Through the first 81 of 96 minutes of basketball this season, Anthony Davis made a mere 7 field goals out of 30 attempts. That translates to a shivering 23%. In addition, he added 6 turnovers to boot.
With this alley-oop dunk in the third quarter against the Portland Trail Blazers Wednesday night, Davis has not missed a shot in the Pelicans last 15 minutes of action. This stretch witnessed seven consecutive made baskets by New Orleans favorite star including three three-pointers.
Why the sudden change in proficiency? A solid coaching adjustment.
Against the Golden State Warriors, the New Orleans offense tried to run through Davis much too often. During the season opener, the Pelicans first four offensive possessions went through the 22-year old in the post area. A quick 1-3 start avalanched into another 13 consecutive misses.
On most of those shot attempts, Davis either missed a jumper with an opponent in too close of proximity, or worse, he tried to create something going towards the basket. During the times he utilized the dribble, he failed to make a single attempt, missing all 6 shots.
I believe the coaching staff noticed these struggles and significantly changed the plan for game 2. Against Portland, Davis didn't get a shot attempt in the game's first 3:30. Thankfully, only once did he try dribbling from the perimeter region towards the rim: a wild miss jumping into Al-Farouq Aminu after maneuvering past several other Trail Blazers.
Anthony Davis is adept at using the dribble, but when asked to beat more than just his defender, it's not in his arsenal...yet.
Since Davis was drafted, he became accustomed to playing alongside ball dominant point guards. Monty William's system revolved around ball-handlers breaking down defenses in half-court sets. This season, the Pelicans have been asked to pick up the pace under Alvin Gentry, but the problem is they lack the necessary tools.
New Orleans has not developed the fundamental ball movement a la the Warriors or Spurs (that takes time and continuity!), nor have they had the support of multiple ball-handlers to create for others like yesteryear. Tyreke Evans and Norris Cole have not played a single minute; Jrue Holiday has appeared in just 21 of the 96 minutes.
During the preseason, New Orleans often got off to high-scoring first quarter starts. It's no surprise to discover that a major reason for the team's early efficiency was because Holiday was on the floor. The statistics support this notion as Jrue led the team with a +6.0 +/- among Pelicans who had appeared in more than one preseason game.
Thankfully, Dell Demps signed Ish Smith right before the start of the regular season, and the coaching staff has smartly begun to utilize him. Ish has been the only Pelican who has consistently been able to create easier looks for others. Three of Davis' four dunks on the season are a direct result of passes from Smith.
Further, the best the Pelicans offense has looked so far was when Smith and Holiday shared the backcourt for about 2 minutes against the Blazers. The ball movement and penetrating ability of the two guards were directly responsible for Davis' first made three, his second trey and an easy lay-in.
The Pelicans would love to see more of this, hence, why Nate Robinson was let go yesterday. Krypto-Nate is too one dimensional, and the wrong one at that for the current roster. New Orleans needs passing and defense far more than his volume scoring ways, despite what recent final box scores may lead you to believe.
No, I'm not that hopeful Toney Douglas will morph into another Ish-elixir, but he should fit better with the active personnel than Robinson. Somehow the Pelicans are going to need to survive at least 4 back-to-backs without Holiday, Evans or Cole. That's a tall order and we haven't even discussed all the problems that exist on the defensive side of the ball yet.
One thing is for certain though, Anthony Davis, much like the rest of his teammates, still rely on true point guards to find them. A well above the norm 3.5 turnover average says as much. AD can square up a single opponent or find the open man, but when other multiple defenders are awaiting his next move, his mission is currently too great. Until some of the missing troops return, expect more rough stretches, especially when Holiday sits.
However, the Pelicans now at least have an idea of what they need to do to be successful on the scoring side of the ball. Just as Gentry had predicted before this mess began, they need to keep their heads above water in the interim. Hopefully this emergency formula becomes better in-grained over the next few practices and games and the results start to show.
So, to all those who have already declared this Pelicans season a lost cause, criticized Alvin Gentry or bemoaned Dell Demps, change your beliefs. There exists a logical explanation for the 0-2 start. The Pelicans have been dealt a lousy hand: a number of key injuries, a rough schedule and existing personnel scrambling to find Plan D, or is it E now?