Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Anthony Davis, the "Leap," and the Peculiar Pelicans

Image courtesy of Derick E. Hingle/USA Today.
There is a fundamental set of expectations that are attached to the honour of being a number one overall pick. Anthony Davis, 2012 recipient of that label, is coping just fine with the weight of heavy scrutiny. Individually, his play in the 2014 season has been something to behold. Davis, fronting the freshly rebranded New Orleans Pelicans, is presently placed 2nd in the league's PER rankings, behind only LeBron James. League average for the Player Efficiency Rating measurement rests at 15.00, and through fourteen outings, the Kentucky product owns a figure of 28.35. Affixed firmly in the melange of one of the NBA's more obscurely-assembled rosters, he has been a near-solitary source of stellar play, and led the Pelicans' push to the fringes of the Western Conference playoff picture. Entering the season, Davis was considered a very reasonable candidate to make the "Leap" to the next echelon of performance, and inch closer to his ceiling as an elite player in this league.

Viewed as a gangly defensive pest with a raw offensive repertoire coming out of college, it is Davis' showcases of scoring and low-post manoeuvres that have come as the most pleasant surprises. Among those were a monster 32pt, 12 rebound, six block display in a win over the Lakers, and a 29 and 15 game in a Salt Lake City defeat. Furthermore, he's getting to the line six times per game, and drilling 85.1% of his chances - becoming somewhat of an anti-Dwight Howard at the charity stripe. This proficiency at the free throw line, and his ability to reduce his turnover count to just 1.4 per showing, is certain to please the New Orleans administration. The offense isn't all sunshine and rainbows, however, as the sharp uptick in minutes, added attention, and occasionally odd shot choice have caused a mild decline in his scoring efficiency (shooting 49.7% to this point). Understandably, the second year man is finding the majority of his points in the restricted area, scoring at a 64.6% rate (62 of 96) in that region, and struggling when he has attempted to expand his range. Although he may not be relied upon as a lethal outside shooter, developing the midrange game and fine-tuning his planted jump shot is clearly next on the offensive agenda. The below graphic depicts Davis' difficulties (granted, in only a limited sample size) when forced further and further away from the comforts of the interior. 

A brief overview of Davis' shot locations, in blocks of eight feet, per
The Pelicans' prized big man is shooting 22 of 76, or 28.9%, on standard jump shots, overwhelmingly capitalising on dunks, flips, and tips, while weaving scattered hooks from the block into his arsenal. Ideally, an injury-free rotation with plentiful minutes for Holiday, Gordon, and Anderson, (plus bench contributions from the likes of Anthony Morrow and Tyreke Evans), would neatly balance the floor, and afford Anthony Davis slightly more breathing room from 15 feet and below. His usage rate is 21.7, slightly less than that of Tim Duncan, and narrowly missing out on the top ten for qualified power forwards. One would anticipate that this figure is at least a little skewed, and that the return of Ryan Anderson (who has now been active for five games), ought to level it out. Notwithstanding an aesthetically appetising scoring volume and a couple of tidy additions to the move set, Davis' devastation and dominance has transpired on the defensive end.

Indiana behemoth Roy Hibbert edges out New Orleans' unibrowed phenomenon by 0.07 for league-leading status in the blocks per game department, with the Pelicans' #23 deflecting 3.86 shots per game, on average. In addition to this, Davis is bunkering down in the paint at a level good enough for top five in the NBA (of eligible big men boasting steady minutes), minimising the conversion of opposing teams' shots at the rim to 42.5%. He is also inhaling rebounds in contested situations at a click superior to that of prolific glass-eaters such as Kevin Love and Dwight Howard, claiming boards in 45.3% of these cases, according to publicly available player tracking information. Assessing how he fares in a variety of front court tandems, though, carries certain value. It is perhaps most prudent to focus on the period in which Anderson has factored in - albeit a very limited one - due to the reality that NOLA were exposing the likes of Lou Amundson, Jeff Withey, and Greg Stiemsma to disproportionate minutes with the stretch four-man absent. Once again, the 2014 window of evidence is minute, but in terms of strategy, the proof is in the pudding: the Anderson-Davis duo is scoring at a handsome number, but is ultimately conceding 102.5 points per 100 possessions, per numbers. On the season last year, over a 61 game span, the twosome's defensive reality was even more daunting, giving away 113.0 points by the same measurement. With this in mind, it becomes easier to understand why an Omer Asik-Ryan Anderson exchange has swiftly grown into one of the Internet's favourite imaginary trades. The thought of regularly aligning Anthony Davis with a true ball-stopping, intimidating low-post body must leave the other 29 teams shuddering. Alas, the Pelicans appear keen to latch their bills onto Anderson's canny and bountiful game, trusting their ability to plug the holes of the remaining minutes holes with one-sided, stopgap bigs.

The early season demonstrations of Davis have contributed to frequent player comps in the public domain, most notably with some seeing a resemblance between him and a youthful Kevin Garnett. High praise, no doubt, and reflective of the way in which Anthony Davis has captivated the attention of the NBA universe in this relatively young campaign. Unfortunately for New Orleans, their roster isn't comprised of thirteen Anthony Davis', and they are currently staring at a sub-.500 record, with a bevy of balancing issues. Of foremost concern for the Pelicans franchise would be the fact that their 6-8 mark comes after a 25th placing in the "Strength of Schedule" standings (ranking at .473), meaning that there's an inevitable uphill stretch from here. For the casual observer and those seen as strictly Davis admirers, though, it might just be best to heed the advice of Tony Montana from here on out, and look at the Pelican fly.

1 comment:

  1. Great article on 'Brows Davis, the dude is a defensive nightmare.

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