The New Orleans Pelicans drafted what they believed to be the next franchise player–replacing the void left by Los Angeles-bound Chris Paul–with their coveted first pick in the 2012 Draft, Anthony Davis. Despite a gold medal win in the London Olympics and a solid, efficient rookie campaign, questions lingered over his worthiness as a top selection, especially with the Rookie of the Year award going to 2012’s sixth pick, Damian Lillard.
I think we can all agree that those questions were buried six feet under rather quickly into the 2013-14 NBA season. Davis has come into his own at a remarkable pace, as he emerged as a top-10 player this year. Just as Pierre the Pelican (pre-face lift) installed fear into every child’s (and adult’s) hearts and nightmares, Davis’ all-around game is a force that can destroy opponents’ dreams.
As Matt Moore of CBSSports brilliantly described, Davis is “the thing under the bed that the things under the bed are afraid of.” Oh, I forgot to mention–he only became legal to buy a beer two-and-a-half weeks ago, as he celebrated his 21st birthday on March 11.
Not one team was safe from the injury bug that traveled throughout the NBA this season, especially early on. The Pelicans were among the teams that were hurt by injuries the most, as their starting lineup was specifically targeted (Davis included). Therefore, fans weren’t treated to the full impact of what New Orleans is capable of doing. Yet, that also gave the fans a chance to see the individual greatness of Davis since his game stood out in the best of ways.
Let’s breakdown the numbers Davis put up in his sophomore season.
First, what makes Davis such a nightmare for defenders is that he is highly versatile on offense. According to Synergy Sports, the following chart shows Davis’ range of offensive attack.
Davis excels as the roll man in the pick-and-roll, as he has the skill and control to finish in a multitude of ways. He has the quickness and vertical leap to finish strong at the rim or the ability to use the space around him to knock down a 15-footer. Per Synergy Sports, 56.4 percent of his pick-and-roll possessions result in a successful field goal.
The Chicago native is downright dangerous, yet graceful, in the paint. He has a soft touch that is absolutely beautiful to watch, but can throw down (either assisted via an alley-oop or unassisted) with fury. His 7-5.5-inch wingspan allows him to transform into a tower in the paint on both ends of the court. He can either use his length to blanket and protect the rim (blocking) or get easy buckets on the offensive end down low.
As Davis’ game and range has improved over the season, Monty Williams has been more inclined to call isolation plays for Davis. As his confidence and ability to read the defense improves, iso plays will become more common for Davis and the Pelicans’ offense, especially since he can already recognize mismatches to either pull-up, post-up or attack the rim.
Davis has shown tremendous progress in his second year in post-up and spot-up play sets, especially on the left side. If he can get more comfortable with posting up or driving to the right, the defense will have an ever harder time trying to predict where Davis will attack.
Davis is well above average as a big in transition and in the open court. He is incredibly quick on his feet and he uses his insane wingspan and vertical leap to finish at the rim or put back misses by teammates. This isn’t limited to the fast break, as he can easily tip-in even his own misses, which accounts for the 13 percent offensive rebound play selection in the chart above.
Another quality that separates Davis from other star centers in the league is his ability to take care of the ball. For example, Davis holds a turnover ratio of 8.0 while Dwight Howard has a TO ratio of 15.9 (per ESPN.com). Davis has essentially split this season at the four and five position, hence Howard being used as a comparison of this stat. In other words, Davis is a dependable ballhandler who has a proven record of showing control with the ball in his hands, which is a enviable trait to have for a 6-10 big.
It is not too surprising that Davis is a dependable defender, as that was an expected quality that he displayed at Kentucky. However, his individual defensive impact numbers are quite staggering given this is only his second year and the Pelicans are not a good defensive team, with a 107.0 Defensive Efficiency rating (per ESPN.com).