Anthony Davis just turned 23 today, but his list of accomplishments on the hardwood is already rather extensive and quite enviable. He is third on the Pelicans all-time list in scoring, total rebounds and steals. Naturally, with that spectacular combination of height, reach and athleticism, he is the team's all-time leader in blocks, having tallied nearly 200 more than David West compiled in his 8 seasons with New Orleans.
In addition to his various standings among the franchise records, he has been recognized for a number of other noteworthy achievements during his short career, many of which were neatly listed by Justin Verrier in an article published on ESPN earlier today.
Instead of celebrating this special day with another highlight reel, although an incredibly entertaining endeavor, I want to focus on the future. Amid such a disappointing season, it's important to determine how the Pelicans can get back on track, and from an individual standpoint, how the team should best utilize their personnel.
When news of Gentry's hire first broke, many surmised Anthony Davis was going to be fully unleashed in a faster setting. That reality remains a fantasy as Davis' numbers are down across the board and the team still struggles to play with the coaching staff's desired pace. Now, with the Pelicans postseason odds hovering near zero, the team has changed gears and made development a priority. For instance, Jrue Holiday was finally re-inserted back into the starting lineup several games ago.
Three days ago, Alvin Gentry alerted the media that Davis was going to be given greater responsibility down the stretch of games.
"At the end of the game, I think we need to get the ball to Anthony more," Gentry said recently. "We need to start training him to be the guy down the stretch. If you've got a great player, that's what you do."
At the start of the season, the coaching staff attempted to make Davis the focal point of the offense in the team's first two games against the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers, but he was far from ready to embrace such a role.
Against the Golden State Warriors, the New Orleans offense tried to run through Davis much too often. During the season opener, the Pelicans first four offensive possessions went through the 22-year old in the post area. A quick 1-3 start avalanched into another 13 consecutive misses.
On most of those shot attempts, Davis either missed a jumper with an opponent in too close of proximity, or worse, he tried to create something going towards the basket. During the times he utilized the dribble, he failed to make a single attempt, missing all 6 shots.
Is he now ready for the task at hand? I'm hesitant to defiantly answer one way or the other with such a young and still developing player, but the numbers suggest no, and more importantly, they may remain as such.
There are four ways to beat an opponent when in possession of the ball: a jumpshot, off the dribble, via a smart pass or from the post area. Versatility is a requirement for being an effective closer.
- In a short time frame, Davis has developed an efficient spot-up jumper out to the 3 point line.
- His post-game can best be described as a work in progress. This season, he has attempted 18% of his shots from this area, and thanks to a poor 34.6 eFG%, he's mired in the 30th percentile of the league.
- Passing remains a question mark. As Justin had made mention, Davis' assist percentage in clutch situations this season sits at a lowly 2.1%. Correctly, Gentry has stated that he doesn't think AD needs to shoot with every touch in the final five minutes of a game but also look to pass. Well, Davis has rarely made any consequentially passes!
One check mark versus two big X's. Passing is one area, though, Davis could make tremendous strides in coming seasons. He already creates a sort of gravitational pull that I first saw mentioned by Stephen Shea whereby AD's mere presence causes parts of the floor to open. If he could ever learn to move the ball as well as Kevin Garnett...
So, in order to gauge his current potential closing ability, a lot hangs on Davis' ball-handling characteristics. The numbers listed below are the frequency of attempts, and in parantheses, the corresponding effective field goal percentage.
|0 dribbles||1 dribble||2 dribbles||3-6 dribbles||7+ dribbles|
|2013-14||66.5% (55.4 eFG%)||27.2% (47.3 eFG%)||4.0% (35.0 eFG%)||2.3% (39.1 eFG%)||N/A|
|2014-15||60.5% (57.3 eFG%)||27.6% (50.2 eFG%)||8.3% (36.4 eFG%)||3.5% (54.8 eFG%)||0.1% (100 eFG%)|
|2015-16||57.4% (58.0 eFG%)||28.0% (44.3 eFG%)||8.3% (40.7 eFG%)||6.1% (37.3 eFG%)||0.2% (50 eFG%)|
According to the data, Anthony Davis is largely the same player as he was a season ago. Both his efficiency and propensity figures echo he prefers to not utilize the dribble. He has extended his range out to the three-point line (although it's still questionable this is good for the long-term), but that only helps his chances to extend the defense, not to beat it off the dribble.
As we first witnessed in the first round playoff series against the Warriors, Draymond Green gave Davis grief off the dribble, repeatedly forcing him into turnovers whenever he put the ball on the floor. That trend has continued into this season as more and more teams have found success guarding Davis with smaller forwards, and it's going to present a problem given Davis' dimensions until he makes the proper adjustments. With his height and reach, he creates a lot of natural airspace between his hands and the ground. Not all NBA defenses are good, but most players possess the necessary coordination to swipe a steal from a big man dribbling a basketball.
At some point, and likely this summer, expect Davis to combat this newfound weakness in his game. He needs to get back to starting possessions closer to the basket. My preference would be for him to implement a much more effective post-game, to punish smaller defenders, and to take a page out of Dirk Nowitzki's illustrious career. The big German was very smart when he utilized the dribble -- he rarely exposed the ball to defenders -- and relied on a number of deft moves, often taking advantage of an unbalanced opponent.
Due to his once smaller stature, Davis' instincts are still that of a guard, especially when trying to beat an opponent off the dribble. That must change, but knowing his work ethic, there at least exists hope. He needs to learn to better protect the ball, and to not rely on just his athleticism but learn how to use an opponent's positioning or balance against him.
In essence, I'm waiting for Davis to morph into a more cerebral player. He doesn't need to become elite off the dribble or develop a Patrick Ewing repertoire on the low block, just add a few go-to moves. Mix that in with better timing and his unmatched athleticism, we'd be good to go.
Until that happens, though, he's going to remain overly reliant on ball dominant but good passing point guards. It's why he's seemingly been a thousand times more effective alongside Jrue Holiday rather than Norris Cole. Why he quickly developed a chemistry with Ish Smith. It's also why Dell Demps smartly, yes smartly, added Holiday and Tyreke Evans several years ago.
Davis is destined to be an All-Star for years and his following seasons will continue to be compared to NBA legends, but none of it means he will become a successful closer. That path entirely hinges on what is yet to come and the adjustments he makes. Thank goodness there is still plenty of time.
Happy Birthday, Anthony Davis!