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Anthony "Atlas" Davis is ready to shoulder a bigger load

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A word about New Orleans end of game situations.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

A few days ago, I came across a startling statistic:

Anthony Davis is nearly perfect from the floor in crunch time situations. Meanwhile, the rest of his teammates, who have had plenty of opportunity, are not:

  • Tyreke Evans is 7 for 32 (21.9%)
  • Ryan Anderson is 3 for 16 (18.8%)
  • Jrue Holiday is 5 for 15 (33.3%)
  • The rest of the team is 4 for 12 (33.3%)
Despite the success of just one player, the Pelicans have won half of their close games so far this season. Going forward, we should expect the team's collective performance in the last 5 minutes of close games to improve. Last season, they certainly fared much better.
  • Tyreke Evans was 25 for 58 (43.1%)
  • Anthony Davis was 27 for 55 (49.1%)
  • Eric Gordon was 17 for 50 (34.0%)
  • Jrue Holiday was 13 for 30 (43.3%)
  • Ryan Anderson was 10 for 23 (43.5%)
Now before we proceed any further, this article isn't going to devolve into another general Davis needs more touches piece. Rather, I want the focus to be on the execution of late game situations. Specifically, if Davis isn't the first option, how this seemingly perfect weapon could be given greater support.

First Option Bigs

On Christmas Eve, Blazer's Edge asked whether Damian Lillard was the most clutch player in the NBA. We're not going to debate that at this time but rather, look at the best bigs in the business and compare their usages overall to the final minutes of close games.

Player FG% % of Overall Team's Shots Attempted FGA per 36 minutes FTA per 36 minutes FG% in Close Games % of Team's Shots Attempted in Close Games FGA per 36 minutes FTA per 36 minutes
Anthony Davis 56.2% 18.7% 16.7 6.6 90% 21.1% 15.2 9.1
Pau Gasol 47.5% 16.3% 15.1 4.9 61.5% 18.6% 13.6 9.9
Dirk Nowitzki 46.8% 15.7% 17.6 5.3 57.1% 22.6% 19.4 11.1
Chris Bosh 48.0% 16.8% 16.5 5.9 52.6% 19.6% 17.6 5.6
LaMarcus Aldridge 45.8% 20.5% 19.9 4.8 48.5% 30.3% 19.3 8.2
DeMarcus Cousins 50.4% 14.2% 18.5 9.4 47.1% 15.5% 14.2 16.7
Marc Gasol 50.3% 17.4% 15.1 6.8 41.5% 23.3% 13.9 7.5
Tim Duncan 47.8% 12.8% 13.8 5.8 39.1% 32.6% 16.6 9.0

As you can see, most of the players above see their attempts (from the floor and the free throw line) increase in the final 5 minutes of games where the lead or deficit is 5 points. DeMarcus Cousins' numbers appear to be an anomaly because he missed a lot of time to viral meningitis. During his absence, he missed 9 games in which the Kings found themselves in tight battles down the stretch. Consequently, players like Rudy Gay and Darren Collison benefited substantially from the increase in looks and made Cousins crunch time pie smaller than it should be. However, his 20 free throw attempts in just 43 minutes played in close games shows his usage isn't an issue, despite the low FGA per 36 minutes statistic.

Marc Gasol's drop in FGA is also satisfied because the Grizzlies have two better offensive options at the close of games: Mike Conley and Zach Randolph. Their field goal percentages (47.3% and 53.1% respectively) look a whole lot better option than Gasol's 41.5%.

Both Pau Gasol and Anthony Davis see their field goal attempts drop by 1.5 in crunch time. Both have converted at extraordinary rates. However, as to where Pau is surrounded by 5 other Bulls who are shooting 40% or better from the field (and that's not even counting Derrick Rose), AD has two. And they're questionable options at best: Dante Cunningham and Luke Babbitt. As witnessed, the other core of the Pelicans have performed miserably thus far.

Despite the presence of Damian Lillard, Aldridge still sees his attempts spike in crunch time. The offense is spread evenly between those two stars. Conversely, Davis, who leads the team in field goal attempts overall, becomes lost in Tyreke Evans' shadow. For Davis to have roughly the same number of looks as Anderson and Holiday and trail Evans significantly, is troubling. For him to sit in similar company when he's missed just 2 of 20 shots while the trio has missed 48 of 63 is appalling.

Wins v. Losses

Some might be inclined to stop their analysis here, but since I don't generally have a problem with the number of touches Davis gets within games, let's look deeper for any apparent issues.

The Pelicans have a record of 4-4 in games decided by 5 points or less. During the final 5 minutes in our wins:
  • Anthony Davis is 9 for 9 (3 of 4 from the foul line)
  • Tyreke Evans is 7 for 15 (6 of 6 from the foul line)
  • Jrue Holiday is 1 for 3
  • Ryan Anderson is 1 for 4
  • The rest of the team is 2 for 5
During the final five minutes in our losses:
  • Anthony Davis is 9 for 11 (7 of 8 from the foul line)
  • Tyreke Evans is 0 for 17 (5 of 6 from the foul line)
  • Ryan Anderson is 2 for 12
  • Jrue Holiday is 4 for 12
  • The rest of the team is 2 for 7
Davis performs at otherwordly levels no matter the outcome. This isn't true for the rest of the team and it's apparent the keys are are firmly in Evans possession. When Tyreke makes some shots, the Pelicans walk away with the win; when he falls on his face, we've lost every single time.

All teams who rely on a big or two require an effective ball handler who also can pose as an offensive threat: Aldridge has Lillard, Marc Gasol has Conley, Nowitzki has Monta Ellis and so on. Fortunately for the Pelicans, they have two certifiable options in Evans and Holiday, yet Evans has nearly always been the go-to option. This should not be the case.

Not counting the statistics during crunch time in our close wins:
  • Tyreke Evans has a 43.6 FG%
  • Jrue Holiday has a 50.0 FG%
Not counting the statistics during crunch time in our close losses:
  • Tyreke Evans has a 41.3 FG%
  • Jrue Holiday has a 46.2 FG%
Yep, Holiday is generally the more effective performer. Consequently, there should absolutely be no reason that the team's hopes exclusively rely on Tyreke Evans in tight games. Even less after the coaching staff has exhausted their options in getting the ball to easy money Davis.

Final Thought

8 games is a small sample so I wish NBA Stats clutch statistics would have an option to enlarge their fields by a point or two. For instance, our OT loss to the Warriors or the win in Sacramento deserve to be included in this analysis, and they would have been had users been able to select a 6 points or less option. After all, a 6 point differential translates to just a two possession game.

However, back to the problem at hand -- there exists enough data to make some strong determinations. First, Anthony Davis has been performing like the perfect weapon. He just never misses in crunch time so let's go ahead and see how much we can milk him before it stops making sense. Second, the ball doesn't need to be in Tyreke Evans' hands nearly as much as it has been. At a minimum, Holiday deserves equal opportunity to prove his worth.

Employing a two-headed monster to go along with AD would better serve to keep opposing defenses on their toes. Plus, it would provide a chance for the Pelicans to smartly ride the hotter player down the stretch.

Tyreke Evans has been vital in several of our close wins, yet the team hasn't utilized all their resources, even in victory. Anthony Davis deserves to be at the forefront of New Orleans attack, and both Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday the right to strongly assist him in securing wins. Really, it shouldn't be any other way.