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Work on low-post game, ballhandling next for Anthony Davis

In preparing to make the leap from above-average NBA player as a rookie to star performer in Year 2 of his pro career, Anthony Davis spent countless hours in the gym last summer, improving numerous aspects of his game. So much time, in fact, that it’s difficult for Davis to narrow down his offseason projects into a concise list.

“The question is, what didn’t I do?” the All-Star power forward said recently, smiling. “I made sure I got my shot right. Lifting weights, getting my conditioning up, post moves.”

Davis’ offseason to-do list is similarly extensive this summer, even though he’s coming off a season in which he led the New Orleans Pelicans in points (20.8 per game), rebounds (10.0), blocks (2.8) and steals (1.3). He topped the NBA in blocks in 2013-14, while finishing 10th in rebounding, 14th in scoring and 31st in steals.

Combining an athletic 6-foot-10 frame, staggering length and the ball skills of a guard, Davis increased his offensive production by more than seven points per game. He also slightly improved his shooting percentage to 51.9, even though he was forced to carry a much bigger load and became the focus of every opponent’s defensive game plan. Yet New Orleans coaches say he still can add more weapons to his offensive repertoire, particularly as he packs on weight to his 230-pound frame. The 21-year-old holds quickness and athleticism edges on nearly every power forward he encounters, which he smartly relies on, but the next step may be incorporating a few traditional low-post moves to his arsenal, a la Hall of Fame-bound Tim Duncan or the old-school Al Jefferson.

“We want to continue with his post work,” said Pelicans assistant coach Kevin Hanson, a 6-10 former pro center who works hands-on with Davis. “He’s very comfortable facing (the basket) right now; he’s not as comfortable with his back to the basket. And rightfully so. The league allows (defenders) to have two hands on a player’s back in the low post, but if you face (the basket with the ball), you can’t touch them. So when Anthony faces up, it’s to his advantage – he can drive by guys.”

It’s not something a player can develop overnight, but Davis will become an even more frightening proposition for defenses if he begins scoring a bigger chunk of his points in the paint or low post. He relied much more heavily on a hook shot in his second season, even extending it out to 12 to 15 feet in some cases.

“Developing his body will help with that, just naturally putting on more weight,” Hanson said of Davis’ comfort level with back-to-basket moves. “We’ve got to get a lot of repetition with that, developing more of a typical post man’s game – Tim Duncan and those kinds of guys – where you’re getting to your jump hook, your turnaround, your spin move.”

During the 2013-14 season, Davis dramatically improved his perimeter shot and was much more effective in taking one dribble to elude or shoot over defenders. Hanson said Davis can become more comfortable with adding dribbles to his repertoire, which would allow him to cover more ground on his way to the basket. Miami All-Star Chris Bosh is one example of a player with a similar frame who can catch a pass near the three-point arc and dribble past his defender for a layup or dunk. It’s a skill that allows a player to get even higher-percentage shots and not have to pull up in the mid-range area.

“He’s got to get more comfortable putting the ball down multiple times,” Hanson said. “If somebody closes out on him, he’s kind of a one-dribble guy. He’ll take one dribble and attack. Now we want to add multiple dribbles to his game, kind of similar to what Chris Bosh is doing now. Bosh is comfortable putting it down two or three times and making whatever play’s there, whether it’s a shot or a pass to a teammate.”

Fortunately for the Pelicans’ coaching staff, Davis has been receptive since Day 1 to ideas to upgrade his game, part of what has made him a Most Improved Player award nominee. Davis will finally get some much-needed rest in the early portion of this offseason, but he has another busy summer ahead of him. USA Basketball training camp begins July 28 in Las Vegas, followed by a handful of exhibitions Aug 16-26 and World Cup competition in Spain from Aug. 30-Sept. 14.

Pelicans Coach Monty Williams is a USA Basketball assistant, meaning he’ll again be spending ample time with Davis in the offseason. Davis also expects to work extensively with Hanson and fellow Pelicans assistant Carlos Daniel, New Orleans’ director of strength and conditioning.

“They were always in the gym (last summer) with me and put in a lot of work,” Davis said. “When I was in Chicago, they came to Chicago. When I was here (in New Orleans), they came here. That just shows how this organization wants guys to get better. I’m definitely going to be working. We have the world championships with the USA team, so I’m going to be over there. (Williams) is going to be there. I know he’s going to have me working, trying to get better, and I want to. I’m going to be in the gym a lot. There’s a lot I want to work on.”

TOP THREE ANTHONY DAVIS GAMES OF 2013-14

#3: Nov. 8, 2013 – L.A. Lakers at New Orleans
In the first 30-point game of Davis’ professional career, he spearheaded an early-season 96-85 triumph over the Lakers and provided a sign of things to come by finishing with 32 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks. One of Davis’ most efficient games of 2013-14, he went 12-for-18 from the field and 8-for-11 from the foul line, while often being matched up vs. Pau Gasol.

#2: March 9, 2014 – Denver at New Orleans
By racking up 32 points, 17 rebounds and six blocks in a 111-107 OT win, this game represented Davis’ first 30-15-5 performance of his brief NBA career. Davis grabbed six rebounds in the five-minute extra period, dominating Denver on the backboards. He also dropped in four key free throws in OT. Overall, he pulled down seven offensive rebounds against the Nuggets.

#1: March 16, 2014 – Boston at New Orleans
Not only one of the best games of Davis’ career, this also qualifies among the greatest by an individual in franchise history. No player in the team’s 26-year annals had ever registered a 40-20 game prior to Davis notching career highs with 40 points and 21 rebounds in this 121-120 OT victory. He drained a go-ahead basket in the final seconds of regulation to give the Pelicans a two-point lead.

Nov. 8 vs. Lakers

Mar. 9 vs. Nuggets

Mar. 16 vs. Celtics