Season in Review: Anthony Davis and his development as a Scorer

Published: April 21, 2016

Expectations are a dangerous thing, and last year Davis inflated ours – and everyone else’s – to heights that were probably impossible to meet if everything had gone right.  To remind you – he posted a PER of 30.89 last season – which was the 11th best ever. (soon to be 12th with Curry going nuts) He was only 22, and his ceiling didn’t appear to be on this planet.  Fast forward a year, and Davis is a question mark to make any All-NBA team, he took part in a wreck of a season, got hurt and only played 3/4th of a season and writers and league watchers are turning to new flavors of the month.

And this is all a little insane.

Davis still posted the 10th best PER in the league. He averaged 24, 10, 2, 1, and 2. Only 7 other dudes have had lines like that since they started counting blocks – and they are names like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, David Robinson, and Hakeem Olajuwon. Except for the swiss army knife(and irreplaceable to that team) Draymond Green, if you replace any other big man in the game with Davis, your team improves. Seriously. LaMarcus Aldridge? Blake Griffin? Paul Millsap? Andre Drummond? Cousins? Unless you are going to cheat and call LeBron or KD a big man, Davis is going to improve your team significantly, even if he plays fewer games.

This season in review, however, isn’t going to dwell anymore on why people dismissing Davis are kinda nuts and a victim of their own expectations. Instead, I want to focus on what this season was supposed to be about:

Anthony Davis, offensive centerpiece.

You probably remember people being twitter-angry last year about how Davis didn’t get the ball in his hands all the time. About how frustrating Tyreke Time could be at the end of games. You may remember the story about how Gentry came into New Orleans with charts showing how Davis was underutilized – and he wasn’t talking about three point attempts. You may, also, remember me saying on the Podcast that asking Davis to become an offensive centerpiece was asking him to do something he’s never really done before. Having a guy finish pick and rolls, pick and pops, and catch and shoots is a very different thing from giving him the ball and letting him work. So the question is – did Davis actually get the ball more and be asked to create? What sort of struggles did he have over the season?

First the answer to the question is yes – his usage rate was higher this season – and he was asked to score with the ball in his hands more. Last season, 39.5% of Davis’ shots came after one or more dribbles, while this season 42.6% of Davis’s shots came after a dribble. His Iso plays increased slightly, with about 2% more of his plays being isolations – but most telling, Davis’ post-up opportunities greatly increased, from 12.6% last season to 18.4% this season.

So the team was definitely giving him the ball in different situations this year. The problem is the results were not pretty. Davis averaged 0.68 points per possession in ISO situations – which is in the 23.7 percentile. He averaged 0.78 points per possession in the post, which is in the 36.3 percentile. If you are looking for the culprit as to why Davis’ true shooting percentage decreased this season – you can probably look no further than this.

The question, however, is whether Davis actually did improve over the course of the season. Unfortunately, the stats I have access too don’t track play types per month – but they do track the results of plays that required 1 dribble or more before a shot attempt went up. Here is Davis’ effective field goal percentage per month this season for all plays requiring one dribble or more. (April left off since, you know, he was hurt)


That’s promising, right? He’s definitely getting more comfortable making moves and shooting. This doesn’t, however tell us everything we need to know. He could be catching on the move – getting out on breaks with a few dribbles, getting the ball in a scramble. We don’t know if he was given the ball and asked to create in all these situations. Well, happily we also have stats for Touch Time. I.E. how did Davis do when he had the ball in his hands for more than 2 seconds. I.E. he’s making something happen himself. Here is his eFG% when shooting after having the ball for more than 2 seconds:


Though not as smooth a line – and probably explains his poor percentiles up above – this again shows improvement over the course of the year.

This stuff matters. It’s unusual to see such a clear development line, but this one seems pretty obvious – which attests to the work Davis is putting in and his natural talent. There isn’t a superstar in the league who relies mostly on others to get them their shot – and if we can point to anything good that happened this year – it’s that Davis is on his way to becoming a more well-rounded offensive force.

(Some of you may want to know what I think about Davis’ defense this year – since his numbers are fairly down from last year. All I’ll say is for the first two months of the season, Davis’ defensive number were as good as last year. And then they slipped. And kept slipping all the way to the end of the season. He started at a Drating of around 101 in November – but starting in February, his DRating was an abysmal 110. Unsurprisingly, the team had pretty much given up at that point. I’m not absolving him. The effort needs to be there – but in some respects, I can understand it.)

To catch-up on all Season in Review 2016 posts click here!


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