New Orleans Pelicans coach Monty Williams expected to see young prized power forward Anthony Davis come back for this season better than he was last season, when he played admirably as a rookie.
Foremost, he wanted Davis — a wiry 19-year-old last season — to get stronger. And he wanted Davis’ play on the court to improve, as well.
Davis has become more of a leader.
“There have been things that he did this summer that I didn’t ask him to do,” Williams said. “He was at almost every (Las Vegas) Summer League practice, and he closed every practice. He brought the guys in. He talked to them about what we did in practice, how we can improve. And I didn’t ask him to do that. That’s just who he is.”
Newly acquired veteran teammates, such as point guard Jrue Holiday and Anthony Morrow, said Davis also was like that as the team got together for workouts and pickup games the past six weeks at the Pelicans’ new practice facility.
Although Davis has been in the NBA just one season and still isn’t old enough to drink, he said the leadership role has come easily, and out of necessity. Davis said he wants to win and wants the team to be prepared when the season tips off Oct. 30 against Indiana.
“There are a lot of new faces here, and even the guys who want to be leaders, like Jrue and Tyreke, haven’t been here to know what to expect, and I have,” Davis said. “I just try to tell them what to get ready for and get their minds prepared for it so we can become this team that everyone wants us to be.”
Davis isn’t the only leader, said Williams, who added that center/power forward Jason Smith has helped in that role. But Holiday and Evans said the pickup games and workouts have helped give Davis’ leadership credibility. This isn’t just any 20-year-old, they say.
Davis worked hard in the weight room with assistant coach/director of player performance Carlos Daniel, and the extra muscle is noticeable. The 6-foot-11 Davis also has worked on adding to his skills.
“First of all, I’ve never had a guy who you can just throw the ball up toward the goal, and he’ll get it and dunk it,” said Holiday, who as the point guard is in a natural leadership position. “He’s a special player. I went through that my second year with (the 76ers), and you have to play well to get that (level of respect).”
Williams said Davis has been more confident and more comfortable than he was last season. Davis said the weight training has him feeling stronger and believing he can withstand the season grind and the injuries that nagged him as a rookie. He ended last season at 215 pounds, and Williams suspects the weight may have even dipped to as low as 212. Now he is at 230.
“I think my confidence has a lot to do with my growth last season,” Davis said. “It helped just being around the league that first year, knowing what to expect from the players, the coaches and from yourself.”
Being lauded by coach Mike Krzyzewski during U.S. Olympic team workouts in July provided a confidence boost after Davis’ play stood out on a team of young stars.
“It definitely helped my confidence and leadership by being around all those guys,” he said.
Where does Davis go from here? Williams said he had a talk with his budding star about it, and he believes Davis worked at growing into a leadership role.
“It’s not always comfortable being in that position, and my message to him was learn how to deal with with the uncomfortable,” Williams said. “It’s not always a cool time when you’re 20 years old and you have to stand up and tell guys what to do.
“My thing is, it’s no different than putting him on the (court) in positions where he can go. I also want him to do the same from the leadership role and not have to do the rah-rah speech all the time. Leadership usually comes from service, and now I’m trying to get him to take on the role of demanding from his teammates because he’s worked at it.”
The Pelicans worked on defense mostly in Tuesday’s first day of training camp. Williams said the team went at each other hard, four-on-four.
Toward the end of practice, they worked on installing the offense.
Guard Eric Gordon, who had ankle surgery in May after playing on a restriction last season while rehabbing his right knee, did not participate in Tuesday’s sessions. Gordon said at Monday’s Media Day he was eager to scrimmage, but Williams said he wants Gordon to get in better shape.
The Pelicans signed small forward Rodney Carney, a 2006 first-round pick out of Memphis who played in Turkey last season. With small forward Darius Miller out until a stress fracture in his left foot heals, the Pelicans needed another wing player.