What to Expect When You’re Expecting: Anthony Davis and the King

Published: September 27, 2012

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.

The Team

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.

The Player

LeBron James

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 Impact

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


  1. 504ever

    September 27, 2012 at 3:17 pm

    I think there is huge difference between being skilled offensively (LeBron) and skilled defensively (Davis). You can utilize offensive skill by setting your offense to take advantage of it. Try as you might, you can only take advantage of a player’s defensive skill if the opponents attack it. All opponents have to do is pull up before they get to Davis, and he can’t block as many shots.

    But it’s worse. To me our biggest weakness was 3pt shooting. We were a horrible 3pt shooting team, worst team in the league in terms of 3 pointers made AND attempted!! We couldn’t shoot from 3pt land. On the other hand we had the worst differential in both 3 pointers made AND attempted. (We were #7 in points allowed but #15 in 3 pointers allowed; that is a big differential there, too.)

    How will Davis directly impact this major weakness? He won’t because he can’t shoot 3s and won’t be asked to defend 3s!

    Look at what Monte and Dell have been saying. ‘We need shooters’ and ‘give Davis time’. There is a reason they say that. As good as Davis is, he won’t fix out biggest problem area(s) regardless of what LeBron did as a rookie. That’s why they brought in Ryan Anderson at Davis’s best position: they need 3 pt shooters!! Davis is too slim to bang in the post this year. That’s why they brought in a bigger strong C, Lopez.

    Monte and Dell aren’t dumb. They see Davis for what he is and know he will need help early in his career. They also know if they bring him along slowly, he could be a perenial NBA MVP candidate. And that, my friends, is the goal.

    • Nate

      September 27, 2012 at 3:29 pm

      We’ve got shooters now.
      Gordon (healthy), Mason, Rivers, Anderson, Lopez (just kidding)

      Davis CAN shoot 3s. He probably will be asked not to by Monty. (Don’t try to be Dirk!) Also one of his greatest attributes is footspeed in chasing down and blocking 3-pt shooters.

      He’s a rookie. Noone should expect him to come out with guns blazing. If for some reason he does, all the better for the Hornets this season.

    • Mason Ginsberg

      September 27, 2012 at 4:53 pm

      I agree with a good bit of this, but one thing that I wanted to point out is that the Hornets were not bad at defending opponents from beyond the arc at all. In fact, they were 2nd in the entire league in opponents’ 3-point percentage at 31.7%; only Boston was better (30.8%).

      • 504ever

        September 27, 2012 at 8:20 pm

        Ok, but Mason, what do we need to work on most as a team, and how does Davis help us? My premise is it is 3 point shooting and defending the three, areas where Davis doesn’t help. Mason, agree or disagree? And if disagree, what is your response?

      • Kimbro Slice

        September 27, 2012 at 10:48 pm

        @504ever Mason just said that we were one of the best in the league at defending the three, which is a good thing because people are going to be scared to take it inside with Davis creeping down low. . . plus Gordon is a very solid three shooter as is Anderson one of the best in the league last year, so you can expect us to do better in that category.

      • Mike P

        September 28, 2012 at 10:28 am

        504, it seems to me that the Hornets try to force the other team into contested 3 pointers. when our d was rolling, we did a really good job on closing out 3 point looks.

        In Davis’s draft video by Mike Schmitz, Jay Bilas points out that Davis can block shots out to the 3 point line. Davis blocked Luol Deng this summer on a close out (was a weird co-block w/ Durant). Davis’s pick and roll defense is already very advanced, and it should only get better. I think his presence will do wonders for the Hornets defense.

    • Ron

      September 27, 2012 at 8:02 pm

      Even though I gave this a +1, it must be mentioned that AD’s paint presence forcing people to pull up sooner and take longer range jumpers is a *good* thing.

      • 504ever

        September 28, 2012 at 5:03 am

        Kimbro (Love your MMA skills),

        We were only good defending the 3pt shot percentage-wise. We were allowed the 3rd most in 3pt shots in the league. There must be a reason teams wanted to shoot so many 3s against us and, whatever it is, Davis doesn’t help.

        But my main illustrating fact is how horrible our 3pt shooting was, worst in the league by a large margin. We were 30th in made 3 pointers, one 3 pointer per game behind team number 29. I don’t expect Davis to be any help here. I expect Davis to take fewer than 10 3 pointers next season. The 3 pt defending just supports this, since Davis doesn’t help us there either; he isn’t a perimeter player.

        And my main point is Davis was drafted because of his great career upside. A lot of what Davis does, unlike LeBron his rookie year, doesn’t address our weaknesses and I am fine with that. (That’s why we brought in Anderson, Lopez, resigned Gordon, etc.) I still think Davis will be a great player, but let’s be realistic about his current skill set, physique in year one, and the truths Dell and Monte are speaking about him and the team.

        The article drew comparisons with LeBron’s on court impact in year one and suggested something similar for Davis. I, respectfully, disagree, and I find it weird people are quibbling with small details in my post while being silent on the big idea I presented.

      • Michael McNamara

        September 28, 2012 at 7:56 am

        The Cavs were a poor three point shooting team in the year before LeBron and got even worse his rookie year.

        As the article illustrated with the Cavs example- you dont have to fix everything to drastically improve. You don’t even have to improve on your greatest weaknesses. Fouling less on defense and forcing 3-4 shots a game to be taken outside the paint as opposed to at the rim can catapult the Hornets defense from average to elite.

        Offensively, I agree that this will have more to do with Gordon than Davis, as the Hornets were actually a top 10 offense with regard to points per posession when he was on the court. But again, think of the space Chandler created for others when he ran to the rim- something Okafor never did with success. If your concern is three point shooting, no AD won’t hit the three-point shots himself, but his ability to run to the rim and finish will suck defenses in and create more room for Anderson, Mason, etc.

        Nobody knows exactly what will happen but I think LeBron and the Cavs show that Davis doesn’t have to be elite his rookie year for the Hornets to take a big step forward

      • 504ever

        September 28, 2012 at 8:54 am


        Here is at least one place on this subject where we have common ground:

        “Nobody knows exactly what will happen but… Davis doesn’t have to be elite his rookie year for the Hornets to take a big step forward.” And I would add because we also signed Anderson and Lopez, and resigned Gordon, who we expect to play many more games this year.

        Several pieces are in place for Hornet greatness down the road. I hope more pieces follow.

      • Kimbro Slice

        September 28, 2012 at 8:57 am

        @504ever I get what your saying and have some of the same worries. If Gordon can’t stay healthy then we can’t only rely on Anderson to carry us to and from downtown. But I also agree with what Michael said we are rebuilding and it is going to be a process. It’s hard for a team to address every single need that they have in one off season. Besides with Dealer Dell still at the wheel you never know what kind of move he could pull. So it could be in Free Agency, next years draft, or this year that we address that problem, but it will be addressed eventually. For now we just have to hope that Gordon can stay healthy and Anderson is as good as advertised.

      • carpo

        September 29, 2012 at 12:07 am

        I’d love our team to be the one that opponents take more 3pts against than any other. Means we are sealing off the paint and forcing tougher shots, hows that bad?

  2. DREWBEEZ989

    September 27, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    cant wait for the year to start!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Nate

    September 27, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    Great article!

  4. da ThRONe

    September 27, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    College basketball is much more condensed and team oriented. Davis is a great shot blocker, but how about post defender or on ball defender? Help side blockers are great and can help cover up a lot of defensive deficiencies, but if he struggles to defend his on assignment it’s going to be a long season.

    There are a lot of questions with Davis. People need to pump their brakes expecting him to be great at anything outside of blocking shots especially as a rookie.

    • Michael McNamara

      September 27, 2012 at 6:12 pm

      Unlike others I have no problem with the fact that you dont think as highly of Davis as every other single person in the world does. What I do have a problem with, however, is this idea that you have that unless a player is flawless that they will be exposed.

      Is Davis perfect? No. But hundreds of rookies have made a large impact in their first year despite the fact that they weren’t fully developed. You point out Davis’s one or two minor flaws and act like that will prevent him from being a dominant force. Was Kyrie Irving flawless coming into his rookie year? Was there no doubt about his game?

      Furthermore, do you see a rookie who is better positioned to have a great year? If not, then this will be the first year in history that there are zero rookies that make a significant impact.

      He has holes in his game, but he has FAR more filling than holes and I fell bad for the fact that you dont see that

      • da ThRONe

        September 27, 2012 at 9:44 pm

        1st since when is being a poor post defender a minor flaw?

        2nd Irving biggest flaw was the fact that he only played a handful of games. He had prototype size and vision while still being a capable scorer. He had far fewer flaws coming in than Davis IMO and I still didn’t think he’d be this good this quickly.

        We’ll all just have to wait and about the holes versus filler debate. From my view point there’s far more holes than fills.

        Fills-rebounds-shot blocking-spot up shooter-PNR offense- PNR defense
        Holes-post offense-ball handling-post defense-on ball defense-shot creating

        Just as many question as answers and IMO his question marks are what makes superstars. While his answer are what makes role players.

        Ultimately time will tell. However I feel strongly about my assessment.

      • Kimbro Slice

        September 27, 2012 at 10:53 pm

        @da Throne if you watch some of his college highlights he goes up against players (also taken in the NBA) and defends them in the post easily, sure he needs to get some strength but the foundation has already been laid.

        And since when is ball handling a whole for a big man? I mean expect them to be able to dribble a basketball and have a few moves but I don’t expect him to cross anyone up.

        But seriously I can’t believe you can question his defense, I understand your concern about his offensive game, but the kid comes into the league as one of the best defensive prospects to step on the court in a few years, thats all people talk about.

      • da ThRONe

        September 28, 2012 at 11:30 am

        @Kimbro Slice

        1st Ballhanding is more than just dribbling. It’s maintaining control of the ball and while he was wasn’t expected to handle the ball much when he did there’s a lot of bobbled balls and weak dribbling(which is often listed as a strength because he use to be a guard). Some point to the fact he doesn’t turn it over at a gross amount, but that was because when the ball he didn’t have much if any thinking to do.

        Ofcourse dribbling isn’t a prerequisite to being a great big, but if your an Amar’e Stoudmire, Micheal Beasley, or Anthony Randolph type big where quickness is apart of your gaming having the ability to beat defenders off the dribble can be the difference of being a star or not. Especially for someone like Davis who won’t out muscle anyone any time soon.

        It’s not just me that questions Davis post defense. If you look at any objective scouting report you’ll see some of the same people that rave about him question his post defense. He wouldn’t be the first defensives prospect to fail. People tend to fall in love with one aspect and ignore the rest or just assume those holes will fill naturely. Hasheem Thabeet was a premier defensives prospect. People(me included) focused on his strenghts and kind of pass off on his weaknesses. I just assumed his height and length would make up for his below average foot speed. It didn’t.

      • Kimbro Slice

        September 28, 2012 at 12:21 pm

        @da Throne I get what your saying about ball handling although I must say Randolph (a bust) and Beasley (trying to fight the bust label) aren’t great example but Stoude is perfect.

        Its hard to judge Davis’s offense game during his time at UK because they never ran many plays for him unless it was an alley-oop so its tough to say how we will fare on that end.

        And I get your argument about the post defense I just think the foundation is there, he know what he needs to do he just needs to bulk up so he doesn’t get bullied. And the thing is HE knows he needs to bulk up there have been plenty of interviews were he mentions he needs to live in the weight room.

        His PnR defense is supreme, one on one defense is also above average, the only question mark is can he get stronger to beef up his post defense. Thabeet is also a great example but he wasn’t a very good athlete, just stoooopid tall, and that really showed when he got on the floor. The difference is Davis is athletic and as he continues to get big his defense can only improve.

        Do we expect him to come into the NBA and make and impact like Dwight Howard in the paint. I certainly don’t, but down the line it is certainly a possibility

    • chris

      September 27, 2012 at 9:51 pm

      No one knows what Davis will be this year. But really, the only question we should be asking is “What other player would you have selected with the first pick in the draft?” My guess is 95 out of 100 would have made the same pick the Hornets did. Let’s just wait and see.

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  6. xman20002000

    September 27, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    Let’s just wait and see how Monty uses him.. This kid has skills that weren’t used in Kentucky that he will attempt to use in the pros… We don’t know what the kid is nor who he is as a player…. A transaction from PG to PF is remarkable but a fact of nature… Several times during the Olympics he displayed his long range jumper…

    To be honest… the Commissioner killed the NFL for me so NBA League Pass here we come..

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