After the surprise of being traded to the New Orleans Pelicans subsided for Jrue Holiday, he began imagining the possibilities of playing with Anthony Davis, the 2012 No. 1 draft pick.
Having participated in Team USA’s minicamp July 22-24, then playing in its Showcase game July 25, Holiday came away even more impressed with Davis, he said. The opportunity also gave Holiday the chance to get to better know Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson, who also is on the national team’s preliminary roster.
“I didn’t know (Davis) had that step-back jumper, that 15-foot jump shot, especially from what I saw in college and last year,” Holiday said. “He was more of a lob guy or somebody who protects the rim and rebounds. But he has a lot more to him, and I’m excited.”
The Team USA experience also included coach Monty Williams and lead assistant coach Randy Ayers, as well as trainer Jon Ishop, and all three Pelicans players came away feeling they had a leg up on the rest of the NBA’s teams because of it, even though it was just four days.
“There were three of us there, and no other team had that many players,” Anderson said.
Said Davis: “We definitely got a head start on any other teams, and we had our coaches there, so hopefully we can carry it on to next season. I think it is a chance for us to take what we got from that experience and apply it to the Pelicans.”
Each player relished the opportunity to improve, which is what Williams repeatedly said all players want, along with playing time. With 28 of the league’s top young players in the minicamp, competition was fierce because of the chance to garner strong consideration to make the final national team roster by impressing coach Mike Krzyzewski and Team USA director Jerry Colangelo.
Point guard, which has become perhaps the NBA’s marquee position because of its depth of talent, was loaded with young prospects in the minicamp. Holiday went against the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving, the Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard (2013 Rookie of the Year), Washington Wizards speedster John Wall, the Denver Nuggets’ quick Ty Lawson and the Memphis Grizzlies’ heady Mike Conley.
In the showcase, Holiday had 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists, although he was overshadowed by White teammate Irving’s 23 points and seven assists. Williams coached the White team, which won 128-106.
Davis’ confidence grew as last season progressed. He clearly was a better, more versatile player by the time it ended, although injuries cut nearly a quarter of his rookie season.
Davis was the youngest player on the United States’ Olympic gold-medal winning team last year after coming out of Kentucky after his freshman season. His improvement was evident at the minicamp, and that had Krzyzewski gushing.
“I think as good as Anthony was last year, he’s stepped it up another couple of levels, and that was exciting to see,” Krzyzewski said. “He got better throughout the week and put on a heck of a performance (in the showcase).”
Many felt Davis, playing for the Blue team, easily could have been the game’s MVP. He scored 22 points on 10-of-13 shooting, grabbed seven rebounds and, along with his surprisingly deft outside shooting, had the play of the game. Davis intercepted a White team lob and went coast-to-coast for a dunk.
The experience may serve to continue Davis’ hunger in the weight room the rest of the summer, at least. He has noticeably more muscle definition after working with Pelicans assistant coach/director of player performance Carlos Daniels since the season ended. The minicamp was the first chance to test it against bigger, stronger players such as the Sacramento Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins and Utah’s Derrick Favors, although Davis’ game obviously will continue to rely on quickness and skills.
“I have been hitting the weights every day,” Davis said, smiling.
Anderson also performed well, making all three of his 3-point attempts in scoring nine points in the Showcase. He possesses a skill that is greatly valued in international basketball, with its 3-point line at 22 feet, 1 inch, compared with the NBA’s at 23 feet, 9 inches.
Holiday knew Anderson opens the court for teammates with his long-distance shooting, but the respect he received at the minicamp piqued Holiday’s interest.
“With USA, everybody was switching off on Ryan, making sure he wasn’t knocking down the 3-point jump shot,” Holiday said. “And he showed he does other things than shoot.”
Holiday, seen by some as more of a combo guard instead of a traditional pass-first point guard, only underscored what Williams knew about him, the coach said.
“He’s a guy that can change the game without scoring,” Williams said. “People don’t recognize that because he scored so much last year. His main asset is his versatility as a big guard.”
Davis envisions a comfort level with Holiday this season.
“He’s a very smooth player,” Davis said. “He can score the ball, pass it, defend. He brings a lot of talent to this team. I’m excited to play with him, and I’m sure everybody else will be, too.”
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