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Dispelling the "Pelican Guards Don't Pass to Anthony Davis" Myth

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Do the Pelicans set up Anthony Davis enough? Yeah. Probably they do.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Every game the Pelicans lose we hear the same refrain. Anthony Davis needs more touches. Anthony Davis needs more shots. The guards are dribbling too much. No one is passing the ball to Anthony Davis enough when he's open. If there is one thing Monty Williams is going to focus on every night (but, interestingly enough, only in losses) it is going to be getting AD touches. He never gets enough touches. Just look what he did against Utah when he got enough touches.

This nicely dovetails into a second argument, that Dell Demps has built a poor roster and is wasting Anthony Davis with "Isolation" guards who don't pass enough. Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans have long been the bane of the blogging community. Evans can't shoot. Holiday shoots from the mid-range too much. Those points, of course, ignore that Evans knows he can't shoot and therefore rarely does (hello Morey Ball) and that Holiday is taking fewer mid-range shots this season. But I digress.

For today's article though, we will focus on this idea that AD does not touch the ball enough. Unsurprisingly, the stats tell a different story than the narrative.

Big Men Score Differently

There are currently nine big men averaging 19 or more points per game. Every one of them is assisted on at least 50% of their made two point attempts according to Basketball Reference. Even while not accounting for putbacks (the Kobe Assist) these players have the majority of their scoring opportunities created by others. No big man has those opportunities created more frequently (% Assisted means how many of a player's made shots were assisted) than Anthony Davis.

PPG FGA/100 %AST Touches
Anthony Davis 25.2 24.5 70.2% 34.2
Marc Gasol 19.8 20.8 63.2% 47.7
Dirk Nowitzki 19.1 25.7 63.1% 34.8
Blake Griffin 22.5 27.3 61.8% 61.0
Pau Gasol 19.9 23.6 56.3% 41.2
Al Jefferson 19.5 28.0 55.6% 33.8
DeMarcus Cousins 23.5 26.5 54.8% 42.4
LaMarcus Aldridge 22.2 27.7 54.1% 42.0
Chris Bosh 21.8 25.0 50.0% 48.2

Depending on the story you want to tell you can either focus on the assist percentage (where no big man is created for more often than Anthony Davis) or the number of front court touches, where AD lags behind many of his power forward contemporaries. Sorting by front court touches paints a clearer picture of AD's contemporaries.

Touches

Adjusting for the disparity in minutes and pace is tricky here. But when we see Davis in the same range of touches as Professor Al in Charlotte (where he is the unquestioned number one option), Dirk, and Zach Randolph we should begin to question if the idea that AD doesn't get enough touches is actually real.

Confirmation Bias, On the Hand...

Confirmation bias is real, when individuals or (especially) groups of people use results to attempt to confirm their predetermined notions of why success or failure might occur. I don't need to link you the hundreds of articles written by bloggers around basketball decrying Dell Demps rebuilding plan. If you go to a national site or a blog covering the Pelicans that is not us or Bourbon Street Shots you can find them by the hundreds. Rest assured that those people who wrote before the season that this is a flawed roster reach back to their preseason predictions whenever things go awry. Being "right" is fun on the internet.

Could the Pelicans get the ball to AD more? Sure. Would more Davis isolations actually improve the offense? The answer to that question is less clear. Anyone can point to a Tyreke Evans missed layup and bemoan his inability to finish. Fewer dig deep to discover that 40.3% of shots missed by Evans (according to NBA Wowy) are retained by the Pelicans.

Anthony Davis has made 168 shots all season. 90 of those shots were assisted by either Jrue Holiday (50) or Tyreke Evans (40). Another 20 of those shots came off offensive rebounds. AD has made just 11 of 34 shots after taking two or more dribbles. He is shooting 13 for 43 on Pull Ups. Anthony Davis has been insanely efficient. The positions that the Pelicans, mostly the guards, put him in is a much bigger reason than many want to admit.

Statistics from NBA Stats, NBA Savant, Basketball Reference, and NBA Wowy