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Anthony Davis’ Change in Shot Selection – Fluke or Trend?

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Published: October 30, 2017

There aren’t many things to gripe about regarding Anthony Davis’ offensive game, but one of them may be his affinity for long 2s (two-point shots outside of the paint). Last season, Anthony Davis attempted 572 such shots, accounting for 40% of his total attempts for the season. He made 245 of those long 2s (42.8%), making it the least efficient type of shot in his arsenal from a shot location perspective (0.856 points per shot attempt). Even his 132 three-point attempts – of which he made only 30.3% – resulted in a higher points per shot average of .909. So far this season, however, Davis’ shot distribution looks vastly different than his prior career numbers:

The main difference, of course, is the fact that Davis is moving about half of those mid-range shots to beyond the 3-point line. Despite his sub-par career three-point percentage of around 30%, the points per shot for that 3P% (0.9) is noticeably better than what AD achieves on his career 41.4% rate from mid-range (0.828).

With that concept in mind, it would be interesting to consider how this new shift may impact the Pelicans’ season. Let’s say that Davis attempts the exact same number of shots as last season (1,526) with 40% of them coming in the restricted area, 20% from elsewhere in the paint, 25% from mid-range, and 15% from 3-point range. Let’s also assume that he makes those shots at the exact same rates as last season. The result would be an increase of 70 points, almost one per game. If Davis can increase his 3P% from a bad 30% to a below average 33%, then that would add another 18 points on top of that 70.

That may not sound like much, but consider this: 11 of the 30 NBA teams finished last season with a net rating of somewhere between -1 and +1. Separation occurs closer to the top and bottom of the league, but for those teams packed around the middle (where the Pelicans may find themselves this season), that point or so per game could end up being essential in the ultra-competitive Western Conference.

The easiest and most convenient explanation for AD’s change in shot selection – apart from small sample size – is the poaching of assistant coach Chris Finch from Denver. Comparing Davis to the Nuggets’ star big man Nikola Jokic is admittedly an overly simplistic way to test that theory, but it provides some interesting results. Last season, Jokic attempted 10.2% of his shots between 16 feet out and the 3-point line, per basketball-reference.com. This season? That number is all the way up to 27.8% through 5 games. Teams are no doubt paying more attention to him now, but that is too drastic of a shift to ignore. Couple that with the eye test, and there is a decent amount of evidence to suggest that this shift is more by design than by coincidence.

 

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