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NBA AM: Anderson Thinks Pelicans Are Ready

Ryan Anderson thinks last year’s playoff experience will help the Pelicans make a huge leap this season.

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Anderson Thinks the Pelicans Are Ready

Ryan Anderson has played only 83 regular season games in his two seasons since being traded to the New Orleans Pelicans in 2013. That means he has fit right in with the majority of important players on the roster, as nearly all of the squad’s key contributors have missed long stretches of time with various injuries. This has seriously limited the team’s potential in the first few years of Anthony Davis’ impressive young NBA career.

However, by the end of last year, the team was mostly healthy, which allowed them to make a strong push into the eighth seed of the Western Conference playoff picture. That’s no easy task. Then, to top it off, they gave the eventual champion Golden State Warriors a serious run for their money in the first round. Although the Pelicans failed to win a game that series, they competed valiantly and the series was much closer than the 4-0 record indicated.

For up-and-coming teams, just making the playoffs is a huge step in the right direction. But as Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson recently explained, that disappointment of losing early was also crucial in the development of this team.

“We battled as well as we could last year, but [the Warriors] were a great team,” Anderson admitted. “It definitely was tough not even getting a win in that series because we were so close to getting wins, and I know Golden State felt us. At the same time, you’ve got to prepare for the next year.”

It took Anderson “like a month” to get the bad taste of defeat out of his mouth, but he thinks giving the younger players on the team a taste of playoff intensity will help them should they make the postseason again this coming year.

“When I was in Orlando making the playoffs, Jason Williams told me if I don’t have the chills when I’m running out there, I’ve got a problem,” Anderson recalled. “Every play counts. It’s more physical and the refs allow a little bit more. It’s a fight. It’s a battle. There’s going to be more close games and not as many blowouts. It’s definitely a different level.”

Now, Anderson believes, this team has the requisite experience to make a much bigger splash this season.

“There’s a level of grind, just focus and determination, and we had that last year,” Anderson said. “We had to battle to get that eighth spot, and it showed us a lot in the process. This team has always been resilient since I’ve been here. Obviously we’ve had a ton of injuries, but with that group to continue being resilient to reach our goal to get to the playoffs has been an experience. It’s completely different basketball than the regular season and a time when the team really needs to come together. With that experience, we’re a lot more confident and we’re ready to get back there.”

A big part of that is the improved play of Anthony Davis, a legitimate MVP candidate seemingly poised to have the best season of his young career (which says something considering last year he averaged 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.9 blocks and 1.5 steals with an NBA-best 30.89 PER – despite being 21 years old for much of the campaign).

“Having a guy like him, there’s a lot of weight and a lot of pressure on his back, but he’s a guy that doesn’t shy away from that,” Anderson said of Davis. “I’ve been around some guys that also have carried a lot of weight, but couldn’t handle it. He craves it. He wants to take the last shot. He wants to take the team as far as we can go, and it’s awesome to have a leader like that, especially a guy so young. We’re following him.”

New head coach Alvin Gentry also could help usher the Pelicans a little bit closer to a championship this year. Anderson sees himself, in particular, having more success under a more up-tempo coach like Gentry. Knowing how a fast pace positively affects three-point shooters, it’s hard to argue with him.

“His up-tempo pace is perfect for this group, and it’s great for me personally,” Anderson said. “[We’re] able to spread the floor, play naturally and go with the flow of the game rather than being really precise and running specific plays or getting over-organized and over-thinking things. There are players that can do a lot of different things and we want to take advantage of that. I think I fit into that category, that there’s a lot of things that I can do in this offense. We’re pushing it up the floor and pushing the pace. That’s good for me.”

It should be good for everybody on the New Orleans roster. With a new coach that fits the personnel better, a superstar like Davis who continues to grow and a solid cast of role players that’s finally collectively healthy, it’s easy to envision some sort of improvement from the Pelicans in 2015-16.

Are they better than an eighth seed? Can they win a playoff series or run deeper into the 2016 postseason than expected? Anderson certainly seems to think so, and he credits their lost in last year’s playoffs for his optimism.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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