Player development profile: Randy Ayers

by Jim Eichenhofer

Along with his on-court contributions in two seasons with New Orleans, former point guard Jarrett Jack coined a term that remains part of the franchise’s lexicon. As he watched a teammate make an effective low-post move that resulted in two points, Jack yelled “Big Man Camp!” from the sideline, a reference to the extensive time New Orleans’ centers and forwards were spending working on their games at practices. The “BMC” label stuck.

Since joining Monty Williams’ staff in 2010-11, lead Pelicans assistant coach Randy Ayers has been directing the team’s version of Big Man Camp, first at the Alario Center and now in Metairie. Numerous front-court players have benefited from the instruction, including All-Star Anthony Davis and center Alexis Ajinca, whose NBA career was reborn in 2013-14 after a three-year detour overseas.

Ayers believes the individual attention is critical to the improvement of players, particularly in a league where NCAA experience has been steadily decreasing. Few college stars stay in school for the full four years of eligibility.

“This is a young league now,” Ayers said. “Now your player development is one of the most important parts of what you do. I’ve been in the league 17 years. It’s a younger league, and players aren’t getting the repetitions in college that they once got. The great thing about college (was) you get reps for four years. They only play two games a week in college, so you’re in preparation mode a lot. In the NBA, you play four or five games a week, so it’s a different dynamic (with less practice time) at this level than it is in college.”

Ayers is the most experienced Pelicans assistant coach, having been a head coach in the NBA for the Philadelphia 76ers in 2003-04, as well as leading the Ohio State basketball program from 1989-97. He’s coached in the NBA since ’97.

“He’s been a head coach, an assistant, and coached in a number of playoff series, into the Finals,” Williams said, alluding to Ayers’ trip to the championship round with Philadelphia in 2001. “Randy’s a bear. He gets after the guys. He’s not afraid to push guys. He challenges me and the players. They have their Big Man Camp, so all the bigs who’ve been in our program have worked with him, along with (assistants) Kevin (Hanson) and Carlos (Daniel). It’s been tremendous to have those guys.”

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

Ryan Anderson
Film work
Anderson’s timetable to return to basketball activity following April surgery is 4-6 months, with the latter timeframe falling sometime around October training camp, limiting what he can do physically for now. As a result, the six-year NBA veteran will be focused on watching video of his game and how he fits in the Pelicans’ offense.

“First of all, he’s obviously a great shooter and a presence on the floor,” Ayers said. “You have to respect him. A lot of our prep with him will be film, showing how he can space the floor and keep (defenders) off of Anthony Davis. Now we know who we’re building around. We’ve got to be able to keep guys off of Anthony.”

Diversifying offensively
As a college standout at Cal, the 6-foot-10 Anderson played frequently in the paint, along with shooting 39.6 percent on three-pointers over his two NCAA seasons. He’s scored a large portion of his points in the NBA on treys, but it’s beneficial for him to continue to be a threat from everywhere.

“We’re going to keep improving his footwork and ability to go in the post if he has a smaller defender on him,” Ayers said. “He’s very good down there. If you remember when he was in college, he was (first team) All-Pac-10 back then. He had the ability to score down low. We’re trying to give him more options and available weapons for him to use when he’s on the floor aside from shooting threes.”

Alexis Ajinca
The 7-foot-2, 248-pound center showed flashes of excellence in 2013-14, including three double-doubles against the Los Angeles Clippers, but he was somewhat inconsistent, at times due to foul trouble. The 26-year-old can make another nice step forward by fine-tuning his body, helping him better adjust to the speed of the NBA after playing overseas previously.

Pelicans assistant coach Randy Ayers works with center Alexis Ajinca

“Conditioning is a big point of emphasis, as well as getting stronger,” Ayers said. “When he came to us (in December of last season), he was used to playing one or two games a week (in Europe). We were throwing him in four or five games a week. He’s got to do a better job with his conditioning. He’s committed to it and he’s already been back in the gym. We’re really emphasizing that.”

In Ajinca’s 30 starts with New Orleans, he only averaged 17.0 minutes per game, an extremely low figure for a first-stringer. His playing time as a starter often was curtailed by foul trouble; he was commonly whistled for two first-quarter fouls and had to exit.

“If you’ve got a good, strong core, you can react better,” Ayers said. “The speed of the game is different at this level. The bigs are more explosive, quicker. Guys like DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin come to mind – when they are around the rim, they’re going up with strength and quickness to try to dunk the ball. Alexis has great length, great skills, can shoot and he’s still a relatively young player. Adjusting to the speed of the game is an area we’re going to work on.”

Al-Farouq Aminu
Aminu has been most effective offensively in New Orleans when he’s attacking the rim, but he’s tried to expand his game to be able to make open mid-range and perimeter shots. He scored 175 of his 234 baskets in 2013-14 from the area of the paint closest to the hoop, a larger chunk than any Pelican. From all other areas of the floor, he shot 59-for-182 (32.4 percent).

“We’re trying to improve his shot to be more consistent, especially his mid-range shot,” Ayers said. “He put in a lot of time on changing his shot, but trying to improve your shot in a game is very tough. He’s not a high-volume shooter. The mechanics of his shot were better; it’s just something he’s got to continue to work on. The thing is, you can improve your shot at this level. You may not become a great shooter, but you can be more consistent. That’s what he spent a lot of time working on.”

Monty Williams on Ayers, his lead assistant since Williams debuted as head coach in 2010-11:
“He’s got a great deal of experience. I think every young coach needs a guy with experience like Randy. I think that’s why every time someone hires a young coach, they come calling us, because they want Randy. He’s declined every single time to leave, even when he had a chance to be close to his family. He’s been an unbelievable piece to this puzzle, from his experience to his professionalism.”