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?


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