Anthony Davis put up a stat line for the ages yesterday, scoring 59 points to lead the New Orleans Pelicans to victory over the Detroit Pistons. In doing so Davis is just the 20th player since 1963 to score at least 59 points in a game. The list is exclusive and littered with players in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Just three other active players have achieved such a feat; Kobe Bryant (five times), LeBron James, and Carmelo Anthony.
It's the most points scored in the NBA since LeBron scored 61 on the Charlotte Bobcats on March 3rd, 2014. Looking for big men scoring is even more difficult; Shaquille O'Neal scored 61 to go with 23 rebounds against the Los Angeles Clippers on March 6th, 2000. David Robinson poured in 71 points on the last day of the regular season to secure a scoring title on April 24th, 1994. Those are the only two big man performances to equal or exceed AD's 59 since Davis was born!
Let's focus on that for a second. Anthony Davis is the youngest player in NBA history to score at least 59 points.
Throughout his career Anthony Davis has been measured against the greatest big men in league history. Chief among those benchmarks are Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, two of the best power forwards to ever don an NBA uniform. Through three seasons Davis was doing quite well in this regard; scoring more points (more efficiently) than either Garnett or Duncan in their third season.
Davis a victim of his own success, and limited playing time with Jrue Holiday
Now Davis has his own prolific statistical accomplishments to be compared to, and so far this season he has failed to reach those lofty standards. Davis is shooting slightly worse from the field (50.5% compared to 53.5% last year) with a tiny fluctuation in scoring (24.3 to 24.4) and rebounding (10.1 to 10.2) in roughly the same amount of minutes (35.7 to 36.1).
Is there something wrong with Anthony Davis? Of course not. Adjusting to a new offensive system with a revolving door at point guard (Nate Robinson, Jrue Holiday, Ish Smith, Tyreke Evans, and Norris Cole have all received starts this season) has been a struggle. Yesterday, with 28 of his 43 minutes coming along side Jrue Holiday, Anthony Davis flourished. As Mike Prada pointed out in his Film Room All-Stars, this should come as no surprise.
Setting up Davis should be every Pelican guard's primary job, but Holiday's the only one who actually does it. Davis' true shooting percentage nearly 60 percent when Holiday plays and less than 53 percent when he doesn't, per NBA.com's media stats page. Davis takes 42 percent of his shots inside of five feet with Holiday in and just 31 percent when he's out. No other Pelican consistently sets Davis up for layups and dunks.
That's because Holiday is a crafty passer in high pick-and-roll situations, where Davis should be at his best.
By contrast, Davis' true shooting percentage drops 3.4 percentage points with Evans in the game and four full percentage points with Norris Cole on the court. When they run point, Davis has to do too much himself. When Holiday does, Davis suddenly has a teammate to help him. There are many reasons Davis has failed to live up to overwhelming preseason expectations, but Holiday's minutes limit is one of them.
Since January 1st Davis has played nearly 20 minutes a game with Holiday on the floor. Anthony Davis is shooting an absurd 67% when receiving a pass from Jrue Holiday in that span. Davis has shot just 47.7% on all other shots in the same time period including an abhorrent 41.8% on passes from Norris Cole. (It's not much better on passes from Tyreke either.)
Map to success is all about shot geography
Davis went for 59 points yesterday and did a great deal of his work inside 16 feet thanks to excellent passing from Holiday (11 of 24 makes were off of passes from Holiday including 8 assists) and getting into the paint in general. Watch the highlight video and note how many of AD's buckets are in the paint or after facing up a defender. Holiday pick and roll with Davis was the Pelicans offense for the entire fourth quarter and Detroit was helpless. 37 of 59 points came in the paint or at the foul line. Even if AD misses every single jumper he leaves with 37 and 20, an excellent effort.
Davis had the jumper going and what stands out is that every single make is in rhythm. Jab step, bucket. One dribble pull up, bucket. Catch and shoot, like turning on a faucet in the morning. Of 18 jump shots attempted beyond 10 feet Davis was open or wide open on 13 attempts. Those 13 attempts turned into 22 points!
That's not just hot, that is almost actually catching fire on the floor. A shooting performance Davis himself might struggle to replicate on the practice floor.
Celebrate a transcendent performance from Anthony Davis, but remember just how rare such a feat is in NBA history. Let's not hold Davis to unrealistic expectations during the next 27 games and instead appreciate greatness.