Alexis Ajinca worked with track coach this summer to improve running mechanics

On the surface, running seems like such an elemental part of basketball, something easily taken for granted – a skill even more basic than dribbling, passing and shooting. Yet for New Orleans Pelicans center Alexis Ajinca, the 2016 offseason provided an opportunity to examine improving the execution of how he gets up and down the hardwood.

Working with a track specialist, the 7-foot-2, 248-pounder started with the basics, which meant breaking down the mechanics of the science of running and how he could become more efficient.

“With the track coach, our focus was on running better, which is learning how to run again, the proper way,” the native of France said. “Track and field people can help you with your entire mechanics, which we went over, so that I can run faster, but with less energy (expended).”

When his NBA season ended in April, Ajinca had looked forward to playing for France in the Olympics, but he was left off the national team’s roster. The 28-year-old used that unexpected time to further his conditioning and preparation for Pelicans training camp. Ajinca has been a productive scorer and rebounder during the spells when he’s earned playing time (14.7 points and 11.2 rebounds per 36 minutes last season), but foul trouble sometimes hampers his ability to contribute, particularly when he’s been a starter (17 starts in ’15-16). Improved conditioning could help him in several areas, but also potentially allow him to avoid some fouls he picks up when he’s a half-step behind a play on defense.

“The Pelicans wanted me to see if I could work with a track coach, and I thought it was a great idea, to be able to work on my form,” Ajinca said. “I wanted to run better and feel better on the court, so I can stay on the court longer. We worked on things like how I put my feet down on the floor, so I can use less energy. Then they had my arms in motion at the same time as my legs. Also I focused on (the angle of) how my feet hit the floor, to have more power, as well as the body posture of running – you want to run tall, instead of being (slumped) down. And you can learn to breathe better, which helps you run faster.

“I thought it worked pretty well. I feel much better this year already. It was very helpful.”