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Anthony Davis Ready to Embark on a Historic Season
You watch enough NBA games in a week, and eventually you will witness a player do something that has never been done before. Maybe he hits 11 three’s in a game, or has a stat line with X points, Y blocks, and Q assists in Z minutes. The NBA researchers working the game, who can find any piece of historical data in the time it takes to change the channel, put up a cool little display on-screen to give you that historical information, and you think to yourself, “That’s pretty cool.”
Doing something that has never been done, or is rarely done, in a single game is pretty cool. But doing something that has rarely been done over the course of a season – Now that’s EPIC. And if preseason is any indication, Anthony Davis is about to do something epic this year. Since the NBA started counting blocks as an official stat in the 70’s, only three men have ever lead their teams in the following categories in a single season: Points, Rebounds, Blocks, Steals, and FG%. Looking at this roster and projecting forward, Anthony Davis could easily become the 4th.
Four of the five categories has been done more than 30 times in the last 15 years, but getting all five is a rarity. Jordan came close a couple of times, most notably in the 1988-89 season in which he led the Bulls in everything with the exception of blocks, because the immortal Brad Sellers registered four more that season. Then, once Scottie Pippen came into his own, he was the leading shot blocker for Chicago, while Horace Grant consistently led the team in FG%. Hakeem came close a couple of times, but usually fell short because Otis Thorpe and Chucky Brown shot such a high percentages from the field.
Boris Diaw cost Shawn Marion the chance to be on this list one season, by narrowly edging him out in FG% (53.5% to 53.4%) and Moses Malone, Dr.J, Barkley, Ewing, KG, along with many of the other greats came close but narrowly missed in one category. The list of men who have done it is short, but impressive: David Robinson, Elton Brand, and Dwight Howard. Of the three, David Robinson is the only guy to have done it on multiple occasions, as he did it two separate times .
Actually, if you want to get super technical, Robinson only did it once, because the second time he did it, our own Dell Demps led the Spurs in FG%. But Demps only took 35 shots that year, so he did not qualify. To qualify in my study, only players who took 164 or more shots in a season (2 per game) were eligible. I did not think it was fair if some ten-day contract guy cost a player this historical honor. So, with those qualifications, that is the list. David Robinson in 1991-92 and 1995-96, Elton Brand in 2001-02, and Dwight Howard most recently in 2010-11.
Two of those names are really interesting to me. Robinson – because he is the guy I have been comparing Anthony Davis to since he joined the team – and Howard – because he is the guy that SCHONE projects he will be most like on the court. Like Robinson, Anthony Davis is becoming a multi-talented face up scorer who has the mobility to defend on the perimeter, along with the length to change shots in the paint. Robinson’s best seasons give Anthony Davis something to shoot for, and the potential is there for Davis to exceed what Robinson did, mostly because he will not have to face the type of big men Robinson did in his career.
In Robinson’s prime, he was going up against guys like Ewing. Olaquwon, Shaq, and Alonzo Mourning. Davis has Dwight Howard, and perhaps Andre Drummond can become a rival of sorts down the line, but when you look across the NBA landscape, you could see a scenario where Davis owns the league for years to come. But that is the future, this piece is about the upcoming year. And Davis has a chance to do something truly special this season. But to do it, he will have to better his own teammates. Let’s take a look at who poses the greatest challenges to The Brow.
Biggest Challenger: Eric Gordon
Back in the 2010-11 season, Eric Gordon averaged 22.3 points per game. As high as some people are on Anthony Davis this year (myself included), this is probably the high-end of his possible range when it comes to scoring. Last year, Davis scored 16.9 points per 36 minutes, so if Monty does give him 36 or so minutes per game this year, he would need to increase his per minute scoring by nearly 40% to top Gordon’s career high. While that isn’t likely to happen, it is reasonable to think that Gordon won’t approach his career high this season either.
Back in 2010-11, Gordon took 17 shots per game on a team that featured a rookie Blake Griffin and a slew of average to below average guards. He also averaged nearly 38 minutes per game. This year, he will be playing with more talented scorers and will probably get somewhere between 30 and 34 minutes per game when he is healthy. While it can be argued that Gordon is either the second or third best guard on this perimeter heavy roster, there is no doubt that Davis is the #1 big. Couple that with a higher FG%, more minutes, and an offensive game that is getting more versatile every day, Davis is the odds on favorite to win the teams’ scoring crown.
But if Gordon plays a full season the way that he played these past two games against the Thunder and Wizards, it could be his to lose.
Darkhorse: Ryan Anderson
Anderson will come off the bench, but when a guy shoots this many three-pointers, he can put up points in bunches. In each of his last two seasons, Anderson has put up 7 three-pointers per game and has hovered around 16 points per game. With the new weapons that Dell Demps brought in this season, combined with the growth of Anthony Davis and even Austin Rivers, teams might occasionally forget about Ryan Anderson. If they do that, he could be in for his most efficient season ever. It wouldn’t be a stretch to see him shoot over 45% from the field and 40% from three now that he has more space. If he does that and takes a similar number of shots while getting increased minutes now that Lopez is gone, 19 points per game might not be out of the question. And 19 points per game could lead this very versatile attack.
Biggest Challenger: Al-Farouq Aminu
Al-Farouq Aminu and Anthony Davis averaged the exact same number of rebounds per 36 minutes last season (10.2). This season, Davis figures to play more minutes per game than Aminu this year, so even if their rates stay the same, Davis should lead the team in rebounds. But Aminu’s defensive rebound rate absolutely skyrocketed last season, and he could make another leap again this year. Plus, Davis figures to be farther away from the basket this year on the offensive end, as he has drastically improved his jump shot. If Aminu’s defensive rebound rate goes up and Davis’s offensive rebound rate goes down, Aminu could lead the team in rebounding.
Darkhorse: Ryan Anderson
In his final season with the Magic, Ryan Anderson averaged nearly 8 rebounds per game. Not only was he a beast on the offensive glass, but he grabbed more defensive boards because teams would use their bigs to try to pull Howard away from the rim. Don’t be surprised to see teams try to do the same with Davis. If a team is playing ‘1 In, 4 Out’, expect Davis to be on the perimeter and Anderson to be down low. If that happens, Anderson could be in the running to lead the team in boards.
Biggest Challenger: Greg Stiemsma
In his rookie season, Greg Stiemsma average 4 blocks per 36 minutes. Davis averaged just a little more than half that last year (2.2). So, if Stiemsma can average somewhere between 20 and 24 minutes per game, he could put up block numbers that would be hard for AD to replicate. Stiemsma doesn’t have to worry about fouling out, so theoretically, he could be more aggressive on that end than Davis. Also, as mentioned earlier, Davis might be guarding out on the perimeter a lot in this small ball era, while Stiemsma will almost always be by the basket.
Biggest Challenger: Jrue Holiday
Per 36 minutes last season, Davis and Holiday both averaged 1.5 steals. This year, Holiday gets to take some more risks now that he has a defensive presence like AD behind him. In addition, we know that Coach Williams is a huge fan of having the point guard pressure the ball 40-50 feet away from the basket. Giving Holiday this freedom and responsibility could give his numbers a jump-start and have him amongst the league leaders in steals.
Meanwhile, Davis’s wingspan gives him a chance to rack up steals in a multitude of ways. For those who were fortunate enough to watch the Thunder game on Thursday night, you saw Davis’s enormous potential when it comes to thievery. Not only did he have numerous deflections, but he straight up picked the pocket of Kevin Durant. Yes, that Kevin Durant. With Davis playing both inside and outside on the defensive end, he could rack up as many steals as blocks. Maybe even more.
Darkhorse: Tyreke Evans
Evans has had a very similar steal rate as Holiday in his four years in the league. His strength gives him the ability to get more interior steals than Holiday, while his quickness allows him to jump passing lanes as well. Evans was on a team in Sacramento that never gave defense a second thought. Now that he has teamed up with Monty, he might finally realize his defensive potential, and if he does, his steals could go up even if his minutes go down.
Field Goal Percentage
Biggest Challenger: Greg Stiemsma
Davis figures to shoot somewhere between 50 and 54% this season. On this team, the only guys who can make a run at numbers like that are the ones who rarely ever shoot. Enter Greg Stiemsma. Though he starts, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Stiemsma only takes 2-3 shots per game. That is exactly what Stiemsma did in his rookie season. On a loaded Boston team, Stiemsma took just 2.2 shots per game and shot 54.5% from the field. He shot nearly 70% at the rim and also hit over 46% of his jumpers from 16 to 23 feet. Basically, he lived off of putbacks and wide open jumpers. Sounds like the type of shots he figures to get this year.
Darkhorse: Al-Farouq Aminu
Aminu started the season last year red-hot; shooting over 70% from the field. Basically, he got out in transition and finished extremely well when guards got him the ball. As time went on, the Hornets stopped running and Aminu’s field goal percentage came back to Earth. Even so, he shot nearly 48% despite the fact that more than half of his shots were jump shots, which he shot at only 31%. If he could limit the number of jump shots he takes, or hit them at a reasonable rate, Aminu could easily finish the season over 50%.
The blocks and rebounds are a virtual lock if Davis stays healthy. Field Goal Percentage is more likely than not, as is scoring in my opinion. For Davis to etch his name in history, he will have to beat out Holiday, Aminu, and Evans in steals this season. The Pelicans figure to pressure the ball a lot more this year and the leader in steals for this team could simply come down to which way the ball bounces. Its not the guy who deflects the ball who gets rewarded with the steal, but rather the guy who ends up with the ball. So while Davis’s sophomore season will be one in which he showcases all his skills, the difference between it being historic or not will likely come down to a little luck.