Dell Demps desired a faster pace as a byproduct of a revamped and rejuvenated offense.
That was the determining factor when the New Orleans Pelicans general manager selected Golden State Warriors assistant Alvin Gentry to replace Monty Williams as the team’s head coach.
If history is any indication, the Pelicans’ No. 8 ranking in offensive efficiency last season is about to hit an upward trajectory. And it’s not just due to All-NBA forward Anthony Davis being widely regarded as the league’s breakout star.
It’s because the person in charge of his system has a proven track record of immediately providing an offensive spark.
While many analysts and fans were quick to point out Gentry’s career record of 335-370 in 12 seasons as an NBA head coach, Demps looked beyond the record and into some individual data points that suggest a team poised to break out offensively will benefit most from Gentry’s tutelage and wide-open system.
Jeff Asher, an analysis and risk management consultant, dissected Gentry’s teams before and after his arrival to the bench at the veteran coach’s various stops around the league. A clear pattern emerged.
“Alvin Gentry’s teams appear to consistently improve offensively from those of his predecessors, suggesting Gentry’s strong offensive reputation is well-deserved,” Asher said. “Gentry has taken over very young teams and improved them, and he has had success with older teams on the decline.”
Based on offensive efficiency — a stat generated by tabulating the number of points scored per 100 possessions — Gentry’s previous three head coaching stints and a pair of recent assistant stops have resulted in a pronounced scoring boost.
Starting with his interim role in Detroit during the 1997-98 season, Gentry improved the sluggish Pistons from 103.2 in offensive efficiency to a menacing 110.1 rating. In his next two full seasons, Detroit’s offense dipped off the impressive pace but was still significantly better than before Gentry arrived, but he was fired 58 games into the season with a 107.3 rating.
A few years later in Los Angeles, he performed a similar renaissance with a Clippers franchise chock full of youth and disappointment. The 2000-01 team improved by 3.5 points, and the 2001-02 squad was 4.2 points better than that.
Yet the climb from 97.8 to 105.5 wasn’t enough to translate into a winning record or enough for Gentry to keep his job, as he was dismissed again.
That set up Gentry to perform his most high-profile work. Taking over in his third interim role, Gentry reignited the Phoenix Suns back into the offensive juggernaut they had been before Terry Porter’s underwhelming regime. Led by star point guard Steve Nash and power forward Amar’e Stoudemire, Gentry’s squad ripped off a remarkable 119.5 rating in the final 25 games of the season before tallying full seasons at 113.6 and 115.6, the latter being the fourth-best offensive performance in NBA history.
“He can draw up a play to get a corpse a wide-open shot,” Jarron Collins, the Warriors’ development coach who played under Gentry in Phoenix, told ESPN. “He’s just really good with X’s and O’s. I don’t know whether you want the corpse shooting it, but he can get him open.”
Bolstered by its high-powered attack, the Suns reached the Western Conference finals before falling in six games to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers. Months later, Stoudemire left Phoenix, and the Suns’ record plummeted, sending Gentry back into the assistant pool.
While Gentry hasn’t been a head coach since, the evidence of his offensive prowess doesn’t stop there. As an assistant for the Clippers and Warriors the past two years, Gentry was considered the offensive architect who helped spur significant scoring improvements for both franchises.
Not only did their offensive ratings grow, but pace improved with it. The 2013-14 Clippers ran 4.2 more possessions per game than before Gentry’s arrival, and the already fast-paced Warriors turned heads this season, eclipsing 100 possessions per game, according to NBA.com stats.
Now, moving to New Orleans and taking over a roster led by the NBA’s most efficient player and a trio of guards capable of piling up points, Demps hopes he has found the person capable of unleashing his roster into the offensive juggernaut he believes it can be.
Being a top-10 offense may have been enough to sneak the Pelicans into the playoffs, but it wasn’t enough to get them into the mix for the championship.
An attack ranking among the NBA’s best could provide the lift the franchise needs.