Injuries keep two Pelicans from USA participation this time

by Jim Eichenhofer

LAS VEGAS – For long stretches of USA Basketball’s annual showcase game a year ago in Las Vegas, the promising long-term future of the New Orleans Pelicans was on impressive display. While Pelicans forward Anthony Davis was busy staking a legitimate claim as one of the two best players on the floor – Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving was the night’s MVP – guard Jrue Holiday and forward Ryan Anderson also excelled against elite competition. Davis racked up 23 points (on 10-for-13 shooting) and seven rebounds in just 27 minutes. Holiday’s all-around skill set yielded 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Anderson went 3-for-3 from three-point range, showing the long-distance accuracy that led to his USA invitation.

Unfortunately for the Pelicans, that July 26 exhibition proved to be one of the few times all three players would be on the court at the same time. As a result of intermittent and ultimately season-ending injuries to Holiday and Anderson, the Pelicans’ USA Basketball trio was simultaneously in uniform for only 15 regular season games. New Orleans went 9-6 in those contests, but just 25-42 in other games.

Neither Holiday (right tibia stress fracture) nor Anderson (herniated cervical disc) played beyond the first week of January, misfortune that also carried into their potential 2014 USA Basketball activities. With both players currently rehabilitating and trying to get back on the court this summer, participation with the American team was out of the question.

“Both of them can really play,” Davis said of his Pelicans teammates after a USA practice. “Both of them have amazing talent. Unfortunately they got injured during the season, which didn’t allow them to be here. They both played well in that Blue-White (showcase) game. I’m pretty sure they’ll get another opportunity next go-around. But right now we’re just trying to get them right for the NBA season.”

Pelicans four-year head coach and USA assistant Monty Williams is taking a glass-half-full approach to the situation, saying that the duo’s lengthy time away from basketball could pay dividends down the road, particularly during the exhausting 82-game schedule.

“I look at it both ways. They’re missing out on this, but they’re two guys who play a ton of minutes. So, it’s a blessing that they’re getting good rest,” Williams said. “They’re going to be a bit rusty when they come back, but I think they’ll be fresher. I’d love to have them here. I think they both would have a good chance to make this team. And yet, you can’t do anything about injuries. It’s part of the game.”

The 26-year-old Anderson and 24-year-old Holiday fit the current prototype for the USA roster, as talented young players who still haven’t entered their basketball prime. Anderson is an even more dangerous three-point shooter in the international game, which uses a shorter-distance three-point line than the NBA. Holiday’s defense and multi-dimensional offense allow him to provide whatever a team needs, an invaluable trait for a point guard surrounded by world-class talent.

“Ryan with his shooting ability, and Jrue with his aggressiveness on the ball defensively,” Davis said of their national-team strengths. “And (Holiday) can definitely score the ball with the best of them. They both bring something different to the table and things that can definitely help USA.”

Anderson and Holiday could be back in consideration for Team USA next summer. If the American squad wins gold at the FIBA World Cup in Spain (Aug. 30-Sept. 14), it will earn an automatic bid to the 2016 Olympics. By that summer, the two Pelicans will still only be 28 and 26 years of age.

“Just being around any atmosphere like this and playing against the best players, it only helps your game,” Williams said of the benefits of international competition. “You may pick up something about the way another player works, or from hearing different coaching styles. I think it adds to who you are as a player.”