Talking about the Timeline

Published: March 23, 2014

Nick just put out an article about Anthony Davis’ development timeline. Here, we talk about what that says about the timeline the New Orleans Pelicans are on.

Jason: Nick, you just wrote this analytic piece about the progression of the great big men in relatively recent NBA history. When I look at the data, I see that these guys do not start having upper upper echelon seasons until they are 25. The data indicate we should expect good increases from the sophomore until then and perhaps beyond, but here’s the issue: The season that starts when Davis is 25 is his seventh season.

Here, I’m assuming Davis doesn’t literally or figuratively fall off a cliff. Davis signed a standard 4-year rookie deal when he was 19. If we assume his second contract, which will be as a restricted free agent, is as the Pelicans’ 5-year designated player, that brings him as an unrestricted free agent after 9 seasons. Also, in recent years, the preference on the superstar trade market seems to be for players with multiple seasons on the contracts rather than for expiring contracts. If things aren’t going well for the franchise in 5 years (during that seventh season), then . . . well, you can do the sums.

My question to you: What is your reaction to timeline I laid out?

Nick Lewellen: First, let me say that talking about production peaks is inherently a tricky business. Each individual player has their own progression and development. Some guys peak early, but it only lasts a few years. Other guys don’t have a high a peak, but the performance lasts longer. So everyone is different. Nothing revolutionary about that idea.

Having said that, I think you’re right about Davis’ peak, and your timeline seems reasonable. Here’s the thing, in my opinion, about superstars’ peaks: you don’t know when they will happen or how long they will last. All you know is that you need to be ready when they do.

Your timeline makes me nervous, because it reminds me a bit of Kevin Garnett in Minnesota. KG started his peak around the age of 25 (7th season), and he ultimately won an MVP at 27 (9th). Now, he did stick around in Minnesota for a few more years, and they had a reasonable amount of success. Nevertheless, it is pretty obvious that KG was the force that drove that team, and in a way, some of his prime was wasted with a less than stellar supporting cast.

So what is my reaction? Surround Davis with the best pieces possible not only for his immediate performance, but for his future development. I think that is the only way to ensure things are going well enough to keep Davis in New Orleans and ensure he hits the highest peak possible. Sure it sounds obvious, but building a team around a guy like AD can go a lot of different ways.

Let’s stick on Davis for a second. I have said here, there, and everywhere that I think he can be developed to do a lot of different things. Some of that is dependent on the players around him. Who are the types of players you want to see around Davis in 5 years to take advantage of his prime?

Jason: The beautiful thing about that 5 year timeframe is that anything can happen during that time. No one on the team is under contract for that long. The team’s firsts are intact after this Summer. There is also a potential CBA kerfuffle in just 3 seasons.

The terrifying thing about that 5 year timeframe is that anything can happen during that time. No one on the team is under contract for that long. Ownership can have a shakeup during that time, and this can have some unpredictable effects on the structure of the organization… and we all know how much ownership plays a role in the decisions of top talent. There is also a potential CBA kerfuffle in just 3 seasons.

The point is that it’s the next 5 seasons, especially the later few, that are really crucial… the stuff now… aside from mortgaging picks up to the Stepian limit or unimaginably bad cap management, these first few Davis seasons can’t really hurt that crucial timeframe. They can help, however, as you point out, by finding some good running mates. Of the current guys, I see Holiday as the best pairing with Davis. Of reasonable players to add… I’ll call for another big… Jonas Valanciunas would make me happy, and he may not be as entrenched in Toronto as he was earlier this season. He’ll pay off and be in line salary-timeline-wise with Davis whether it works or not. Getting the guy who is good now may not work for the Pelicans in the future, and vice versa for the Raptors. Picks or a third team will be needed (at least), but Dell and Ujiri can make it work if there is mutual will.

Whatcha got?

Nick: Again, the thing that fascinates me about building this team and developing Davis is the incredible amount of options this team has to do either. I think part of building this team is deciding what type of player the Pelicans want Davis to be, or in other words, what do you want him to contribute? Is he a face up or low post scorer? A stretch four or back to the basket guy? These types of questions will eventually be answered.

I agree that Holiday is a great fit for Davis, and I’d also like to see him paired up with another big. I would like to add another perimeter defender and average 3-point shooter, though. Though Davis will become an excellent NBA defender, I don’t want to see him stretched too thin due to covering up lackluster defense from multiple guard spots. Of course, we also don’t want an offensive black hole or we have another Aminu. I’m thinking a guy like Andre Iguodala. He isn’t a great three point shooter, but he hits when he’s open.

One problem obviously is that we don’t necessarily want Andre Iguodala. We want a guy that will be in his prime, when Davis reaches his peak. I think that is why Monty and Dell have so aggressively pursued these “young veterans”. The other problem is guys like Andre Iguodala are generally hard to come by. We may never get a crack at that guy, but he is the type of player I dream about. Luckily, we can do a lot of different things with Davis anchoring our team. That gives a lot of wiggle room with how we build our roster.

Jason: When you started tiptoeing around the “three-and-d” claptrap, I started salivating, because I was going to write your last paragraph, but waaay more sarcastically. The thing with the “three-and-d” idea is two-fold: first, it falls under the “if it rhymes, it’s true” pseudologic used by rhetoricians; second, there isn’t exactly a bushel of these guys just waiting to be harvested. Good defense is not exactly permeating the NBA, and good 3 point shooters are coveted. Anderson isn’t making top dollar, but he’s way above the MLE. He’s very good at 3’s, but not so much at defense. Using him as a base point, you need above the MLE to get these guys once they are proven, so you can’t just go sign them as the last piece of an established team since such a team would likely be over the cap beforehand. It’s just easier said that done.

So . . . good job . . . I guess . . . but I REALLY wanted to complain about that. I did a little, but I wanted to unleash a Ryu / Ken fireball and uppercut.

Instead of complaining, let’s fix it. By ” ‘s,” I mean you. Give me some names of guys to get now that fit the profile and timeline . . . or, should we wait, draft a guy, and just develop some guy we can’t even talk about now?

Nick: I’m truly sorry I took away your opportunity to complain. You’re totally right about the problems with finding that guy. Those are two skills that are rare and highly paid.

The odd thing is I actually feel like we can wait to get that guy. It isn’t like we are in the middle of a championship window. We aren’t just “one player away”. We are four to five years away from that window even beginning to peak open. So having said that, I actually lean towards getting a younger guy and developing him rather than try to mortgage the farm right now for a guy who doesn’t quite fit the role and is overpaid.

This is actually why I loved getting Aminu in the Chris Paul trade. I mean I know he hasn’t worked out, but he shot 31% from 3 his rookie year on 1.8 attempts per game. Iguodala shot 33% his rookie year on 1.7 attempts per game. I think it was totally reasonable to assume that Aminu could have developed in to that type of player. He hasn’t and probably won’t, though.

I have only peeked at some data from these 3 and D guys, but from just that and my personal opinions, I think that it is easier to teach a guy to shoot than it is to get a guy to learn and play defense. Take Loul Deng for example. Compare his first four season shooting from 3 to his last four not just in percent but in volume. So in my ideal world, we find a young guy who can play defense (I know. There aren’t many), and shove him into a dark gym somewhere and make him shoot from the corner all day. Of course, Deng was a lottery pick, but he was traded for Jackson Vorman and a pick that became Nate Robinson. I guess my final point is that a raw version of that guy can be found and for a reasonable amount. You just have to hope he actually develops. There is a variable of chance in player outcomes that goes often ignored. In other words, they ain’t all Anthony Davis.

Jason: I think you are right. They’ll get a stop-gap guy, but the guard they need will develop more quickly than Davis, so he need not be in the NBA now. The Pelicans should be laser focused on this. In a league of extraordinary gentleman, it’s easy to get distracted by the razzmatazz and the real talent. All of the talent in the world does not matter if you don’t need it. Living over the cap as the Pelicans will be after this offseason (I think), they’ll need to rely on trades, drafting, and the MLE. Just grabbing a top talent guy with a check will not be an option. You go get that big man who is on the right curve . . . and he does not need to be a top talent . . . and you sell anything but Holiday and Davis to get him. Fill in the wings and bench from there.

Then again, what do we know anyway? What say you, reader?


  1. loudlikepat

    March 23, 2014 at 9:22 am

    AD, Jrue, Tyreke, Ryno,Withey, Rivers, Morrow, and Babbit. I think you have to lump Ryno in as part of the core, and also Tyreke. With the three point shooters we have in Jrue, Ryno, Morrow, and Babbit Tyreke’s ability to get to the hole and create is what makes our system shine. He also is capable of getting you six assists and six rebounds along with around 18 pts when he’s starting. I’m curious, do you guys think Ryno and Reke are outside of our ideal core?

  2. GerryV

    March 23, 2014 at 9:37 am

    Davis is a FACE THE BASKET BIG….a back to the basket game will be added to his tool  bag as he begins to understand the pace of the game and the value of mixing up his offensive menu…(like Jordan did and others)…the path appears golden for him…observe and less see how he facts as the lights being to shine even brighter on him..

  3. GerryV

    March 23, 2014 at 9:45 am

    1.Another big with a lil more to his game vs the big currently on the roster….prefer a defensive rebounding type with some decent scoring skills..10-12 points per game…a 10/10 type who can also defend with some heart….2) upgrade at the swing position…reliable scoring..( play an Aminu hi-lite reel in your head and enhance the skills…you’ll see what i mean)

  4. Jason Calmes

    March 23, 2014 at 9:51 am

    loudlikepat  What is a core? Also, after this season and, say, 4 more seasons, here are the ages of the high priced guys on the team (if they stay): Anderson (30), Davis (25), Evans (29), Gordon (29), Holiday (28). Two of these guys are the youngest and have the best shot of lasting past that into the key timeframe. One of them is Davis.

  5. 504ever

    March 23, 2014 at 12:28 pm

    I agree about the “3 and D label”, and I think naming a player makes it easier to understand.  I know players like him are hard to find but he is the classic example to me.  He is a “glue guy”, a great defender, a good to very good corner 3 shooter, and reasonably paid his whole career.  Who is he? Shane Battier.  Another example of a “3 and D” guy is Trevor Ariza in a contract year.

    Who are the guys in this year’s draft who might be the closest to NBA “3 and D” players, either for now or to acquire down the road?  I say look to the ACC and guys like Rodney Hood and K.J. McDaniels (or possibly even Jerami Grant).  If either Hood or McDaniels drop to where we can get one for next years 1st Rounder and either Roberts, Rivers, or Jackson, I would seriously consider it.  That trade for Hood is a no brainer and McDaniels isn’t far behind.  They are both older, 21, so they should be productive sooner and have the potential to play with AD for “life” if they pan out.  Nice additions if you can get one.

  6. thouse

    March 23, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    Davis becoming a number 1 option on offense has changed things dramatically in terms of building a roster around him. I don’t think many people were expecting that too happen this soon, if at all.
    Keeping things in line with Davis’s curve makes me think Demps cashed in just a bit too early this summer. It’s obviously a fine line and it’s not like he can’t make any moves, but I do wonder what type of bounty he could have had at the deadline by dangling a first. Or if we want to keep guys on the same timeline as Davis, why give up draft picks?
    As it stands, I look at a big guy like Greg Smith. Hasn’t played much except for last season, but solid work in 70 games. He’s 23 and I doubt Houston puts up much of a right in RFA unless they happen to move Asik. Jordan Hill, DeJaun Blair, and Spencer Hawes are other guys young enough to still offer something a few years down the line. I really don’t like Hawes (no defense at all) but he can shoot and rebound.
    The wings are much more dire. I think that’s one of the hardest spots to fill in the league. Barring a ping pong miracle with Wiggins, that’s just a spot that will need some veteran presence- which this team could use. Moe Harkless is a trade bait guy that could be worth a flier. Jordan Hamilton is another one, but they could have had him at the deadline and didn’t make a move.
    I just don’t think every position needs to be young. The idea is to have waves of guys coming up every year or so to replenish the stock. This article on OKC paints a quite rosy picture of their development system.
    It’s old, but I feel like I read a more recent one. It still holds even though the Thunder seem content to ride or (likely) die with Derek Fisher and Caron Butler in the playoffs

  7. NOEngineer

    March 23, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    The 3nD label recognizes that you have to give up something to afford players now, unless you are San Antonio.  Everyone else’s 3nD guy won’t rebound, he won’t take guys off the dribble, he won’t be athletic.   All he will do is space the floor, stop the opponent from driving, and get you some steals.   Of course, they have Kawhi Leonard instead.  We can’t afford Paul George, Kevin Durant, or LeBron George (3 and D and everything else too guys).   We have to settle for someone who is more limited, but has the two skills we need most.
    I don’t want another James Posey.  He was the classic 3nD offseason pickup that was going to keep CP3 here.   But, he was too old, slow, and prone to injury and apathy.  I see Trevor Ariza as the modern version.    Thabo Sefalosa, World Peace, and Tayshaun Prince too.  We need somebody younger.
    Aminu has the D, but no 3.  His rebounding makes him our 2nd most efficient player behind AD, far ahead of Withey who is in third place in WP48 on our team.   Call him a RnD guy.   Every SF ranked better defensively than his is either much older or impossible to pry away from their current team.    Sorry, but he needs to stay until someone better (and younger, too) lands in our lap.  When he is playing, we need a 3 point shooter next to him, at the 2, the 3, or the 4.
    Jrue has the defense and the 3, with the added benefit of being a decent distributor.   Withey plays good D beside Davis, and may bulk up enough to handle a larger set of opponents.   Rivers applies consistent effort and has the quickness to stay in front of 75% of opposing guards.   AD is solid.  Nobody else on this team is above average consistently on defense.    Gordon has some ability, but lacks wingspan and consistency of effort.   
    I would like to see an assistant brought in with real defensive credentials to work with guys starting in May on their on-ball defense and their schemes.   I’d love to see Withey, Ajinca, and Davis work together with Hakeem or someone like him to master the game around the basket.    Maybe a shooting gurru for Aminu and Rivers.   None of this affects the cap, but requires a commitment from the team and the players.   They probably already think they have wonderful assistants and off-season programs, but I bet there is lots of room for improvement.  Then, Monty needs to reward defensive effort.   Withey and Rivers should be starting.   Gordon should sit down after he plays matador on a fast break.   Same thing for Evans when he lazily allows his man to shoot a wide-open corner three.    That should help drive home the point about defense.   There is nothing our fans respond to like a frantic, obsessive effort to defend.  When our team bears down on the ball and causes a turnover or desperation shot, we love it as much as a dunk on the other end.

  8. Jason Calmes

    March 23, 2014 at 11:09 pm

    About the timeline and ages: I agree with you that not everyone needs to be young. In fact, they should be mid-career or older when this team is peaking. It is just that you need younger bigs soon if you want the bigs on the peaking team to also be on the team soon. The vets you need now just will likely not be in the core in 4-5 years.
    About cashing in: he did not really cash in much. He got a prospect that got much hype and Holiday for a pair of good firsts (likely). There are still years to fill in the roster with smaller pieces and developmental projects. It is hard to get high dollar players in once you are over the cap… You have to trade, so getting tradeable high dollar assets has hidden value.

  9. thouse

    March 25, 2014 at 6:55 am

    I don’t disagree with the move. I’m just being greedy. The way the league looks at firsts these days, I wonder if there could have been a bigger return.
    Full disclosure, I’m not as high on Jrue as most Pelicans fans. He’s good, but they way he’s used here and his position knock his overall value down for me.
    Do they need a big to peak with Davis? That just seems like it’s increasing the degree of difficulty. The way SAS shuffled guys after Robinson retired seems like an easier route. But I know nothing about development.

  10. thouse

    March 25, 2014 at 6:56 am

    Also Schwan’s comment on the guard curve is interesting. Do they have a longer peak since they get there earlier?

  11. GerryV

    March 26, 2014 at 10:30 am

    lets also consider talking about “peak” and “age” how it all can change in the future if there is a different Coach or GM over the next couple of years….style..philosophy can change…and of course the ownership and how quickly they want things done.

  12. GerryV

    March 26, 2014 at 10:31 am

    Next year needs to be a PLAYOFF year…

  13. GerryV

    March 26, 2014 at 10:32 am

    Next year needs to be a playoff careful about going with young players every year..

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