Player development profile: Kevin Hanson

Perhaps before anyone else, New Orleans Pelicans assistant coach Kevin Hanson knew when Anthony Davis was becoming a genuine problem for opposing NBA power forwards. Hanson, a 6-foot-10 former pro center overseas, works extensively with the blossoming star, playing hands-on defense as Davis hones his offensive moves. At some point between Davis’ first and second seasons in the league, Hanson realized Davis had morphed into a force.

“His rookie year, we’d handle him a little bit,” Hanson said, referring to how effective he and fellow assistant coach Carlos Daniel were in defending Davis in the paint during practice. “When Anthony works with us now, we have no chance of guarding him anymore. He’s gotten a ton better in the post. He’s a lot stronger.”

Indeed, Davis made as big of a jump as any NBA player during the 2013-14 season (finishing third in Most Improved Player voting, behind Goran Dragic and Lance Stephenson), partly due to the Pelicans coaching staff’s intensive instruction. Hanson and the muscular, 6-foot-7 Daniel are not far removed from their playing days, allowing them to get on the court with Davis and New Orleans’ other bigs, showing them exactly they need to do to gain an advantage on opponents.

Davis, one of the most hyped No. 1 overall NBA draft picks in recent memory, demonstrated some of his immense potential in 2013-14, earning an All-Star appearance and producing several historic individual performances, including a 40-20 game vs. Boston.

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

Anthony Davis
Adding muscle and weight
Davis has many advantages against opposing big men, but the biggest may be his superior athleticism and quickness. The 21-year-old often relies on one quick dribble to attack his defender, as well as long arms and leaping ability that enables him to make nightly appearances on “SportsCenter.” However, when he’s in tight areas where muscle and girth become factors, such as on post-ups, the 230-pounder still can be pushed off a spot by a heavier or stronger opponent.

“We want to get him comfortable playing in the post,” Hanson said. “With that, strength really comes into play. Being able to create that initial contact and power through it is going to be very important for him. He has the footwork. He knows what moves he wants to get to. But he lacks a little bit of the strength to create an advantage of separation (from his defender). Right now he (primarily) uses his quickness. We want him to be able to use both, where he can drive by a guy, but if the defender slides with him, he can take a second dribble, hit him with his shoulder and get anything he wants.”

Attacking the middle
Davis has had a tendency to try to beat his defenders to the baseline, an often effective strategy. One problem with constantly going baseline, however, is that he sometimes ran out of real estate when he’s pushed deep toward the out-of-bounds line. Hanson wants Davis to diversify his low-post game so that he can work in the middle of the floor, giving him more room to operate.

“I always try to plant a seed with him to attack middle and get to his jump hook,” Hanson said. “He kind of preferred to drive baseline early in the season, because that’s how teams are going to force you. But if you don’t beat your defender on the baseline, you’re kind of stuck behind the basket. Now, he’s so talented, he can still get a good shot up (from tough angles) – he’s phenomenal at that. But going toward the middle is where you want to get, because you can counter (with more space in any direction) away from the defense. He got a lot more comfortable with that as the season progressed, just from getting more touches.”

Jeff Withey
Mid-range shooting
Of Withey’s 69 baskets as a rookie, only 11 came from outside the paint, according to NBA.com’s shot-chart data. While it’s not necessarily a bad thing for a 7-footer to play close to the rim, Withey has good touch and has shown in practices that he can make mid-range shots. The Pelicans are working with the Kansas product on being able to confidently fire away from the hoop.

“We want to get him more comfortable shooting out of situations, such as pick-and-rolls, off the ball, flashing to the high post and shooting,” Hanson said. “Because he’s got a good shot already. It’s just a matter of him getting to that shot quicker and more efficiently. We’re also continuing to work on his form. He has good form, but we have to tighten it up a bit.”

Low-post moves
A large chunk of Withey’s scores in 2013-14 were open layups or dunks that were created by other players. He rarely was involved in one-on-one situations where he had to outmaneuver a defender. In summer league, Withey likely will be a greater focal point on offense, giving him the chance to show a wider range of skills. Last year in Las Vegas, he averaged just 4.0 points per game in 18.0 minutes, but his arrival was delayed as the NBA officially approved the trade Withey was involved in between New Orleans and Portland. As a result, Withey missed multiple summer-league practices and had to play catch-up with his teammates.

“We’re going to work on his low-post game, and be able to throw it to him, especially going into summer league,” Hanson said. “Hopefully he can carry at least part of the load in summer league. We’re going to ask him to do a lot more this summer, obviously. We’re hoping to get him the ball a lot, in places where he can be successful.”

Withey benefited from a gradual learning curve as a rookie. He was initially brought along slowly – beginning with summer league – but by April he started three of the Pelicans’ last four games. A big key was Withey’s work on his body and his adjustment to the NBA style of play, aided greatly by time he spent in the gym with Hanson.

“His biggest improvement was his footwork,” Hanson said. “He had very stiff feet, that didn’t move very well laterally. He’s come a long way with his footwork and being able to score quicker, make a pivot, whatever needed to be done. I think he got acclimated to the speed of the game. That was probably one of his biggest hurdles: Understanding the NBA game. He was a like a deer in headlights to start. That was one of the hardest things holding him back.”

To Withey’s credit, although his in-game playing time was scarce prior to the All-Star break, he regularly arrived at the practice gym early to work up a sweat before his teammates arrived.

“We put in so much time early in the season,” Hanson said. “It was like we were doing a summer workout every day, whereas the other guys were doing tune-ups. Jeff was doing a full makeover. He was the first one in the gym every day. We spent a lot of valuable time together.”

Monty Williams on Hanson, a former member of the Spurs’ staff who worked with Tim Duncan:
“He’s been unreal. When we had a chance to get him from San Antonio, I thought it was a steal, because I knew what Tim felt about Kevin. I knew if we could get him, we’d be in really good shape. I don’t even need to say anything other than what Kevin’s been able to do with Anthony Davis. Even in a short period of time, Anthony’s gone from a young guy with potential, to elite in a matter of months. A lot of that is due to Kev being diligent. If AD was honest, he’d tell you, he and Kevin didn’t get along at first. But while they were working out their relationship, I could see AD improving. While AD didn’t like it as much, I didn’t care, because I saw him improving overnight. Kev just spent so much time with AD, working on his game.”