Alvin Gentry has been around enough top-notch point guards to know one when he sees one.
In his various stints around the league over the past decade, Gentry has coached the last two MVP point guards, through three MVP seasons, and after Tuesday’s New Orleans Pelicans’ practice, Gentry said he saw something reminiscent on the court.
“Jrue (Holiday) was great (Tuesday),” Gentry said. “I’ve been around a lot of really good point guards the last few years like Steve Nash and Chris Paul and obviously Stephen Curry. I think he can be right there in that category. When he’s healthy, he’s obviously already proven he can be an All-Star guard, so our whole goal is just to keep him healthy because I think he’s a really good player.”
A lingering stress reaction in his right leg caused the Pelicans to put Holiday on restricted minutes to open the season, limiting him to 15 minutes in the early portion of the season, with the hope of incrementally increasing his workload until he can play a full complement of game time without any limitations.
Even though Holiday said he’s been pain-free since June, Gentry said his playing time will still be guarded by the medical staff and the restriction is gradually pushed until it’s eventually lifted. In the meantime, Holiday has taken his shortened availability on the practice floor and made a statement.
“He’s got a really good understanding of the tempo we need to play at,” Gentry said. “He can run a team, but he can also dribble-penetrate and score at the rim. He’s a really good player with good size and good strength. We just have to keep him healthy.”
Teammates agree, citing Holiday’s burst in the open floor after a summer spent rehabbing his leg and regaining his strength.
“He took the time this year to get back right and get healthy, and you can see it,” forward Dante Cunningham said. “You can see it in every move, every explosive move. He’s dang near at the rim every time he’s laying the ball up. I tell him all the time to go ahead and turn it over and dunk on everybody.”
Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr announced last week he was taking a leave of absence to recuperate from back surgery he underwent this offseason, and didn’t give a timetable for his return to the bench.
After winning the NBA Finals as an assistant under Kerr last year, Gentry said he doesn’t expect it to impact the Pelicans at all, despite the teams facing off twice in the first week of the season (including opening night on Oct. 27 at Oracle Arena).
“He will be there,” Gentry said. “Trust me on that. He will be there. He didn’t last 15 years in the NBA and win six championships because he’s not competitive. He will be there and I can guarantee that. Go to Vegas and put your money on it now.”
Gentry also said he understands why Kerr chose to recuperate for the remainder of the preseason.
“There’s just no reason for him to be on a plane flying to Butte, Montana, or wherever,” Gentry said. “I just think it’s easy for him to just rest up and get going. I know he’d rather be out there with the team and I’m sure the team would rather have him there. But it’s something that’s smart to do, I think.”
After completing a grueling practice that went an hour longer than scheduled, the Pelicans stuck around to greet 150 students from J.C. Ellis Elementary School in a Jr. Pelicans kids clinic.
Students, still in school uniform, got to meet various players and perform basketball drills at the team’s facility.
“I played this game because I loved it and I had fun doing it, so I think it’s an important lesson for the kids to learn,” forward Ryan Anderson said. “As much as we had a pretty intense practice, and they saw that, we can put that aside and still have fun right after.”
Although Anderson said he enjoyed the camp, and made it a point to perform at each station, he’s aware that he wasn’t the afternoon’s main attraction.
“There was a moment when I asked, ‘Do you want me and Luke (Babbitt) to show you how to shoot a jump shot or see Anthony Davis?’” Anderson said. “And they all screamed ‘Anthony Davis!’ unanimously. Everybody just wants to see Anthony and that’s the beauty of this team, because we are all on Team Anthony.”