TNT experts sold on Pelicans’ Anthony Davis, but not so much on New Orleans’ playoff prospects _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON -- New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis

The experts at TNT’s “Inside the NBA” are sold on Anthony Davis.

They’re taking a wait-and-see approach to the Pelicans.

The “Inside the NBA” team will broadcast live from San Francisco’s Pier 43 on Tuesday before the network’s opening-night doubleheader, which includes the Pelicans facing the Golden State Warriors in Oakland at 9:30 p.m.

And though TNT analysts Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith are predicting that Davis will continue his basketball ascent, they’re divided on playoff prospects for the Pels, who edged out the Thunder for No. 8 seed in last season’s playoffs by beating the Spurs in the regular-season finale.

“I think New Orleans is in a little trouble when you look at the teams, because Oklahoma City’s going to make the playoffs,” Barkley said during a conference call Monday. “And (the Pelicans) were the No. 8 seed last year, so that’s one spot. They got to get a lot better to make the playoffs in the Western Conference. Oklahoma City won’t be battling for the No. 8 seed if Kevin Durant’s healthy.”

The Pelicans kept most of their roster intact. Their most significant change was brining in new head coach Alvin Gentry — the associate head coach at Golden State last season — to run a more up-tempo style.

“I think overall that team has to take that next step in terms of maturity,” Smith said. “Alvin Gentry has implemented a new offense, a little bit more free-flowing, a little freestyle, which probably will have Anthony Davis’ numbers kind of go out the roof, but I’m not sure that’s going to translate to wins, and that’s the key.”

The Pelicans enter the season with significant injury concerns. Point guard Jrue Holiday is restricted to about 15 minutes per game as he recovers from a stress reaction in his right leg. Projected starters Tyreke Evans and Omer Asik are among as many as six players who could be sidelined to start the season, and Evans could miss up to eight weeks after arthroscopic knee surgery.

But O’Neal said the Pelicans can fight through the start of the season without a full roster.

“The good thing about Alvin Gentry is he’s gonna keep everybody involved,” O’Neal said. “It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be free-flowing. Guys can get it done.”

O’Neal called Davis “the best big man in the game,” and said he’s looking for the Pelicans to “at least to go to the second round” after bowing out in the first round last season.

Barkley isn’t as confident about New Orleans, but he’s certainly sold on Davis.

“LeBron (James) is the best player, but obviously at some point Father Time takes over,” Barkley said. “(James) is already breaking down a little bit now from all his minutes and all that Olympic stuff he’s been doing. But Anthony Davis is going to be the best basketball player in the world the next two or three years. He is unbelievable. Great kid also.”

Pels add Smith

Seeking backcourt depth, the Pelicans on Monday claimed point guard Ish Smith off waivers.

Smith – who was waived Saturday by the Washington Wizards — has played in 246 career games over five seasons for Phoenix, Orlando, Oklahoma City, Houston, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Memphis and Golden.

Last season, he averaged 12.1 points per game in 25 appearances with the Sixers before being traded to Oklahoma City, where he saw limited minutes in 30 games. He’s averaging 3.6 points and 2.3 assists per game in his career.

Smith and Nate Robinson will serve as backups for Holiday, whose minutes are limited, and one could emerge as a part-time starter if Holiday remains unable to play in games on back-to-back nights.

The NBA released opening-day rosters Monday, and Smith was among the Pelicans’ 12 active players.

New Orleans will open the season with Evans, Cole and forward Quincy Pondexter on the inactive list.