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What to Expect When You’re Expecting: Anthony Davis and the King
In our new series we take a look at the impacts of other transcendent players’ rookie season’s to gather realistic expectation for Anthony Davis and the Hornets
Monty Williams and Dell Demps preface nearly everything they say about Anthony Davis with the disclaimer that he “is just a rookie and we are not going to lump enormous expectations on the young man.” While I respect what they are trying to do for Davis, the fact is that Hornets fans, national media members, NBA superstars, and even Davis himself can’t help but to speculate on what kind of impact he will have on a team that finished with the third worst record in the league last season.
Prior to the New Orleans Hornets selecting Davis, ESPN had him ranked as the 6th best #1 overall pick to come out in the last twenty years. Better than Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, Allen Iverson and Derrick Rose. In London, Deron Williams had no problem predicting that Davis would be a franchise player in this league and Davis himself stated that he wants to be first-team all rookie and defensive player of the year. So with all due respect to Monty and Dell, we understand that you don’t want to put a heavy burden on the young man, but the expectations are going to be set whether you like it or not.
The question then becomes- What should we expect? What should we expect of Anthony Davis the player and what impact will that have on the Hornets as a team? As usual, the best way to predict the future is to glance into the past and that is what we will be doing in this series. We will take a look back at some transcendent players and measure the impact they had on their teams in the first season, along with comparing and contrasting the franchises themselves to try to get an idea of what we should expect from Anthony Davis’s rookie season.
2002-03 Cleveland Cavaliers
On July 30th of 2002 the Cleveland Cavaliers traded their best player, Andre Miller, for Darius Miles. The organization tried to sell the move to their fans as one that would make them younger and more athletic, but anybody with half a brain knew the truth; They were tanking for a shot at The Chosen One. At the time Andre Miller was a stud and had just produced a season in which he led the NBA in assists. If the Cavs were going to hit rock bottom, Miller simply couldn’t be a part of the team, so instead they handed the reigns over to problem child Ricky Davis. Yes, that Ricky Davis. And yes, you are right again, this was the year that saw Ricky Davis shoot at his own basket in an attempt to record a 10th rebound so that he could earn a triple-double.
Ricky Davis led the Cavs in scoring that year, but his greater accomplishment might have been getting his head coach (John Lucas) fired. Keith Smart filled in for the second half of the season, and accidentally won a couple of games down the stretch, nearly costing the Cavs a shot at King James. He increased the minutes of a young power forward drafted in the 2nd round named Carlos Boozer and that, along with a healthy season from Zydrunas Ilgauskas, made Cleveland formidable down the stretch.
Despite some solid play from individual players, the Cavs as a whole stunk up the joint. They were second to last in the NBA in offensive rating and in points per game allowed. Also, despite the fact that they played at the third highest pace, they somehow managed to finish 25th in points per game. Their highly touted first round pick, Dejuan Wagner, was on his way to becoming a bust and the team ranked dead last in league attendance.
LeBron came in and was the face of the franchise from day one. Though they tried to make it work with both LeBron and Ricky Davis for a short time, Davis was out the door two months into the season as it was obvious that he was a cancer that they couldn’t let effect James. While LeBron was only a shell of the player we know today, he was an elite ballhandler and playmaker from day one and excelled in the open court. He had little to no outside game of which to speak of (29% from deep), but he was a stat sheet stuffer, leading the Cavs in points, assists, and steals while finishing third in rebounds behind Z and Boozer.
The greatest impact, by far, could be seen on the offensive end where the Cavs actually slowed their Pace, going from 3rd to 13th in the league, but improved their points per game, going from 25th to 14th in the league. Many of the regular and advanced stats actually stayed the same, with one exception- turnover percentage. Having a steady ball handler allowed Cleveland to maximize their possessions, and as a result, they became an average offensive team despite the fact that they were playing with below average offensive talent.
Defensively, the Cavs WITNESS’ed a slight, yet less significant spike from the previous year. They went from 24th to 19th in defensive rating and their defensive PPG allowed plummeted from 101 to 95.5 in LeBron’s rookie year. Again, pretty much everything from defensive rebound percentage to turnover percentage stayed even across the board, with the exception of Effective Field Goal Percentage allowed- which fell from .484% to .469% due in large part to Cleveland forcing teams into more long 2’s than in the season prior.
The biggest impact however came at the box office, where Cleveland went from one national game the year prior to 16 with LeBron. The Gund Arena was also at capacity nearly every night at the Cavs went from averaging 11,000 people a night to nearly 18,000 after drafting LeBron. And finally, the impact in the standing was fairly noticeable as well, as the Cavs went from 17 wins to 35 by adding LeBron and little else to their roster.
Compare and Contrast
When looking at the two situations, the rosters, the philosophies, and the players themselves, there are far more differences than similarities, but make no mistake, the similarities are there. Both teams shipped out their best player (although, for very different reasons), prior to their season of futility. Both teams played well down the stretch and almost cost themselves a chance at their franchise savior, and both teams were accused of not playing to win earlier in the season. Both teams were an absolute embarrassment on the offensive end and had abysmal attendance records (Hornets were 25th last year) in large part due to their ineptitude offensively.
The most notable difference between these two situations is the foundation. Cleveland had no leader in the year prior to LeBron and they hired a stop gap coach in Paul Silas to begin their new era. Meanwhile, the Hornets have a newly extended Monty Williams at the helm, a coach who has respect around the league and in his own locker room. They are in year three of a process that is already underway, a process that Davis can be worked in to, as opposed to one that has to be built around him.
The Hornets and Dell Demps have also taken a different philosophy in building this team, choosing to re-sign and bring in young veterans that are already established in the league so that Davis can do what he does well now, without having to fill every role for this team. As for the players themselves, LeBron was a phenomenal offensive prospect coming into the league that most said had a chance to be great defensively as well. Davis, of course, is almost the polar opposite as some have said he is the best defensive prospect since Bill Russell to enter the league, but is a work in progress on the offensive end.
The Cavaliers had problems across the board prior to the arrival of James and in his rookie season, he plugged enough leaks to make them respectable. Davis, meanwhile, steps into a situation that is far more stable but with a skill set that doesn’t necessarily impact the game in as many ways as LeBron’s skill set did. While LeBron helped turn two units from abysmal to mediocre, it is likely that the only way Davis has the same impact is if he turns the Hornets defense from mediocre to elite.
What We Can Take From LeBron and the Cavs
More than anything we can see how improvement doesn’t necessarily have to come from sweeping changes across the board, but rather by targeting one specific flaw and dramatically improving it. For the Cavaliers, they simply took better care of the ball and forced their opposition into historically lower percentage shots and made the leap from awful to respectable almost overnight. LeBron wasn’t spectacular in his rookie season and the front office did not do anything in that summer to significantly improve the roster around him. Instead, they recognized the unique abilities of a special player and used them to improve their team.
The Hornets are a team with glaring weaknesses that won’t all be fixed overnight, but by drastically improving one or two areas, we can see a significant jump in the wins column. Remember, this was a team that was outscored by just 4 points per game last season. For a 37 win team, that number is usually around 1 point per game. For a 41 win team, that number is zero. Is it impossible to imagine a scenario in which the Hornets can improve their scoring differential by 3-4 points per game?
So, where can this happen? How about we look at a little metric that measures how many free throw attempts a defense gives up per opponents field goal attempts. The Hornets were 21st in the league in that category last season, but were in the top 7 in 2006-2009, back when their defense was one of the best in the league. Anthony Davis comes in as one of the most gifted shot blockers in the league, but what is even more remarkable is the fact that he rarely ever commits a foul. If he can simply continue to do what he has already shown he does so well, the Hornets can take a big leap forward in that category and that alone can make them an elite defense. Offensively, the Hornets were in the bottom three in the league in shots at the rim and their starting center going into last season shot 51% from the line. Those are two things that Davis should easily remedy.
Anthony Davis isn’t LeBron James, but it is not unreasonable to think that he can have a similar impact in his rookie season. LeBron gave the Cavaliers a clear center point with which they can run the offense through and Davis should be a similar foundation for the Hornets defense. We also can’t underestimate the impact he will have on the city from an excitement and enthusiasm standpoint and those intangible things eventually become tangible, as players begin to play with a new enthusiasm in front of a packed house.
I know Monty and Dell want us to temper our expectations, but this chapter in the NBA’s rich history tells us otherwise.
Coming Up Next: Part 2- Yao Ming and the Rockets