Anthony Davis is on pace to become just the 20th player to average over 24 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks a game. (Going back to 1973, the first year blocks were recorded.) That in itself is amazing considering Davis will be the youngster member of this elusive club and only the third player under the age of 25. However, there is a recent new development that has tickled my fancy so much more this season.
Prior to this month, the most assists Davis ever averaged was 2.1. With yesterday's game concluding the schedule for March, he obliterated last season's personal best with an average of 3.6 assists a game. That's an improvement of over 70%! Five times this month (out of 11 games), he had 5 or more assists in a game. In his prior 179 games, he hit that mark just once!
Since it's fun to get ahead of oneself when it comes to the Brow, if he were to average over 3.5 assists for a season and add it to the point/rebound/block total we've mentioned, he would end up in even more elite company. According to basketball reference, only 4 players have ever put up these type of stats.
Shaquille O'Neal and David Robinson managed the feat for one season. Hakeem Olajuwon accomplished the mark three times. And the undisputed leader, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is credited for 5 seasons, although it's safe to say it would have been 8 considering he had the points, rebounds and assists for 3 seasons prior to 1973.
Assists = Wins
As I've said in the past, numbers are nice and they can make careers pop like a 5 carat diamond ring does for a newly engaged soon-to-be bride, but what we should all care about is wins. The good news is that when Anthony Davis is racking up the assists, the Pelicans usually end up victorious.
New Orleans has a record of 13-6 when the Brow has had 3 or more assists in a game; last season, the team was 12-2. Conversely, when he has put up a doughnut in the category over the course of his career, the Pelicans have a paltry record of 9-32.
Fittingly, when Davis is dropping dimes, the Pelicans team statistics sparkle. In the 19 games, he's gone for 3 or more assists, the team averages 25.8 assists a game and shoots 48.1% from the field. (On the season, the Pelicans average 22.1 assists and shoot 45.8% from the floor.) Those shiny figures would place New Orleans 2nd in assists and 1st overall in field goal percentage.
The Source of Improvement
One might think Davis' increase is directly related to Jrue Holiday's injury, but that's not true. His numbers didn't show any gains both for January and February. Moreover, when Holiday was on the court, the Pelicans averaged 21.4 assists a game, lower than their current season total.
So why did Davis enjoy an unprecedented month of delivering the ball to teammates? Simply, he has taken on a larger and more central role within the offense. Before March, he averaged 33.5 passes and his teammates took an average of 7.2 shots a game (good for a 44.5 FG%) on his dishes. Since that time frame, those numbers have risen significantly: 42.0 passes and the Pels have taken an average of 10.4 shots a game (good for a 52.6 FG%). He's not just passing the ball out to reset the offense; he's making meaningful scoring passes on excellent reads.
The best part about the increase in the shot attempts? They've largely come from long range. Before March, Davis' passing resulted in 1.8 three-point attempts a game (.6 makes and a 33.7 3FG%). In the 11 games this month, those numbers have jumped to 4.4 three-point attempts, 2.3 makes and a 52.1 3FG%!
It appears a lot of it has to do with Quincy Pondexter entering the starting lineup. Although he was inserted among the starters on February 21, he didn't start playing on a consistent basis with Davis until March 4th (thanks shoulder injury!) Since Dell Demps traded for him, I stated numerously that Q-Pon made for a better fit in the starting lineup than Dante Cunningham. The reason being was that the floor would be spaced better with two deadly three point shooters on either wing. Not coincidentally, Quincy Pondexter just enjoyed his best three-point shooting month of his career (48.5%).
To show you what I mean regarding AD's new found playmaking ability, let's have a look at several assists against the Minnesota Timberwolves. At the start of the game, Davis received the pass from Tyreke Evans at the right elbow.
In the past, he would have shot the jumper or taken it to the rim -- just have a look at all that available space! Instead, he noticed Zach LaVine is too far off of Gordon and cheating towards the lane. In the very next instance, his quick read and new found comfort level chooses choice C: flipping it to Gordon for a corner three.
Here's another good example of the progress Davis has made as a playmaker. He received the ball in the mid-post and the passer, Norris Cole, cut to the rim.
Sensing the double team, Davis got rid of it before the trap arrived and hit Cole in stride for a wide open lay-in.
Another step in building the perfect weapon
Anthony Davis is a multi-talented offensive player that can stretch defenses all the way out to the three-point line. However, opponents are aware of it and they've resorted to a number of gimmicks to slow him down: double teams, fronting or flat out holding him at every possible turn. Now, it appears the coaching staff is combating this while making greater use of his potential by having him dictate a greater proportion of the offense. And why shouldn't they? Outside of Jeff Malone, AD is only the 2nd player since the 3-ball era to have a usage of over 27% but with a sub 7% TOV percentage.
The Brow's playmaking improvement in March has been astounding. Sure, a few of his gains may have come from a bump in minutes (he averaged over 40 minutes a game in March), but the much greater portion has been due to his talent level. Being a 7 footer with his field of vision, the remarkable skill set, a high IQ that resists turnovers and 2 potent weapons sitting on each side of him on the perimeter, Anthony Davis has taken the next step and expanded his repertoire. The whole he's unguardable thing just gained a bit more traction thanks to the power of the assist.