USE THE BROW AT CENTER
New Orleans invested a total of $78 million this summer to re-sign two centers, Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca, who can spare Anthony Davis from the physical toll of playing the five. Those best-laid plans were challenged when Ajinca suffered a right hamstring strain that will force him to miss the start of the season, and Asik picked up an injury (right-calf strain) that will nag at him if not properly rested.
It makes sense to try to keep the lanky Davis (6'11", 253 pounds) from taking on a taxing 82-game run as a full-time center. The logic changes, however, when the alternative there is less than adequate, like third-stringer Kendrick Perkins. Provided that Asik and Ajinca are unavailable, Davis ought to be the Pelicans' opening-night starter at center, or at the very least a regular in the center rotation. There doesn't have to be a long-term commitment. Davis can simply learn the position as he fills in for injured teammates, while also enhancing new coach Alvin Gentry's strategic options.
Davis is easily the most mobile, skilled and productive big man on the team. Putting him at center allows New Orleans to use 6'10" sharpshooter Ryan Anderson alongside him to space the floor, which in turn would catalyze the driving games of guards Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday. (That's in line with the ideals of Gentry's up-tempo offense.) No one would be shocked if Davis winds up being a revelation as a center. It just might take his teammates' misfortunes to get him to play there.
A rival scout sizes up New Orleans
Alvin Gentry's style is the opposite of Monty Williams's. He is going to want to push it and loosen up the offense. Gentry promotes good feelings. I would expect them to win five, six more games just based on the coaching change.... One thing we know about Alvin's system, he needs three-point shooters. They have a great one in Ryan Anderson. Tyreke Evans hasn't been one. Eric Gordon is streaky. If I was playing that style, I'd like another reliable shooter.... Anthony Davis is a great defender—might be the best in the league—but he can be close to a 30-point-per-game scorer. You have to cover him from 18 to 20 feet, and when you step out he can go right by you. They need to treat him like Dallas treats Dirk: Put him at the free throw line and isolate him. If he extends his range to three, and there's no reason to believe he won't, he's going to be impossible to defend.... As they play quicker, Evans is going to be a guy who plays well. He can see the floor, he can distribute the ball. You put shooters around him and he is going to hurt you.... When Jrue Holiday is healthy, they have a nice three-guard rotation with Evans and Gordon, who can push the ball. Holiday will thrive with Alvin too. When he was an All-Star with the Sixers, Holiday was penetrating, he was going to the rack. The last two years, when he has played, he has settled for the jump shot.... Omer Asik dropped off last year. He wasn't as active as he was in Chicago or Houston. He still rebounds but he does it in shorter spurts. You don't want to play Davis against the bigger centers, but I don't know how well [Asik] fits in with what Alvin wants to do.
COACH ALVIN GENTRY
(1st season with Pelicans)
2014--15 RECORD 45--37
(5th in Southwest)
PG JRUE HOLIDAY
14.8 PPG; 6.9 APG; 1.6 SPG; 44.6 FG%
SG ERIC GORDON
13.4 PPG; 3.8 APG; 41.1 FG%; 44.8 3FG%
SF DANTE CUNNINGHAM
5.2 PPG; 3.9 RPG; 0.6 BPG; 45.7 FG%
PF ANTHONY DAVIS
24.4 PPG; 10.2 RPG; 2.9 BPG; 53.5 FG%
C OMER ASIK
7.3 PPG; 9.8 RPG; 0.7 BPG; 51.7 FG%
SG TYREKE EVANS
16.6 PPG; 5.3 RPG; 6.6 APG; 44.7 FG%
PF RYAN ANDERSON
13.7 PPG; 4.8 RPG; 39.9 FG%; 34.0 3FG%
SF QUINCY PONDEXTER
7.2 PPG; 2.6 RPG; 42.1 FG%; 37.3 3FG%
Player efficiency rating for Anthony Davis last season. At 22, Davis was the youngest player ever to lead the NBA in PER.
STACY REVERE/GETTY IMAGES