Player development profile: Dave Hanners

by Jim Eichenhofer
@Jim_Eichenhofer

It’s not often that an NBA coach gets to see one of his players apply something he’d practiced to perfection in a critical moment of a game, but with time ticking down at Smoothie King Center on March 9, that’s exactly what New Orleans Pelicans assistant Dave Hanners watched transpire.

Trailing Denver 94-92 with 6.8 seconds left, New Orleans’ Tyreke Evans tried to throw an inbound pass to Anthony Davis, but Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried broke up the play, causing a scramble situation. Pelicans guard Anthony Morrow tracked down the loose ball near the left sideline, took three right-hand dribbles to the foul-line circle, then fired a jumper over 5-foot-11 guard Ty Lawson. Morrow, who’d been working on ball-handling all season with Hanners, rattled in a 17-foot shot to force overtime. New Orleans prevailed 111-107 in OT.

“A lot of times when he went into games at shooting guard, he had smaller defenders on him,” Hanners explained of the 6-foot-5 Morrow. “He wanted to be able to shoot over them in the free-throw line area. He did a good job and improved in that area this season. He put it down, didn’t turn it over, and managed to shoot over a lot of guys.”

Morrow, one of the two guards Hanners worked with closely in 2013-14, was a major success story in his debut season with the Pelicans, partly due to the six-year veteran’s desire to expand his offensive repertoire. Morrow ranks third among all active NBA players in career three-point percentage (42.8), but wanted to show that he’s more than just a spot-up shooter.

“He really worked on it,” Hanners said. “We had a routine that we did every day. He shot a large number of threes (at practice), but he also worked on putting the ball down from every spot on the floor. Going left or right, and being able to get to 12 or 15 feet to make a jumper or floater. That was in his daily routine.”

A closer look at Hanners’ player development subjects and areas they’ve focused on improving:

Jrue Holiday
Reducing turnovers
Hanners: “We looked at his stats from his career and I said, ‘If you were going to zero in on one thing, what would it be?’ Jrue said he’d like to do a better job with his assist-to-turnover ratio. He had plenty of assists, but wanted to reduce his games of four or five turnovers. So a lot of our film sessions and drill work was intended to get him to make better decisions and see the floor a little bit better.”

Already an All-Star selection but only 23 years old, Holiday will benefit from experience and maturity as he enters his prime. Holiday is one of the NBA’s most potent scorers among point guards, which actually can make it tougher for him to weigh when to shoot and when to distribute.

“He’s a great scorer, very capable of getting to the basket, pulling up for shots or catching-and-shooting threes,” Hanners said of Holiday. “When he does think to pass, sometimes it’s a little late. Having that recognition to be a passer and a scorer is not easy. He started off the year and was turning over the ball a lot, but right before he got injured, he was really cutting back his turnovers.”

Holiday’s debut season with the Pelicans was prematurely ended by a right-leg stress fracture in January after just 32 games. During the half-season he was on the court, however, Hanners was impressed by the extremely coachable player.

“It’s amazing how astute he is and how well he defines issues (that need improvement), to where I don’t even need to do it,” Hanners said. “He watches film (of his turnovers) and says, ‘That was just careless. If I made that pass 10 times, I wouldn’t make it that way again.’ That’s a maturity thing, too, that he’ll improve. You forget how young he is. The more film he watches and the more minutes he plays, the better he’s going to be.”

Anthony Morrow
Defense
When Morrow met with Hanners before the season, the perimeter marksman was blunt in the self-analysis of his game.

“Anthony said he’d never been a very good defender,” Hanners noted. “But he thought that the coaches he’d played for never emphasized it. They wanted him to shoot the ball and not worry about the rest of it.”

Elite NBA shooters who’ve primarily been role players – such as Morrow, Steve Novak and James Jones – often run the risk of being branded as one-trick ponies that do little besides fire from long range. Morrow wanted to expand his game, with top priority being his effectiveness on the defensive end.

“He really had a drive, an itch, to become a more well-rounded player,” Hanners said of Morrow, “so that people don’t just look at him as just a three-point shooter.”

Although defensive statistics are often misleading, Morrow’s defensive rating improved slightly from his previous NBA seasons, to 113 points allowed per 100 possessions. Hanners believes Morrow was one of the Pelicans’ most improved defenders, particularly away from the play, when a player must track the location of the ball and the man he’s guarding simultaneously.

“I think he made some of the greatest strides as a team defender,” Hanners said. “He went from not being able to guard away from the ball at all, being such a liability, to being someone we could count on, knowing he was going to do the right things. That comes from practice, listening to Monty (Williams) and film sessions, understanding what the weakside defender is supposed to do. As a team defender, he made big strides.

“He’s a gym rat,” Hanners complimented. “He’s going to be in the gym every day. He’s very disciplined in that regard.”

Monty Williams on Hanners, a former North Carolina player and assistant coach:
“He’s just a basketball guy. Those guys that come from Carolina, they sleep, eat and think about basketball. The stories he tells me about (legendary UNC coach) Dean Smith, how they parallel what I’m going through right now, kind of blow me away. He tells me things I never would’ve thought Dean Smith had to go through as a young coach. It’s really encouraging for me. Dave’s got a really good offensive mind and sees the game differently. He has a unique way of thinking about the game, and it really helps me from a different viewpoint.”