Alvin Gentry pinpoints shooting, spacing as areas Pelicans must improve in 2017-18

By virtue of a February blockbuster trade, New Orleans became one of a handful of NBA teams that can boast more than one perennial All-Star on its roster. Now the Pelicans will put many of their offseason efforts into finding the best way to complement the duo of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

On Adrian Wojnarowski’s podcast show this morning, Pelicans Coach Alvin Gentry noted that one major area New Orleans needs to improve is outside shooting, which will force opponents to cover all of the floor, instead of being able to devote more attention to Davis and Cousins. The Pelicans finished 19th in the NBA in three-point percentage (35.0) last season. They were middle-of-the-pack in three-point makes per game (9.4, tied for 14th) and attempts (26.8, 13th).

“We’re going to have to upgrade there, and the players we have are going to have to show vast improvement this summer,” said Gentry, whose team had to deal two top perimeter shooters in the Cousins trade with Sacramento. “If you’re going to play the two big guys we have, obviously there is going to be a lot of double-teaming, there is going to be a lot of those guys having to make decisions (to pass) when there is two-on-one basketball. In order to make that work, we’re going to have to be able to knock down perimeter shots. Not necessarily three-point shots, but we have to make perimeter shots in order to make the defense honest. That’s something we struggled with a little bit last year, but it’s something we have to improve on, in order to make a playoff run. Because we’re not jumping one team; we’ve got to jump three teams to get (to the playoffs).”

Gentry, who is in Chicago this week for the NBA draft combine, noted that he will attend the draft lottery Tuesday. The Pelicans have a 4.0 percent chance at a top-three pick in the first round June 22. If they don’t beat the odds and retain that Round 1 selection, their initial draft pick will be a second-rounder, No. 40 overall.

“It’s clear to me in that I have a contract and right now I’m proceeding as if I’m going to be there,” Gentry said on the Woj podcast. “I’m working and right now I’m in Chicago looking at (draft prospects). I’m going to the lottery next week. I’m just moving ahead like I normally would, until I hear something otherwise. I feel like I’ll be back. Just given a healthy team and a training camp and to play the roster we’re going to have in a preseason schedule is going to be important, and I feel like we can be successful.”

Gentry praised Cousins for making individual strides during the three-time All-Star’s 17 games played for New Orleans, saying he looks forward to having more preparation time this fall. Cousins initially had precious little practice time with the Pelicans during the season, because he was traded during the All-Star break and had to uproot and move cross-country from California to Louisiana.

“Obviously we’re going to learn a lot more with a preseason and a training camp,” Gentry said of Cousins. “He’s a very smart basketball player. He led the league in charges taken for about the third or fourth straight year, so he’s very good in that aspect of the game. He’s an emotional player, so what we talked to him about is channeling that emotion in a different direction, rather than being confrontational. I thought he did a good job with that. We had him (17) games and he (only) had two technicals, and one of them was rescinded. If we can keep him at one technical every (17) games, then we’ve done a great job and he’s made a heck of an adjustment.

“He’s a guy where you have to let him be him, but the communication part is really important, I found out. You’ve got to be totally upfront. He’s not a guy you can BS. You have to be totally upfront and totally honest with him. I think we’ve got a good relationship. Obviously there is going to be some confrontation, but that’s not all bad, either.”

Listen to the full podcast here: