Building around Anthony Davis has been a favorite topic in the NBA blogosphere since he entered the league. Initially the New Orleans Pelicans went slow; adding Robin Lopez and Ryan Anderson before Davis began his rookie season. Then, in the minds of many, things went off the rails. At the 2013 NBA Draft general manager Dell Demps traded the rights to Nerlens Noel along with the Pelicans 2014 first round pick (ultimately Elfrid Payton) for Jrue Holiday. Just a week later Demps was at the doorstep of Tyreke Evans offering a "monster contract" that ultimately cost four years and over $40 million.
However, the purpose of this analysis is not to rehash old arguments over the wisdom over those moves. Instead it is to discuss which current Pelicans are pairing well, and not well, with Anthony Davis on the court. To begin let's take a look at how Davis pairs with the five core players on the Pelicans roster. Omer Asik has only been in New Orleans for one season, yet has already logged more minutes beside the Brow than Ryan Anderson in the past two years. (Thanks, injuries.) In the case of Ryan Anderson, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, and Eric Gordon we will examine two years of data.
|Anthony Davis - Ryan Anderson||1201||113.4||107.4||+6.0|
|Anthony Davis - Jrue Holiday||1861||108.6||103.6||+5.0|
|Anthony Davis - Omer Asik||1321||105.1||100.5||+4.6|
|Anthony Davis - Tyreke Evans||3070||107.5||105.8||+1.7|
|Anthony Davis - Eric Gordon||2899||107.0||107.2||-0.2|
Stats via NBA Stats
Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson, despite Anderson's many faults, lap the competition. Defensively they are awful, although they did improve this season (106.7) over last (109.4) in far more minutes (877 vs 324). That's really flammable but now there are two seasons where Davis and Anderson hold steady at a +6.0 Net Rating. A 118-109 victory and a 103-96 victory still count the same in the record book.
On the other end of the spectrum is Davis alongside Omer Asik. Offensively the Pelicans go from fireworks to pedestrian. However, on defense a team that struggled all season turns into an exceedingly competent group. This is even more impressive when considering that Asik's time on the court with Davis almost exclusively comes against other starting units. There is no parlor trick involved here.
In the back court answers are significantly more clear. Davis beside Jrue Holiday consistently outscores opponents. An elite offense with a league average defense is more than sufficient to get the job done. Tyreke Evans or Eric Gordon produces results on offense, although at a less prolific rate. Defensively, however, the wheels fall off. Considering the reputation of both Evans and Gordon this comes as no surprise.
The Pelicans are essentially locked into their roster until December 15th when players signed this summer are eligible to be traded. The 2015 NBA trade deadline turned from boring to a cavalcade of transactions in a blink of an eye. What might the 2016 deadline do with the spectre of an exploding salary cap in July? We can only guess.
The two most frequent targets of trade speculation on the roster are Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon. Gordon brings the possibility of a more expensive return with his $15.5 million contract outgoing. Could either expiring contract fetch a significant upgrade at the deadline? If so it would follow that moving on from Gordon, who pairs poorly with the franchise cornerstone, is preferable to trading Anderson who pairs exceedingly well.
On the other end is 2016 free agency. If the Pelicans want to make a big splash trading either Jrue Holiday or Tyreke Evans, coming on expiring contracts for the 2016-17 season, make the most sense. Health here will be a significant concern. However, should Holiday return to form his positive contribution beside AD is light years beyond Tyreke's. Before gaining the data of how Alvin Gentry's system effects both players (critical to making this decision, along with Jrue's health) the answer is clear.
This should also be the source of greatest hope for Pelican fans. The two players who play best beside Anthony Davis have struggled through injury and recovery over the previous two seasons. Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson are reportedly in excellent shape headed for training camp. If Holiday and Anderson return to historical levels of health the Pelicans could be on track for a very successful season.