One of the most popular narratives heading into the 2014-15 NBA season was the predicted ascension of Anthony Davis into superstardom. After injuries knocked a few of The Association’s most important superstars out for either an extended period of time (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, however much time Derrick Rose is going to miss this season for numerous reasons) or for the entire season (Paul George), Davis had the opportunity to grab the ball as the next big thing and cruise down the floor with it.
Davis teased us during his first two years in the NBA with stretches of tantalizing play, but those teases were marred with numerous injuries. During his rookie season he missed 11 games between November and December with a stress reaction on his ankle. He missed a few games later in the season with a sprained shoulder, after colliding with Brook Lopez. To finish off his rookie year, Davis sprained his MCL in early April and missed the final handful of games in the history of the Hornets nickname in New Orleans.
During his sophomore campaign, Davis was cruising along with the second highest PER in the league behind LeBron when he fractured his left hand against the Knicks in early December. Davis would miss just seven games with the injury as he returned later in the month. He sporadically sat out of games down the stretch and Monty Williams did some really weird things with him, including only playing him for 10 minutes against Denver in late March in what appeared to be a tanking maneuver (if the Pelicans finished in the bottom five they would have stopped the Sixers from cashing in on the first round pick that was sent to them in the Jrue Holiday-Nerlens Noel draft day swap).
In an attempt to prevent Davis from banging down low by himself (because let’s be honest here, Jason Smith shouldn’t be playing 27 minutes a night and Alexis Ajinca shouldn’t be playing 17) the Pelles traded yet another first round pick with crazy protections to the Rockets for Omar Asik. If the pick falls between 3 and 20, it belongs to Houston, if the pick lands anywhere else it stays with New Orleans.
It’s a risky proposition to say the least for GM Dell Demps. Draft picks don’t grow on trees, especially ones in the lottery, but Demps is in a position where he has to position actual NBA players around Davis as opposed to mid-first rounders who may flame out. There was a brief moment during the 2012 NBA Draft when the “thin towers” (Davis & Noel) were actually a thing, but after watching the small sample size of Noel this season, it’s hard to imagine him lining up next to Davis at center as his body goes through the process of getting beaten down every game in the paint. Whereas the veteran Asik was dying for a chance to get off of Houston’s bench and back into a starting lineup. Asik missed his first two games of the season this week as he missed a road back-to-back against the Blazers and Kings. His presence was obviously missed (Ajinca didn’t stand an effing chance against Cousins), but there’s still enough offense to carry the Pelles through a couple regular season games.
So far, the risk of trading a first round pick for Asik looks to have paid off as the starting lineup of Asik-Davis-Tyreke Evans-Eric Gordon-Jrue Holiday have an offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) of 110.2, which would rank second in the NBA behind the Mavs and a defensive efficiency of 98.3, which would put them in sixth in between the Bucks (97.3) and Wizards (99.4).
Those numbers are mainly thanks to Davis, who in the span of just three weeks, has become a must watch player every night. If you’re flipping around on League Pass, it’s worth flipping over to whoever the Pelicans are playing because you might see this:
Yes Davis is a human highlight reel, the type of player that could lead the Top 10 on SportsCenter every night. He’s second to only Tyson Chandler in total dunks this season (Davis has 33, Chandler has 34), which is a big reason why his 25+ point games don’t really feel like 25+ point games. Almost 20% of his made field goals this season have been dunks. His freakish length allows him to finish dunks that other players simply cannot, but the Pelles’ second most used lineup is also a big reason for not only Davis’ success, but for New Orleans 6-4 start through their first 10 games.
The Davis-Ryan Anderson-Evans-Gordon-Holiday lineup easily bests Dallas’ number one offense per 100 possessions (121.1 to 115.5). Defensively the lineup is a mess (120.0 per 100 possessions), but when Monty Williams needs offense in bunches, he has to turn to this lineup, which he did quite a bit against the Kings.
Anderson is perfect for the Pelles’ spacing and allows Davis to avoid double teams or find himself with easy dunks like this one:
Austin Rivers drives Ray McCallum away from Davis to open up a one-on-one against DeMarcus Cousins. Notice the movement by Holiday, it’s a key for the next movement.
When Davis doesn’t like what he sees, he swing the ball out to Holiday while Anderson gets ready to set a pick on Darren Collison.
Collison gets lost on the pick by Anderson, forcing Jason Thompson to switch onto Holiday, which is a massive mismatch if Holiday was going to drive the lane. Instead Holiday fakes a pass to Anderson who spots up for a three, which forces Cousins to make a decision, should he either flash out to Anderson, or stay with Davis.
Cousins takes a half step out to Anderson which is more than enough for Davis to sneak in around him and finish off a warm-up type dunk.
During the Pelicans third game of the season against the Mavericks, Davis was knocking down 18-20 foot jumpers as if he was literally transforming into Dirk Nowitzki.There was a moment during the game where it was impossible to not think my god if this is what Davis is going to do this season, the entire league has to take notice. Since that game it’s easy to notice when he misses a string of jumpers because you’re expecting them to go in. Davis is forcing a few too many long twos at times, but it’s really the only negative aspect of his game right now. His PER is 36.16, well ahead of anyone else and his impact on a basketball game is unlike anyone else’s in the entire league, including LeBron.
The numbers don’t lie; just take a look at this comparison between Davis’ numbers this season and an MVP season from one of the league’s transcendent stars of the last generation (kudos to Pro Basketball Reference):
Davis’ numbers are on the bottom, while Kevin Garnett’s MVP season from 03-04 are on top. The NBA is becoming Anthony Davis’ league and we’re all just witnesses.
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