Last season Anthony Davis was transcendentally efficient. He was a Synergy Sports Demigod, filling up the basket in a myriad of ways while producing highlights by the bushel. By Player Efficiency Rating (PER) Davis had the 11th best season in NBA history at 30.8. The only players to do better are Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, and LeBron James. Davis accomplished this without creating his own shot most of the time; as Seth Partnow pointed out in October Davis "self-created" just 18% of his made buckets.
Alvin Gentry was brought in to unleash Anthony Davis from the shackles put on him by Monty Williams. The New Orleans Pelicans would play faster, the ball would get into AD's hands more, and victories would follow. Just a quick Google search of "Alvin Gentry Anthony Davis unleash" returns results from Sports Illustrated, Sporting News, CBS Sports, Pelican Debrief, and others. Paragraphs like this one from Ben Golliver for Sports Illustrated were commonplace during the summer.
The logic behind Williams's somewhat unexpected firing wasn't entirely clear at the time, as it came so quickly after his first postseason appearance and after owner Tom Benson sent out a letter of gratitude to his coaching staff. Now, with Gentry on deck, the logic behind the coaching change is clear as day: one of the league's slowest teams in recent years plans to significantly pick up the tempo. That's a frightening proposition for opponents, who now must contemplate Anthony Davis like they've never seen him before, in a fast and loose system that should utilize his obscene athleticism and above-the-rim finishing ability.
That has not come to pass.
New Orleans is playing much faster averaging almost 100 possessions per game, over six more than they did last season. As promised Anthony Davis is touching the ball more, 11.8 more touches per game and 9.3 of those additional touches occur in the front court. Davis is also getting more open looks at the basket; 43.8% of his shots attempted have come without a defender within four feet, up from 39.1% last season according to NBA Stats. All of that would be expected to produce positive results. Instead AD's PER is down from 30.8 to 25.6 and his true shooting percentage has dropped from 59.1% to 55.8%.
The stats for 2014-15 below are only through the middle of January so they might be different than year end.
|P&R: Roll Man||Offensive Rebounds||Transition||Cut|
|% Time||PPP||Rank||% Time||PPP||Rank||% Time||PPP||Rank||% Time||PPP||Rank|
|Post Up||Spot Up||Isolation|
|% Time||PPP||Rank||% Time||PPP||Rank||% Time||PPP||Rank|
via Synergy Sports and NBA Stats Play Type
Less efficient in literally every play type really jumps off the page. Davis is using fewer possessions as the roll man, on offensive rebounds, in transition (!), and on cuts. These are the most efficient plays. That Davis is using fewer possessions in transition blows my mind.
On the other side, Davis is getting a ton more possessions (over a 42% increase!) in the post. The results on those possessions remain poor. Further, that does not even account for the stalled trips down the floor when Pelican guard try and fail to get AD the ball on the block while the shot clock wastes away. Those possessions occur at a terrifying rate as both players and coaching staff try to force feed the ball to Davis.
Short term pain and suffering can lead to long term results. At some point the Pelicans needed Anthony Davis to focus on creating his own shot more and growing pains are not shocking. While Davis is much less efficient in isolation than last year he is close to his post up numbers with a much larger volume. That can bear fruit in the future.
For now I wonder if Davis and the Pelicans are best served with this smorgasbord of post ups. Isn't being the best finisher in the league enough?