Anthony Davis and the Elite Career (So Far)

It feels like Anthony Davis is an old veteran. He has led the league in PER. He has been to two All-Star games, won gold at the Olympics, and gold at the FIBA World Cup.  He was the motivation behind one of the greatest tank jobs in Charlotte history, and it changed the trajectory of the luckier New Orleans franchise.

It is surprising that he is still only 23 and about to start his fifth season. He was one of the youngest players ever drafted and has absolutely lived up to the hype surrounding him just out of college (Kentucky).

Due to injury, he has yet to play 70 games in a season. Yet, he has solidified himself as a star with a virtually limitless ceiling.

His first trip to the playoffs was tremendous.  He averaged over 31 points, 3 blocks, and 11 rebounds in the four games against Golden State, the eventual champion.  Those playoffs followed a regular season where he led the league in PER when he was just 22. This should have been his welcome to the playoffs party. It got the city of New Orleans excited to get back in the playoffs the next season.

Unfortunately, last year he had one of his worst years as a pro and his team did nothing to help him turn things around.  He famously missed out on a $24 million bonus by not making an All-NBA team and activating the bonus built into his contract.  His team was terrible the whole year and after the promising 2015 playoffs, they found themselves back in the lottery.

The Pelicans, outside of Davis’ All-Star caliber season, were dreadful.

On paper, the 2015-16 Pelicans had good to great players who had excelled in the past when they were healthy.  Tyreke Evans was Rookie of the Year in 2009, Jrue Holiday was an All-Star in 2013, and Omer Asik was one of the league’s best defensive centers a few years ago.  The starting lineup was rounded out by Eric Gordon, who came over in the Chris Paul trade as a rising star but has not panned out – much like the rest of the starting lineup.

These players ensured that Davis was surrounded either by ball dominant non-shooters or in Asik’s case, complete zeros on offense.

In his On-Court Plus/Minus, Asik had an abysmal -9 rating and ended up with a Player Efficiency Rating of 11, which is the lowest it’s ever been.  Meanwhile, the Gordon, Holiday, and Evans combo only played 45, 65, and 25 games respectively.  This effectively negated any advantage in having some of the best rim protection and rebounding frontcourts in the league.

To fix that issue before Davis becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2020, the Pelicans have to act fast.  They gave away most of their picks in deals for Asik and Holiday and now don’t have a first-round pick until 2019.

To remedy this, they signed defensively sound young guys that could have potential if they are given more playing time.  Players like E’Twaun Moore, Solomon Hill, and Terrence Jones were either reserves or, in Jones’s case, a third or fourth options on their old teams.

These new signings represent a big gamble, especially given their cost and the players’ past, but they each can play multiple positions.  In Jones’s case, he helps the team play smaller lineups with Davis at the five while still remaining potent defensively.  Those lineups should help Davis’s offensive game grow more and would limit the time Asik would need to be on the floor against starters.

In Moore, they get a guy who does not have much experience, but he is young and may be a serviceable backup if Holiday can stay healthy.

Terrence Jones all but disappeared last season for the Rockets when they needed him most, but Davis is probably too valuable on offense to play anywhere but center going forward.  Finally, they drafted Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, an offensive four-year player who excelled in the NCAA tournament and was the 7th pick of this year’s draft.

It seems like the front office has finally learned from its mistakes of going after one-way players in their mid-20’s.  Instead they are trying to build a team around its transcendent star so that he won’t want to leave in 2020.  All they have to do is ask Oklahoma City how hard it is to keep a player of Davis’s caliber when the opportunity to win arises elsewhere.

 

photo via llananba