The New Orleans Pelicans hired Golden State Warriors associate head coach Alvin Gentry on Saturday evening, and while some may just look at this as a retread hire, it’s a solid pick for New Orleans.
Gentry’s overall coaching record isn’t all that great, as he holds just a 335-370 regular-season record and has only been to the playoffs twice. But the 60-year-old has a strong track record of coaching offense (and fast-paced offense at that), something that should be a positive when it comes to the development of superstar Anthony Davis and his teammates.
Gentry has experience coaching under Gregg Popovich, and he was an assistant under Mike D’Antoni for those Seven Seconds or Less Suns teams. In his first full season as Suns head coach in 2009-10, Phoenix went to the Western Conference Finals and had the best offense in the league by a wide margin. The Suns’ offense wasn’t quite as good the following years, but it was still a top 10 unit that played fast.
Gentry was on Doc Rivers’s staff with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2013-14, a season in which the Clippers had the best offense in the league. And this year, Gentry is one of the masterminds of the Golden State Warriors’ offense, which was a tick behind the Clippers for best in the league.
The Pelicans certainly weren’t bad offensively this year. On the contrary, actually. New Orleans scored 105.4 points per 100 possessions on the year, good for ninth in the league, per NBA.com.
But where Gentry will help is pace. The Pelicans played at the fourth-slowest pace in the league this year, and Gentry plans to speed things up, which makes a ton of sense for a team with an athletic freak in Davis and some talented guards in Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon.
Davis enjoyed an incredible season, averaging 24.4 points on 53.5 percent shooting in the regular season and bumping that up to 31.5 points per game on 54.0 percent shooting in the playoffs. But Gentry believes Davis’s immense skills can be utilized even more:
— Mason Ginsberg (@MasonGinsberg) May 31, 2015
One area where Davis was clearly underutilized was crunch-time offense. Despite shooting a whopping 61.7 percent from the field in clutch situations (last five minutes of fourth quarter and overtime with margin within five points), he only took 60 clutch shots, per NBA.com. For some reference, Russell Westbrook led the league in clutch field goal attempts with 120 and Evans took 76 clutch shots despite shooting just 32.9 percent on those shots. Considering Davis’s impressive efficiency on those shots and in general, it makes all the sense in the world to do whatever you can to get him more opportunities when the game is on the line.
While Gentry should help the Pelicans’ offense, there are legitimate questions about the defense. He’s never been much of a defensive guy, and New Orleans was a poor defensive team this season despite having Davis and Omer Asik starting in the frontcourt, although it must be pointed out that the defense was generally strong when Davis and Asik shared the court. It was when those guys were off the floor that things got ugly.
Gentry would do well to hire a strong assistant coach to help run the defense, similar to what Ron Adams does for Steve Kerr in New Orleans. Tom Thibodeau actually sounds like the perfect candidate for that kind of job, but it’s hard to imagine Thibs taking an assistant job, even with no other NBA head coaching positions for him at the moment.
If the defense improves and the offense takes another step toward an elite level, the Pelicans really could be a force to be reckoned with in the Western Conference. This season was a good step forward for the franchise, but making the jump from merely very good to legitimate contender is a difficult one, and it’ll be on Gentry to help them make that jump.