How can we, as fans, separate highlight production from efficiency? Omer Asik is a purveyor of negative highlights. Bobbled passes, falling over himself, tipping the ball in for the opponent, and frequently being blocked at the rim. If there was a "Not Top 10" list of Pelican moments this season, Asik could fill it unassisted. Despite all of those significant imprints on the Pelican fan psyche, he is also quietly having the most effective season in his career on offense.
On the other end of the spectrum lies Anthony Davis. AD has Go-Go Gadget arms, speed and quickness which appear unnatural on a man so large, and the ability to nearly jump out of the arena. If you want a highlight reel for this franchise, chances are Davis is going to be a frequent contributor. A bobbled pass is a negative highlight; a missed rotation is hardly noticed.
Today we focus on Davis on offense. This is an area where he has made enormous progress over the last two and a half seasons. Despite that, there is still a load of work to be done. AD even states that he has been in the league just two years and has much to learn. We'll start with the bad news first.
Areas for Improvement
For all of the amazing things that Davis can do, he still struggles mightily to create his own shot. Over 72% of his made field goals have been assisted this season. That comes out to 253 of his 348 made field goals. Another 37 makes have come off offensive rebounds, many of those off misses by Tyreke Evans. Just 58 field goals, 16.7% of all makes, have come without assistance.
Quick explanation here before we dive in. "% Time" is a percentage of all the possessions (772 in total, taken before the Lakers game) Davis has used. AD has spread himself around here, using at least 9% of his possessions this season in seven different categories. "PPP" is points per possession. It is important to know that the league average is roughly 1.07 per possession. "Rank" is where Davis ranks throughout the league in those types of possessions, not unlike the percentile students are given on most standardized tests.
As you can see Davis has improved in most situations, most importantly in Isolation. For Davis most of his isolation possessions come at the elbow or free throw line extended. These are his possessions using the face-up game. AD has consistently improved and ranks well, but a Davis isolation possession still produces sub-optimal outcomes.
His ranking in Spot Up situations is influenced by the fact he does not take threes. The vast majority of the players ranking higher than AD in this category do so by attempting threes instead of long twos. This is not to say Davis should not take long twos, just to define why he ranks low.
Davis in the post is a work in progress. Not only does he rank low, this is his worst performing area. There are two primary causes. He turns the ball over more in post ups than any other high usage situation and only draws fouls more infrequently in spot ups, for obvious reasons. On the season AD shoots 27/81 in post ups, and that just is not getting the job done.
Spittin' Hot Fire!
While Davis struggles creating his own shot, he is probably the most devastating finisher in the NBA right now. Rolling to the rim, getting out in transition, snagging offensive rebounds, or finishing dump offs there are few in the NBA who can compare.
Anthony Davis is practically unstoppable in transition. That has been the case since he stepped foot into the league, ranking at the very top of the league for three consecutive seasons. Through 37 games Davis already has 71 transition possessions. In 64 games as a rookie he had just 72.
The "Cut" moniker here is not what most would consider a cut. Many of the video examples of a "cut" on Synergy Sports were actually plays where Davis was lurking along the baseline and received a dump off pass from a driving guard. AD's improvement finishing on these plays is remarkable.
Offensive rebounds have slowly decreased as a share of his offense, understandable as his offensive rebound rate has decreased each year from 10.5% as a rookie to 8.1% this season. I believe this is more of a case that AD's increased involvement in the offense taking him away from opportunities than any decrease in aggressiveness. While Davis has fewer chances, his efficiency with those possessions continues to increase.
Rolling to the basket AD is impressive for two reasons. First, the Pelican guards are passing the ball to Davis on such plays at the highest rate of his career. Davis gets roughly 5.3 possessions as the roll man a game; the previous two years he averaged 3.3 and 3.6 for comparison. He is also turning these possessions into more points by shooting a higher percentage (62% compared to mid-50's his first two years) and turning the ball over on just 4.6% of possessions; down from 6.2% his sophomore year and 9% as a rookie.
New Orleans is playing the long game with AD's development. He has to go into the post again and again in game situations to improve. While the spot up game is hardly sparkling from his ranking throughout the league the ability to knock down long twos at a well above average rate opens up the floor for him and the ball handler to operate. The Pelicans invested in that early in his career despite the results and it is beginning to pay dividends.
Isolation is at a respectable level for now and like post ups Davis will only improve if given the chance to learn through experience. Every single decision in the game plan and during the course of the game when it comes to Anthony Davis cannot be made only with the short term goal of winning the contest at hand in mind.
There is a point in the future where Davis clear outs on the elbow are a big part of the Pelicans end game strategy. The only way to prepare AD for the various double teams and rotations that will come is to give him experience now in live ball situations.
Given his current trajectory, the question is not if Davis will be ready for that additional burden. Simply when.