How Gentry Can Get More Out of Davis

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Published: June 10, 2015

 

One of the main talking points around the hiring of Alvin Gentry was that he showed the Front Office that Anthony Davis was being “underutilized.” It was one of his points of emphasis to the Pelicans organization throughout the hiring process to show how the franchise player could be used more often and more effectively, and he even brought “charts and graphs” to his initial interview to illustrate his point. This season Davis was already attempting the 8th most shots a game in the league with one of the highest usage %’s; but while he was used a lot for the Pels, digging deeper shows he really could see more of the ball. Despite ranking in the top of the league in points produced per touch, he touched the ball only 58.9 times per game, just less than CJ Watson. He was actually the first player in NBA history to post a PER above 30 while also having a usage% below 30, so it stands to reason he could and should see more of the ball. Unfortunately we don’t have access to those charts and graphs, so all we can do is guess as to how Gentry plans to make one of the league’s most effective and efficient players even more impactful, but let’s give it a shot.

 

Some History of Gentry and Big Men:

Gentry did not have the most talented big men to work with throughout his head coaching career. Anthony Davis is an MVP caliber player so for the sake of a fair comparison I want to look at the two most talented bigs Gentry had as a head coach: Elton Brand and Amar’e Stoudemire. Unfortunately for Coach Gentry, he only got one full season of each, but he did get years to work with Stoudemire as an assistant. After those two, there is a pretty steep drop off talent-wise.

Brand was an All-star in his one full season (’01-’02) with Gentry, one of two appearances for his career. He averaged 18.2pts and 11.6rebs on 52.7% shooting. It was his most efficient offensive season as a pro, posting career highs in TS% (58.6) and OBPM (4.1), as well as being top 5 in the league in offensive rating (120*), offensive win-shares (9.9*), win-shares (13.6), and BPM (6.2) (*also career highs). He led the team in rebounds, blocks, steals, FG%, and points.

In Stoudemire’s one year with Gentry (09-10) before he moved on to New York, he would post his second highest offensive rating of his career, averaging 23.1pts and 8.9rebs. The team won 54 games and lost to the eventual champion Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. It was by far the most talented team he had coached, and unfortunately the team basically got less and less talented every year after his taking over; but Amar’e Stoudemire under D’Antoni and Gentry was one of the most unstoppable forces in the league, and coupled with Nash, was one of the most beautiful pick and roll tandems ever seen.

What should be taken from all this is that when Gentry had talented bigs to work with, those bigs were downright dominant, and when he had a talented team, he made it to the conference finals.

 

On the Court:

Ok that’s all well and good but how is Gentry going to take Davis to the next level? What can he implement to get Davis more involved and improve Davis’ game?

Well the first and most obvious is the pace: New Orleans has only been in the top half of the NBA in pace once, and that was in 2009-10 when they were 15th in pace. That is the fastest team New Orleans has ever put on the court in its basketball history. Pushing the pace can only help Davis simply because he can run like no other big man can run. He is a terror in transition, scoring a staggering 1.56 points per possession. For players who had over 100 possessions in transition, that is tops in the league—the next closest player is Kyle Korver at 1.45, and he only got that high from knocking down transition 3’s. People have been saying this team was built to run since the day it got Davis, so fans will finally get their wish.

Many around the NBA gush over the idea of Davis taking those couple steps back behind the 3pt line, but for me, the next real development in his game will come as a distributor. To have the offense really run through him he has to be able to recognize everything that is going on around him, and with Gentry, there will be a lot of off-ball movement going on around him.

Take a look at Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan, two all-time greats who often come up as comparisons for Davis. Tim Duncan is a career 3.1 assists per game guy, Garnett 3.8. Both have career Assist %’s over 15 (Duncan 16.5, Garnett 19.3). Anthony Davis had a career high 11.6 Assist % this season for 2.2 a game.

The Key to assists: Look at Golden State’s offense, which has been described as a blend of D’Antoni’s 7 seconds or less, Phil Jackson’s Triangle, and modern analytics. The Triangle, which Kerr is very familiar with, creates shots from the mid-paint and mid-range, as well as a good dose of post ups. This obviously doesn’t fit with the modern game so Gentry and Kerr modified it. Their game still has a lot of post action, but they move the ball more and use Gentry’s strength in subtle off-ball movements to create space to either attack the basket or open up a shot from outside. Having a player like Davis, a 7-foot-tall triple threat (drive, shoot, & pass), to initiate the offense from the high-post area (here is Davis’ heat map from this previous season) can really open up a defense.

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Look at how Bogut, Lee, and Green were used to initiate the offense and find guys off the split-cut (either to the basket or for 3) from the elbow and low post

Once Davis learns how to hit cutters like that and recognize where the open shot is, double teaming him would become immensely more difficult. Here is just another way bigs were used initiate the offense from the elbow in Phoenix:

Davis can already knock down any shot over just about anyone from anywhere around the top of the key, and he can face up and drive on just about anyone from there as well, imagine if teams couldn’t double him and he could basically choose how he wanted to pick them apart. Once he gets the distribution down, Davis will truly be a 5×5 player.

Then there is the Pick and Roll: Davis is already the best roll man in the NBA. In 68 regular season games, Davis amassed 365 possessions in which he acted as the roll man, 9 more than 2nd place Nikola Vucevic, who played 6 more games than Davis. His 1.16 points per possession ranked 8th in the league among players with more than 100 possessions, and none of those players come close to Davis’ 365 possessions used. His 423 points scored as a roll man cast a shadow over the entire league.

How can Gentry help Davis improve on something he already does better than anyone else? Just give him more room to operate. Most teams try to create driving lanes as big as possible out of PnR’s for the ball handler to attack the rim. Gentry creates situations where the roll man faces the least amount of congestion. In Phoenix this would lead either to a high-light reel for Amar’e or a help defender cheating off a 3pt-shooter.

Some of the creative ways Gentry was able to do this was through overloading the strong-side of the court, putting more bodies in the ball handler’s lane to the rim but less in front of the big man’s roll. When done right it leaves a lone help defender with the choice of jamming the roll and giving up an open 3 or watching a high-light dunk. Golden State didn’t have a dominant finisher like Amar’e, but Bogut, Lee, and Green were all good enough passers that surrounding the PnR with 3pt-shooters created enough room for them. This has its set backs as the guard has less room to operate, but if they couldn’t get the pass through to the rolling big, Curry, Thompson, and Nash in Phoenix all had the ability to knock down an open mid-range jumper if no pass was open.

Having a talent like Davis, who can pick and pop too, in a pick and roll like that with someone like Holiday (who can also get to the rim and knock down a mid-range shot) would be unstoppable. Well it already is unstoppable. But it would be even MORE unstoppable.

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New Orleans’ new offense won’t be just like Golden State’s just like Golden State’s isn’t just like Phoenix’s. Gentry does a very good job of working with the players’ talents he has, not trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Both those offenses were among the best in the league, so hopefully they will at least have that in common though. One thing is for sure, Davis will still be a dominant MVP candidate, you can count on that. Only with Gentry, the offense will be built around his strengths, which are starting to get hard to count, so you can bet his new offense will be a sight to see.

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