Ryan Anderson had gotten a look-see at small forward two weeks ago in practice, as Pelicans coach Monty Williams looked for answers to a lack of scoring at that position.
The possibilities seemed very positive, with Anderson, a 6-foot-10 power forward, having some advantages over smaller players at the 3 position. He had led the team in scoring at 19.8 points per game last season before he had a season-ending neck injury.
There were positive developments in Monday’s win against the Washington Wizards in Baltimore, the Pelicans’ sixth, or second-to-last, preseason game. One of them was Anderson’s play at small forward.
It’s not the answer at that position, and Williams said it’s too early to determine if he liked what he saw. However, no doubt, Anderson playing there looks like it can help the Pelicans.
“I liked the way they talked on defense and the rebounding,” Williams said. “Ryan has been a good rebounder, especially before he came here. And you could see him (Monday) night rebounding a lot better from that position. So that probably was a good sign.”
Playing 23 minutes, 32 seconds, Anderson scored 11 points and had eight rebounds. However, an eye-opening five were offensive rebounds.
“A lot of people are talking about that, huh, me playing the 3?” Anderson said. “We rebounded ,well and we guarded well.”
One of the reasons Anderson, an undersized power forward, hasn’t played small forward more is that it is difficult for him to guard lithe, athletic 3s. Williams and his staff appear to have found a simple solution to that, however. When Anderson was in the game, the Pelicans played effective zone defense. Williams said two weeks ago he was giving that some thought.
However, Anderson said it’s not something he thinks the Pelicans will do much this season. Part of Williams’ philosophy on defense, which is a staple for him as coach, is tough man-to-man defense.
“We may be able to surprise a team,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll play a lot of zone. We haven’t worked on it a ton.
“Obviously, we stick to our (man-to-man) principles. We’ve been working a ton on our defensive system and how we want to change a few things. We’ve been focusing on that, so I don’t imagine playing a lot of zone.”
Of course, Williams worked with a 2-3 zone-defense guru in Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim during their time on the USA Basketball coaching staff this summer in preparation for the World Cup. Being exposed to Boeheim’s zone principles was very interesting, but it’s not one of the things Williams was able to bring back to help the Pelicans, he said.
“I watched it on film,” Williams said. “I was studying some of his stuff. But a lot of the things they do (in college), you can’t do in the NBA because (defenders) can’t stay in the lane. If you do it the way they do it, you’d get called for illegal defense, so a lot of it doesn’t translate.
“Some of the funneling that they do is easier in college because in college, (teams) try to run offense and get a good shot, whereas in the league if you do that, guys will take the first shot because our pace of play is so important.”
That’s OK with Anderson, who’d much rather spend most of his time in his current role. As a power forward who is lethal from behind the 3-point line, Anderson exploits opponents who are not as good of a defender on the perimeter as they are in the low post.
That is part of a ying-yang of opportunities for the team. He opens the floor for drives by teammates such as Tyreke Evans, whose drives help provide open shots for Anderson. He’s looking forward more to coming into the game with Evans as a primary ball-handler than he is to guarding the likes of Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and Sacramento’s Rudy Gay, not to mention you know who, zone or no zone.
“We can take advantage of that lineup at specific times, but I’m not expecting to be the starting 3 man for the Pelicans this year,” Anderson said. “I think during certain situations, that lineup will work.”
However, it’s certainly a option, another weapon for the Pelicans, one that has gone from the drawing board to a practice experiment to a test run in the preseason. And one can bet opponents will see it this season.
“It could be matchup oriented,” Williams said. “It could be just how I feel before the game just based on trying to get those guys on the floor together at the same time. A couple of things could dictate those decisions.”
Anthony Davis, who injured his left wrist during a hard fall in Monday’s game, practiced Tuesday. Williams took Davis out of the game at the start of the third quarter and, as a precaution, did not allow him back in. Davis, however, said Monday night that if it were a regular-season game, he definitely would have gone back in after head trainer Duane Brooks taped the wrist. The Pelicans had the wrist examined. “He seems OK,” Williams said. “We’ll see what happens (Wednesday).”