NEW ORLEANS – Anthony Davis has won championships in college, at the Olympics and in the FIBA World Cup.
Entering his third pro season, he's still seeking his first taste of the NBA playoffs, and it looks like the New Orleans Pelicans may have provided the All-Star power forward with the supporting cast to get there.
That is, if they can stay healthy, something they were unable to do last season.
"We have a lot of great pieces here," Davis said. "I think we have a great team."
Starting point guard Jrue Holiday, a former Eastern Conference All-Star, and high-scoring forward Ryan Anderson are both back from injuries that sidelined each of them more than half of last season. Eric Gordon is coming off arthroscopic knee surgery and claims to feel better than he has in three seasons.
Meanwhile, the Pelicans have added a 7-foot rim protector, Omer Asik, whose interior presence is expected to give Davis more freedom to expand his all-court game.
Pelicans coach Monty Williams compared the return of Holiday and Anderson to "singing two free agents."
He added that the addition of Asik is "a big deal, especially in the West, where you need an anchor center like him to be able to be pretty good on defense, rebound the ball and play one-on-one defense against some of the really good centers" in the conference.
In August, the 21-year-old Davis was one of the stars of Team USA's march to a FIBA World Cup title in Spain, and Williams was right there with him, serving as an assistant coach. Davis and Williams said the experience strengthened their bond and gave them a jump on addressing areas of Davis' game they wanted to improve going into the NBA season.
"We had a head start," Davis said, noting that he improved his ball-handling, perimeter shooting and post moves. "I tried to use that time to definitely work on things I probably wouldn't have a chance to work on during the season."
Some things to know about the Pelicans, who open their regular season Oct. 28, at home, against Orlando:
EVANS EXPERIMENT: The Pelicans are leaning toward what essentially would be a three-guard starting line-up. The plan is for Holiday to start at point guard and Gordon at shooting guard, while the 6-foot-6 Tyreke Evans would be an undersized small forward. "I don't think he's a small forward but he may be able to play in that position," Williams said. "I just think he's a really good player and obviously you try to figure out ways to get him on the floor as much as you can."
GORDON'S GOAL: Gordon is entering what could be the final season of his contract because he can opt out after this season, but he said he's focused on helping New Orleans win now. Gordon, who averaged 15.4 points in 64 games last season, said his goals include "showing that explosive ability, getting to the free throw line, playing above the rim ... and just be more exciting like I have before."
WILLIAMS' WAY: The Pelicans' fifth-year head coach acknowledges that his nature is to strictly adhere to a system and to be tough on players who exhibit a lack of discipline. However, Williams said he's trying to be more flexible. He said working this summer with Team USA managing director Jerry Colangelo, head coach Mike Krzyzewski and fellow assistants Jim Boeheim and Tom Thibodeau taught him that he'd be wise "to trust my guys more" and give them "a little more freedom to play their game." Williams added, "When guys work on their game, you've got to let them play," rather than "making guys worry about taking a bad shot."
ANDERSON'S BACK: Anderson averaged 19.9 points in 22 games last season before a collision with Gerald Wallace in Boston left Anderson with a herniated disk in his neck. He missed the rest of the season and had surgery, but has returned this preseason. While his regular position is power forward, the 6-10 Anderson has been getting some work at small forward, giving New Orleans another option there. "It's something I'm comfortable doing," Anderson said. "For me, it's whatever it takes to be out there and helping the team."
PLAYOFF HUNGER: Davis isn't the only prominent player with New Orleans never to be in the NBA playoffs. Gordon, who entered the league with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2008, and Evans, who came in with Sacramento in 2009, also have yet to experience the postseason.