NEW ORLEANS (AP) The way Anthony Davis blossomed into an All-Star before he’d even turned 21 provided the Pelicans with hope for the future during an otherwise bleak season.
It also bolstered coach Monty Williams’ reputation for developing young big men.
But to lead New Orleans back into the playoffs for the first time since 2011, Davis is going to need a lot more help than he had in 2013-14. The Pelicans went 34-48, finishing 15 games behind Dallas, the eighth and final playoff team in the West.
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Under normal circumstances, the jobs of Williams and general manager Dell Demps would be in jeopardy. But the number – and nature – of injuries besetting the Pelicans were unusual. New Orleans’ top six scorers, in terms of points per game, combined for 202 missed games.
”It’s hard to evaluate in a year like this because you have so many different lineups,” Williams said.
Williams’ peers around the league seemed to agree.
”You feel bad for coach Williams,” said Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks, whose playoff bound team lost to New Orleans on Monday night. ”You need your players to have success in this league. I give him a lot of credit. He has managed a very difficult situation with the injuries and made it competitive.”
There were only 12 games in which the 6-foot-10 Davis, who averaged 20.8 points and 10 rebounds per game, was able to play with forward Ryan Anderson (19.8 points per game), shooting guard Eric Gordon (15.4), former All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday (14.3) and versatile guard Tyreke Evans (14.3).
Williams said the Pelicans have been studying those 12 games in an effort to get a sense of ”how potent that lineup is.”
But Williams already knew he wasn’t thrilled with how that group played defense, in part because Davis moved from power forward to center, a position at which his lack of bulk was sometimes a liability.
”Defensively I didn’t think we were that good with that lineup or that group because we didn’t have a true center on the floor,” he said. ”You look at some of those games – bigs had their way with us. And that’s something we have to try to rectify this summer.”
Demps said he still likes the Pelicans’ young, core players and would like them to have a chance to grow together, but with some additional help.
”It’s tough because we didn’t get a chance to see the group together,” Demps said. ”We’re expecting to have everybody healthy at the start of next season in training camp, but we also want to add some things to it because the West is tough. You have to win 47, 50 games just to make the playoffs and our goal is not just to make the playoffs.”
Even if Demps wanted to make major moves this offseason, it would be tricky. The Pelicans would not likely get optimum trade value for players rehabilitating from injuries.
Gordon, who missed 18 games, had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Wednesday. Anderson, who missed 60 games, had neck surgery this month on a herniated cervical disk.
Holiday, who missed 48 games, had surgery in late February for a fractured right shin. Jason Smith, a 7-footer who began the season as starting center, but missed 51 games, had right shoulder surgery in March.
Meanwhile, the Pelicans won’t have a first-round draft pick unless they get lucky in the draft lottery. Under the terms of the trade that brought Holiday to New Orleans, the Pelicans’ first-round pick is protected if it falls in the top five. Otherwise, it goes to the 76ers.
Demps said the Pelicans won’t have the room under the salary cap to bring in a new maximum-contract player, but that he will still have the ability to sign players who can improve the club.
”Financially, we’re in good shape,” Demps said. ”We can still add things.”
The Pelicans closed the season with two victories at home, where they went 22-19. In the past month, New Orleans beat a handful of playoff teams, including Miami, Oklahoma City, the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston.
Demps said Williams deserved credit for establishing a blue-collar culture in which players – several of whom did not start the season on NBA rosters – competed hard to the end and upset some elite teams.
”I’m really proud of how our guys adjusted to so many different lineups, so many different injuries, tough situations,” Williams said. ”Obviously we’ve got to get better. We’ve got to make some improvements in our roster for sure.”