Player development profile: Fred Vinson

Former shooting guard Fred Vinson’s final NBA appearance occurred on April 19, 2000, recently enough that one of his Seattle SuperSonics teammates in that game, forward Rashard Lewis, is still filling a crucial role for Miami in this year’s NBA Finals. Although Vinson has been out of the league as a player for a while, you’d never know it from watching the 43-year-old New Orleans assistant coach work hands-on with several Pelicans backcourt members.

“When I came to New Orleans, I knew I needed wisdom on our staff from (an assistant coach) like Randy (Ayers), but also guys who could get out there on that practice floor with the players,” Pelicans four-year head coach Monty Williams said. “Fred gets after it every day. His work with our guards has been tremendous. I’m really excited about what Fred brings to the table. When we got Fred (in 2010), he was a bit of an unknown, because he didn’t have a big name. But he’s been huge in helping our guards improve. He has a great deal of experience.”

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

Austin Rivers
Foul shooting
In his second NBA season, the combo guard made strides on his free throws, upping his percentage by nearly 10 points. Still, at just 63.6 percent in 2013-14, Rivers must continue to improve to make himself a more reliable player during crunch time of games.

“He really took pride in stepping up to that line and knocking them down,” Vinson said. “He was disappointed at times when he didn’t, especially early in the season. But as the season went along, he got more comfortable with the routine that I was trying to get him to understand that he really needed. It’s about repetition every day. You try to get to the point where you’re doing the same thing every time. That’s the biggest flaw for a lot of guys who aren’t consistent shooting, other than confidence.”

Rivers also increased his field-goal and three-point percentages (40.5 and 36.4 in 2013-14, respectively), but will continue to focus on his stroke.

“His shooting is definitely something he’ll continue to work on, especially the consistency of it,” Vinson said.

Point-guard skills
Another area in which Rivers improved after a heavily-criticized rookie season was his assist-to-turnover ratio, which climbed to 2.08. An attacking shooting guard at Duke, Rivers has split time between the two guard positions in the NBA, not an easy adjustment for a young player.

“He was put in that role as backup point guard, especially once Jrue (Holiday) went down,” Vinson said. “He had to do a better job of understanding where guys were on the floor, and a little bit less about him scoring, which he naturally wants to do and has always done. So I tried to talk to him about understanding where different guys’ spots were on the floor and looking to find his teammates first, knowing that he can find a way to get to the rim and score himself if he needs to.”

Brian Roberts
In-between offensive game
At 6-foot-1, it’s vital for players of Roberts’ stature to master runners and floaters in the lane, a la Tony Parker or Chris Paul. Since debuting in the NBA in 2012-13, it’s been one of the biggest areas of focus for Roberts, who attempted numerous such shots during 2013 summer league games.

“Watching him develop, he’s gotten better at getting by his defender, then finishing over big guys,” Vinson said. “We’ve really worked on shooting his runner and floater, because we know those scenarios were going to come up. He really took it and ran with it.”

Pelicans assistant coach Fred Vinson at practice facility

The restricted free agent will continue to spend time this summer on that aspect of his skill set. He shot 40.2 percent in 2013-14 in the paint below the dotted circle, but rarely dunks or gets uncontested layups, so the bulk of his shots from that area are floaters.

“He’s been diligent and constantly working on it,” Vinson said. “To me, that’s how you make certain shots or movements part of your game. It’s through repetition. As boring as it could be for some players at times, that’s how you make it a part of who you are. You’re doing it every day to build the muscle memory. When you do that, it’s not a thought process; it’s (a natural) reaction during a game.”

Eric Gordon
In every season of his six-year NBA career other than his rookie campaign, Gordon has scored more than half of his baskets from the paint, a statistic that demonstrates his knack for getting to the basket. However, the right-handed Gordon would likely be even more effective if he can fine-tune his handle, particularly going toward his non-shooting side.

“I would love to see him, once we get in the gym, continue to work on his ballhandling, particularly going left,” Vinson said of Gordon, who is currently rehabbing from April knee surgery. “I thought he shot the ball pretty well, even though maybe he settled (for jumpers) a little bit at times. He mishandled it a lot this year, particularly going left. He’s such a power dribbler, so it’s important he work on that in the offseason.”

Point-guard skills
Gordon missed training camp and the bulk of the Pelicans’ preseason schedule in 2013. This time he has a chance to be ready physically at the outset of team activities in the fall, which would put him in better position to start quickly in 2014-15.

“Training camp is so important,” Vinson said. “When guys miss training camp, it kind of sets them back a little bit. Especially missing the rigors of it and what it does for your conditioning and being in our system. Tyreke (Evans), for example, was a new player for us and went through it (after being injured in the preseason opener at Houston). Eric went through the same thing. He missed the workouts where guys were in the gym before training camp, for most of September. Coaches try to simulate game action, but it’s hard, because there is bumping (in five-on-five play), then you’re running, then you’re getting bumped again. It’s not the same thing.”

Monty Williams on Vinson, a former NBA guard and longtime pro player overseas:
“Fred has done a great job working with Austin (Rivers) and BRob (Brian Roberts), whether it’s helping them with their shot or teaching them the nuances of the guard position. Fred was also huge with Greivis (Vasquez) when we had him in New Orleans. He’s been able to translate that to Austin and Brian.”