For Ryan Anderson, a six-year NBA veteran, this wasn’t just any old practice, and not because it was the start of training camp for the New Orleans Pelicans.
Anderson hadn’t had a real practice since Jan. 2, not counting the team’s shoot-around the next morning in Boston. That night, he had an horrific collision that resulted in his having two herniated discs in his neck, resulting in surgery. He rehabbed the long road back, and has been playing pickup basketball with teammates the past two weeks.
But this was different.
“It just felt good to be doing drills and to be with the whole group,” Anderson said. “It’s been a long time. Even when we were doing stuff in the summer time and everything, it’s not the same.”
Often, a player coming off knee surgery makes a hard cut or runs into a teammate and lands hard, and sees that the knee is OK. Anderson said he had no such reassuring moment, however.
“I didn’t have any moment where I got hit or anything like that. It was a normal day. Felt good.”
Coach Monty Williams said point guard Jrue Holiday, who was out from Jan. 8 with a stress fracture in his right tibia, also looked good and that there were “no hiccups at all.”
It was the normal start of training camp under Williams, the third for Anderson. Defense was stressed in Tuesday’s morning practice, with the team going over offense during the evening session.
“It was a big mental day as well as physical day,” guard Jimmer Fredette said. “We’re trying to get to know the defensive schemes, trying to get into the terminologies and just know what coach wants, but also go as hard as you can.”
It was the first of three two-a-day sessions as the team prepares for Saturday’s preseason opener against the Miami Heat in Louisville, Kentucky. The Pelicans will have one practice session Friday.
Fredette, who is in his first season with the Pelicans but is a three-year NBA veteran, said he felt he picked things up pretty quickly. “(Williams) said he wants to be a defensive-oriented team, but he also wants us to be a complete team,” Fredette said. “So, we’re focusing on that, and everything else will take care of itself.”
Williams said that is typical of a first day of training camp with an NBA team.
“Nobody is going to a defensive camp in the summertime,” Williams said. “Those guys don’t go to Vegas or L.A. to work on weak-side actions and pick-and-roll defenses. So, pretty much every team in the league has a defensive segment in their first day of camp. We just choose to focus on it for three or four, maybe five segments.”
One thing that was different about this first day of training camp was that there was no conditioning test. Anderson said it was a welcomed change, but the players worked hard inside the facility.
Last year, the Pelicans had a battery of tests to do in the Louisiana heat behind the facility on a football practice field.
Williams, who was away with USA Basketball for all of the latter part of the summer, wanted to take a different approach with his team this time.
“I thought it was a way for our guys to take ownership,” said Williams, who said his team is in good shape, better than it was in last year’s camp. “I felt like in order to teach our young guys to be leaders, it’s on them to make sure that they’re here working with the coaches here and in their hometowns.”
Williams was pleased with how well the players such as Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers were picking up things on the fly, he said, their being in the system now for the third season.
However, with shot-blockers Omer Asik and Davis and guards Holiday, Rivers and rookie Russ Smith, the Pelicans expect to be much improved that end of the floor. The team is working to get as much down as possible for the preseason games.
“You have to be really good at understanding our terminology,” Williams said. “Communication is a big deal. When you have young teams, they tend to be quiet. For example, (rookies) Patric (Young) and Russ have no idea what we’re doing, so they are quiet, they’re thinking. And, we have to be a better communicating team.
“And we have to guard the ball. To put all the pressure on AD and Omer at the rim, it’s a luxury that we have, but our guys have to guard the ball. We can’t have a ton of blow-bys. That’s something that we’re going to focus on all month.”
Last year’s training camp opened amid much fanfare with Holiday, Evans and 3-point shooter Anthony Morrow joining the team and the expectations for a strong season.
This camp, with the Pelicans coming off just 34 wins in an injury-plagued season, has been different, Anderson said.
“It’s kind of like quiet confidence we have within in each other,” he said. “We went through camp together with that core group. … Monty is doing a lot of coaching for the new guys and the young guys, but he knows we know this stuff.”