Anthony Davis rocketed to super-duper-mega-stardom last year. Consequently, his 2015-16 season will be more about redefining success and less about achieving it. Success for Anthony Davis is no longer about how great of an individual player he can be. We know the answer to that already. (Hint: He's pretty damn good). Rather, this year is about how great Anthony Davis can make his team, the New Orleans Pelicans.
Last Season Recap
In case you've recently been stuck on Mars with Matt Damon, I will briefly go over how good Anthony Davis was last season. Per game, he averaged 24 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Davis' overall PER was 30.81. To put that number in perspective, only Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James recorded higher PER's in an individual season. Last year, to get on his level, most players would need a space shuttle or a ladder that's forever.
About two seconds after the clock struck 12 A.M. on the opening day of free agency, Davis promptly signed a five-year $145 Million contract extension with the New Orleans Pelicans. Davis spent the rest of his drama free off-season traveling around the world and spending time at various gyms.
According to Davis himself, he went to the gym a lot this summer and has put on several more pounds of muscle. Reports claim that he is up to 253 pounds. Now, not only is Anthony Davis' game similar to David Robinson, his physique is too.
The extra muscle mass should allow Davis to drive harder into the lane and become an imposing force on the block. (Something I personally would love to see.) Davis' increased size will be important for the long term as the landscape of the NBA moves towards smaller lineups.
Davis also took some time out this off-season to scare the bejesus out of the NBA when he released this video of him draining 3's.
Bad news for the rest of the NBA, that video was just the tip of the iceberg. According to a report by Nola.com, Gentry told Anthony Davis to shoot & make 150 corner threes from each side of the court at every practice this summer. Alvin Gentry was quoted as saying, ‘‘[w]e want him to shoot that shot. So I think you probably see him make more 3s than he's made his entire career.''
For his career, Davis is just 3 for 27 on three-point attempts, but he is on board with taking more of them. In an article by Slam Magazine, Davis stated, "I'm going to mix it up. I love playing down low, but at the same time, if the opportunity is there; I'm definitely going to take them,".
Despite Anthony Davis' transcendent 2014-15 season, this season will be the biggest gut check year of his career. Young individual talent, even one as great as Davis, doesn't translate into championships. Look no further than the 2009-2010 Cleveland Cavaliers, 2010-11 Chicago Bulls, or 2011-12 Oklahoma City Thunder. The recent landscape of the NBA is littered with the graveyards of teams who had tremendous individual talent, but failed to bring home a championship.
To take the "next step," Davis has to not only continue his dominance, he must be a facilitator for greatness. For me, taking the next step for Anthony Davis starts not at the 3-point line, but on the defensive side of the court.
If you look at the historical arcs for the last two super-duper-mega-stars, Michael Jordan and LeBron James, their big leaps in team performance (the time where their individual performance started translating to deep playoff runs) came during their fourth-sixth seasons. The big change to each of those player's games came on the defensive side of the ball.
To be fair, Davis, whose Defensive Box +/- (DBPM) was 3.0 last year, is starting at a much higher arc than Michael Jordan and LeBron James, whose DBPM were just above 2.0 in seasons 4-6. Still, even a more comparable player like Tim Duncan started making deep playoff runs (without David Robinson) during his fourth-sixth season, where his DBPM started creeping well over four. (Stats provided by Basketball-Reference.com)
What to Expect
Looking forward to this season, I expect Anthony Davis to be a more dominant offensive player, both at the three-point line and down in the post. However, that isn't necessarily what I will be looking for. Instead, I want to see how much Anthony Davis can start improving on the defensive side of the court. If Anthony Davis becomes exceptionally dominate on the defensive side of the court, I expect the Pelicans to make it past the first round of the playoffs this year.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section below. For more of my personal musings about the NBA and Pelicans you can follow me on twitter @jdbillio.