What happens when the NBA's top under-25 talent gets fully unleashed? We're about to find out.
The logic behind Williams's somewhat unexpected firing wasn't entirely clear at the time, as it came so quickly after his first postseason appearance and after owner Tom Benson sent out a letter of gratitude to his coaching staff. 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.
Gentry, 60, was hired by first-year Warriors coach Steve Kerr last summer as Golden State's associate head coach, tasked with injecting new life into an offense that ranked 12th in 2013-14. Reaching back to his days as an assistant and head coach in Phoenix, during the "Seven Seconds Or Less" era, Gentry helped the Warriors rank No. 1 in pace and No. 2 in offensive efficiency this season, as Stephen Curry captured his first MVP award and Klay Thompson made his first All-Star Game.
[daily_cut.NBA]In an interview with SI.com last month, Gentry laid out the thinking behind Golden State's approach on offense this season, which has seen the Warriors win 67 games and qualify for the Finals for the first time since 1975.
"We want to keep the defense on its heels by always staying in attack mode," Gentry said. That’s been our philosophy here.”
That wasn't necessarily the guiding principle in New Orleans under Williams. Despite the presence of Davis and the attack-minded Tyreke Evans, the Pelicans ranked No. 27 in pace this season. During Williams's tenure, the Pelicans were the league's slowest team twice, and they never ranked higher than 22nd in pace. This wasn't a fluke: before being hired by New Orleans, Williams was an assistant in Portland under former coach Nate McMillan, who oversaw the league's slowest team in 2009-10 and 2010-11.
Gentry told SI.com in April that he would only leave Golden State for "a good situation ... with a good franchise that will have a chance to grow and a chance to win." That sounds a lot like the Pelicans, who won 45 games this season despite a host of injuries and who will soon have the ability to ink Davis to a five-year maximum rookie extension.
His arrival promises a new era in which New Orleans' guards are encouraged to push the pace and Davis is called on to open and close transition opportunities by running the court. Look for the Pelicans to regularly use him as a center, structuring spread lineups around him to create space for pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll. When New Orleans does play big, Davis will likely be given free reign to create from the elbow, and it wouldn't be that shocking if he started to work the corner three into his offensive repertoire either.
The statistical ramifications for Davis here are mouth-watering. Last season, at age 21, he averaged 24.4 points and 10.2 rebounds while posting a 30.8 PER despite playing at a snail's pace. By comparison, a 22-year-old Amar'e Stoudemire averaged 26 points and 8.9 rebounds while posting a 26.6 PER in 2004-05 under Mike D'Antoni, with Gentry as an assistant. "Young Amar'e" was a phenom in his own right, but he was no Davis. If things fall into place and Davis continues to blossom, it's not outlandish to envision the two-time All-Star making a run at averaging 28/12, a threshold achieved by only Shaquille O'Neal over the last 30 years.
New Orleans desperately needed a trustworthy hand to guide Davis through the second chapter of his career, and Gentry is well-suited to that task. He's the type of candidate who checks all the boxes: he has 30-plus years of coaching experience, he has 12 seasons of head coaching experience (compiling a 355-370 record), he's reached the conference finals as a head coach in 2010 with the Suns and as an assistant on multiple occasions, he's worked with or for a number of well-respected coaches (Kerr, Doc Rivers, D'Antoni), he has a clear philosophy that should work with the Pelicans' core, he's worked with multiple All-Star power forwards during his career (Stoudemire and Blake Griffin), he's been on staff for multiple teams that have posted strong defensive numbers in addition to their potent offense (2014 Clippers, 2015 Warriors, and the 2010 Suns weren't terrible) and he's earned a knowledgeable, player-friendly reputation.
From the Pelicans' perspective, then, Gentry answers the experience question, the philosophy question, and the fit question. The timing question was the biggest issue, with the Finals set to open Thursday and with a number of other teams (Orlando, Denver, Chicago) looking to fill coaching vacancies. Kerr helped defuse any tension there, telling reporters before Game 2 of the Western Conference finals that he was encouraging conversation between Gentry and the Pelicans. Kerr, of course, served as Suns GM from 2007 to 2010, promoting Gentry from assistant coach to head coach in 2009.
"I want every member of our staff to embrace any opportunities that come their way regardless of what they are," Kerr said last week. "As long as it doesn't interfere with our game planning, which it hasn't."
The spawning of Golden State copycats will therefore commence immediately, and in mouth-watering fashion.