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Behind Davis, Pelicans look to climb ladder in loaded West

New Orleans has designs on joining the upper crust in 2015-16

POSTED: Oct 14, 2015 7:53 PM ET

By Fran Blinebury

BY Fran Blinebury

NBA.com

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One step at the time. The Pelicans fought and battled and got themselves into the playoffs for the first time in the Anthony Davis Era. Now they have their sights set on greater things. Much greater.

ICYMI

Monty Williams got a congratulatory note from team owner Tom Benson after guiding the Pelicans to the playoffs last season and then was promptly fired. ... Alvin Gentry moved in to take over the team and wasted no time saying that the talent Anthony Davis has shown is only the tip of the iceberg. ... Davis has bulked up, adding 12 pounds. ... Gentry says the Pelicans will play at a faster pace and play better defense. ... New Orleans has been plagued by health problems, with Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Davis all missing at least 20 games last season. ... Quincy Pondexter had surgery to repair cartilage injury in his left knee. ... Point guard Norris Cole signed a one-year qualifying offer to return to the team and will become and unrestricted free agent next summer.

THREE POINTS

1. Three years in the NBA. Just 22 years old. Anthony Davis was named to the All-NBA first team and finished fifth in the the voting for Most Valuable Player. Now new coach Alvin Gentry wants him to become even more of an offensive force by adding a 3-point to his arsenal of weapons.

2. When the Pelicans swapped the 2013 draft pick to Philly that become Nerlens Noel, the player they got in return, Jrue Holiday, was coming off an All-Star season and was thought to be the permanent answer at point guard. But he's played just 74 games in two seasons due to recurring foot problems.

3. For the Pelicans to move up in the rugged Western Conference standings, they need Ryan Anderson to bounce back in a big way. He's coming off a 15.6 PER, lowest of his career, following neck surgery in 2014. Now he's fit, has added muscle and could be primed to help Davis lift the Pelicans.

MAN ON THE SPOT

Alvin Gentry knew exactly what he was walking into when he took the job — a team with a great player in Anthony Davis, but a franchise with higher expectations than just making the playoffs. Gentry has publicly stated that the Pelicans will win a championship. He's going about doing that by getting the team to play at a much faster pace, shoot more 3s and focus like never before on defense. With the best young player in the game, the time is now to contend and Gentry knows it.

STARTING FIVE

Eric Gordon | 13.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 3.8 apg
Shooting guard needs to shoot much better than last season's 41.1 percent from the field.

Tyreke Evans | 16.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 6.6 apg
Point guard, shooting guard, small forward? He'll play anywhere and deliver.

Omer Asik | 7.3 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 0.9 apg
Big man needs to show more after big disappointment in first season in New Orleans.

Quincy Pondexter | 9.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.5 apg
Coming off knee surgery, wing man can defend and run the floor to finish.

Anthony Davis | 24.4 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 2.2 apg
The player that every GM in the league would choose to build a franchise around.

KEY RESERVES

Ryan Anderson | 13.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 0.9 apg
A return to form is needed to contend in the West.

Jrue Holiday | 14.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 6.9 apg
Has the skills, but needs to get healthy again.

Norris Cole | 9.9 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 3.2 apg
Veteran provides wisdom on court, in locker room.

THE BOTTOM LINE

A new coach and approach in Gentry, an improved Davis and an overdue run of good health could help the Pelicans up the climb ladder in the West. And then make them a tough out in the playoffs.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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