where, exactly, could that place him in the individual basketball hierarchy? Alone at the top, which maybe says more about Davis than anything else in a league where an engaged LeBron James can nearly will his undermanned team to a championship and Kevin Durant is one injury-plagued season removed from one of the most effortlessly efficient and prolific offensive campaigns we’ve ever seen.
It’s no longer a question of Davis one day becoming the best player in the world, basically, but whether his reign atop the game will be marked by the only achievement he knows is above any reproach: multiple championships.
There have been stretches of certain players’ careers that almost render their quality of teammates and competition meaningless. Michael Jordan in the early 1990s is the most famous example, and LeBron James’ second and third years with Miami Heat is the most recent one.
Just how good could Davis be? It’s almost time to start measuring his ability in trophies as opposed to points, rebounds, or blocks, a treatment solely reserved for all-time greats that’s coming soon for New Orleans’ superstar – and is the surest indicator yet of his G.O.A.T. ceiling.
Alvin Gentry, the backcourt’s health, and ‘Reke’s underrated 2014-15 season
Already you can see the offensive difference from last season simply by looking at play type this preseason. The highest percentage of their offensive possessions that end in a shot, free throw or turnover come out of transition (17.7 percent). This is a very tiny sample size, but it gives us a general idea about their offensive mentality: always be pushing it.
When you’re using a 15-second shot clock and training to run, run and run some more, this is to be expected. But how will it affect their guard play, which is a mess with ‘Reke out for the first two months and Jrue limited by a right tibia that’s basically Samuel L. Jackson in Unbreakable at this point (without the nefarious plot to ascertain Bruce Willis’ superhero character).
“It’s tough,” Anthony Davis recently told ESPN.com about all the injuries. “Now with Tyreke going down, we won’t have our complete team until January sometime.” He’s right, of course, and it just stinks because this was supposed to be the Pelicans’ year to shine.
“It’s tough because you’re coming in with high expectations, thinking everybody is healthy. And then, stuff happens.”
With Jrue and ‘Reke limited or missing, that leaves Eric Gordon, who is finally in the last year of that four-year, $58 million deal, which analysts have maligned almost from the moment it was signed. Except, Eric shot well from the field this year, and he’s the only reason Pelicans fans shouldn’t be worried about a slow start possibly affecting all that playoff talk.
Except the loss of ‘Reke is big. He’s tailor-made for Gentry’s speed-it-up style. There aren’t many guards who combine his handle, size, and slippery ability to get into the paint and finish, despite scouting reports almost daring him to chuck it from outside. Evans led the league in drives last season, per the NBA’s SportVU tracking data, taking it to the cup 11.9 times per game. He only shot 44 percent on those drives, but puts so much pressure on the defense, it creates offensive rebounding opportunities for Ryan Anderson (still underrated in that department) and Davis.
‘Reke was also the perfect complement to Gordon, who is leery of venturing into the paint and struggles to finish at the rim (only 46.4 percent from 0-3 feet last year, which is quite bad). But Gordon was in the top five of the NBA for 3-point percentage, and the Pelicans will rely on that accuracy from deep to alleviate defenses overloading whatever side Anthony Davis is on.
Evans and Holiday need to get healthy once they return over the holidays, but there are worse fill-ins than Nate Robinson and Norris Cole. With the Pellies running and gunning like this, it masks a lot of holes they have due to injury. Gentry doesn’t seem to have brought Golden State’e injury luck with him to the Bayou.
According to Evans, that’s the only thing separating the 2015 NBA Champs and the team they swept in the first round. We’ll see just how hyperbolic that statement was as the season progresses and they reach their full health.