Work on body, jumper highlighted Davis offseason
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
Not far removed from their own professional playing careers, New Orleans Pelicans assistant coaches Carlos Daniel and Kevin Hanson are as qualified as anyone to understand how Anthony Davis’ diligent offseason work on his 230-pound body could help him on the court in 2013-14. It’s not uncommon during Pelicans practices to see the 6-foot-7 Daniel and the 6-10 Hanson taking a hands-on approach with Davis, using their size and muscle to help teach the second-year power forward how to hold his ground in the paint. Davis, who lost about 10 pounds during his rookie season, fully committed to a conditioning program this summer, resulting in a noticeably sturdier frame.
“Before, we could push him around and get away with it,” said Daniel, a former Washington State forward. “Now he’s withstanding contact and going through physical play to get his shot off. He’s doing a much better job holding his position on the floor. That was one of my main focuses coming into this season, for him to establish a spot and be able to hold it. He’s a lot stronger on his moves.”
“He’s gained a lot of strength,” former University of San Diego center Hanson said. “He’s able to absorb contact and go through it, whereas before he’d shy away from contact or get bumped off of the spot he wanted.”
Davis enters Wednesday’s opener vs. Indiana coming off an eye-opening preseason in which he showed considerable improvement in several facets of his game. The 6-foot-10 Kentucky product led the Pelicans by averaging 19.9 points, in just 27.4 minutes (New Orleans often rested its starters in fourth quarters). He shot an outstanding 55.2 percent from the field and 84.3 percent from the foul line. Perhaps just as tellingly, he went to the free-throw line 51 times in the eight games, after averaging just 3.5 trips to the charity stripe per game as a rookie.
Davis debuted in the NBA as a No. 1 overall draft pick with a considerable amount of hype, but he was still a 19-year-old and often overpowered by some of the league’s savvy, veteran big men. The experience of appearing in 64 regular-season games and logging 1,846 minutes helped him learn how to better capitalize on his strengths and adjust to defenders.
“We talked about being aggressive,” Hanson said of Davis’ offensive approach. “Don’t settle for jumpers, attack the paint, especially against guys who can’t move their feet with him. He’s got to attack them, and he understands that. Sometimes your (perimeter) shot is not going in. He’s got a good mix now of when to shoot it and when to attack.”
“Sometimes the best teacher is experience,” Daniel said. “He knew from going out there and getting pushed around a little bit, it was a wake-up call. Yes, you have a ton of talent. But in order to be the player we need him to be – and the player he wants to be – he knew he had to change his body.”
Not long after New Orleans concluded its 2012-13 season with an April 17 loss at Dallas, Davis went to work on preparing for his sophomore NBA campaign. The Chicago native made changes to his diet and spent a substantial amount of time in the weight room with Daniel.
“He had to make a commitment to himself and get stronger,” Daniel said. “Coming off of last season, he knew that he had to change something. He made a commitment to me and the program to say, ‘Hey, I want to get stronger.’ It started there. It was really simple. No tricks. No bells and whistles. We just said we’re going to move iron. That’s what we did all summer.”
A noted lover of pizza, Davis has scaled back a bit on his favorite food, changing his daily approach in order to better handle the rigorous 82-game season.
“He’s eating better,” Daniel said. “Last year we were thinking, ‘Just please eat. Eat as much as you can, because we want to put weight on you and keep weight on you.’ Now we’re maturing in our approach. This year, he’s working with a chef, so he’s eating more consistently and bigger meals. Last year was a heavy pizza diet because he was a 19-year-old kid. But by eating better, it will be good for his endurance, recovery and stamina. We want to make sure he’s getting the proper proteins and carbohydrates, so that whatever he uses on a daily basis, we’re putting it back into his system. We want him to get extra calories – but not bad calories – so that he can efficiently use them.”
For those watching closely this season, Davis’ body won’t be the only noticeable change to the player’s appearance on the court. Pelicans coaches also tweaked his shooting form, after detecting minor flaws that were affecting his accuracy and consistency. Davis had a tendency on jump shots to hold the ball close to his forehead, which subconsciously made him tilt his head backward instead of staying squared up to the basket. During the offseason, he worked on releasing the ball higher and farther from his head, resulting in a more balanced form.
“Shooting from his forehead made him lean his head back,” Hanson said. “We want to get the ball up and (further) in front. It makes for a cleaner finish. We raised his shot about six inches, to avoid the ball going behind his head. When you get the ball behind your head, you start using big-muscle groups, which you want to avoid. When you shoot, you (instead) want to be like a painter and use your smaller-muscle groups, including your triceps. It’s been a lot of repetition (to adjust the shot this offseason).”
Ranked near the bottom of the NBA in shooting percentage from the 16-to-23-foot range last season, Davis demonstrated his improved accuracy by scoring 22 points in the USA Basketball showcase game, on 10-for-13 shooting. He continued to regularly drain jumpers during the Pelicans’ 7-1 preseason.
“His shot has opened up so many things, because teams have to play him closely,” Hanson said. “He’s really picked up his understanding of how bigs are guarding him. The game has slowed down for him a lot right now. He’s seen a lot of different defenses and how teams play him. He’s got such a high basketball IQ, that you show him something and he picks it up.”
Along with the rest of the NBA, Pelicans coaches are intrigued to see how much of a leap Davis will make individually in his second pro season. Much like how he can no longer push Davis around in the low post now, Daniel believes opposing power forwards and centers will have a much different experience when they jostle with the 20-year-old around the basket.
“This year Anthony knows what teams are going to do to him and how certain people are going to guard him,” Daniel said. “Now you’ll see that the (opponent) who spent all of last year beating Anthony up, that’s not going to happen now. I’m really excited to see Anthony go against some of the guys who tried to go at him last year, guys who took advantage of his inexperience. That’s when you’ll see how the weight he’s put on, the muscle he’s put on, and the power increase will translate to the court.”