Anthony Davis needs a Wingman

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Published: April 10, 2015

It’s possible that Dell Demps is going to accept that his vision for this team will never be well and truly tested.  Major injuries to Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, prickly little ones to Anthony Davis, and a brutal recurring injury to Jrue Holiday have made it near impossible to judge if the team he built could have fit together.  The Holiday injury must sting the most, as that trade will form a core basis for the evaluation of his tenure as GM.  People won’t care that he can obtain rotation guys for nothing (Jason Smith for Songaila and Brackins, Pondexter for Rivers, Cole for Salmons), or that he consistently plucks guys from out of the fringes of the league who turn out to be rotation-worthy. (Brian Roberts, Alexis Ajinca, Dante Cunningham, Anthony Morrow.)

No, what people will remember is he gave up Nerlens Noel and whatever Saric turns out to be for Jrue Holiday, who has been unable to help the team.  They will remember he matched a huge Eric Gordon offer from Phoenix. (Word a smaller deal was almost done with Gordon when the Suns entered the ring and hit Demps with a steel chair)

Right now, Dell will be remembered for zigging when every other front office was zagging – flying in the face of conventional wisdom, ignoring cost-benefit analysis, and trading cheapo rookies for expensive veterans.  Unless it all works, he’ll be panned for not having a draft pick three years running and how in today’s NBA that just doesn’t work.

He could, of course, double down and run it all back like McNamara suggested and Graham further supported.   Doing that could vindicate his vision.  Who knows what a team featuring a primary line up of Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Omer Asik and Quincy Pondexter could do.  They could be pretty amazing.  Having backup players like Gordon, Anderson, Cole, Ajinca and Cunningham also sounds pretty good.

Is that really the right idea, though?  The first thing we should do is evaluate what Anthony Davis does well right now, and then figure out what kind of player he needs next to him the most.

Anthony Davis

It is really hard to look at Davis’ offensive numbers and avoid giggling to yourself, so prepare your gigglers now.

First, Davis is death in transition, scoring an unreal 1.59 points per possession.  (Only Gortat finishes as well in transition anywhere near as often.  Thanks, John Wall!)  Slow him down, put him in the half court as a pick and pop guy, and Davis is already an elite catch and shoot player, clocking in with the 11th best FG% on catch and shoot jumpers in the league.  Get in his face as he shoots, and it doesn’t really matter either – Davis has hit 55% of all shots when guarded by someone 0-4 feet from him . . . and 53% when not guarded at all.   If you do crowd him, he will unleash a single dribble attack – which he’s been converting 50.7% of the time.  Oh, and if he’s in a pick and roll, you can’t leave him at all – as he generates 1.19 points per possession. (again top 20 in the league but only Tyson Chandler has can claim anything like his volume and consistency) Last, put Davis on the baseline as an off-ball cutter, and he is top 10 in points per possession and has turned the ball over only 1.8% of the time.

He is a vicious, mistake-free, high caliber finisher from anywhere inside the arc.

What Davis is not is a creator.  He rates highly when the team ISO’s him, generating 0.96 points per possession(one of the top 20 or so players), but if the defense forces him to take 2 dribbles to clear space, his shooting percentage drops to 37% and turnovers skyrocket.  As a post-up threat, he is purely middle of the pack, generating only 0.85 points per possession. (For comparison, Anderson generates .89, Evans .96, and Ajinca a near-the-top-of-the-league 1.14)

So right now, Davis cannot consistently  bend an offense and get it scrambling – the job of all the great scorers in the league.  This is the reason why the Pelicans don’t just toss the ball to the unibrow and get out of the way during crunch time.  He’s not Durant.  Or Harden.  (Yet) He can blast open cracks caused by movement and penetration, but right now he still needs someone to play off of.

He needs a good Wingman to make his job easier.

Is anyone on this team capable of being that guy?

The Usual Suspects

As far as creating offense, Tyreke Evans is a relentless driver who goes to the rim more often than all but a couple players.  Regardless of his ability to finish, that is valuable as a way to generate the first crack in an opponents defense.   The team, as a whole, scores 1.07 points per possession on Evans’ drives, which is good, but does fall short of the top tier.  If Evans could raise his own ability to finish around the basket or draw free throws, he would easily be an elite player, but because he lacks explosiveness around the rim, he is blocked more often than anyone else and has to contort his body and shots to try and slip the ball in.   The result is a low number of free throws and a pretty poor finishing percentage.   The net result is that he ends up in the middle of the pack when it comes to effectiveness in ISO situations or in the pick and roll, and even more, he is wildly situational.  Put him against a team with a good rim protector and he will struggle mightily.  Put him against a team that can’t do that, and he will devastate them.  That could get tough in the playoffs, where more teams have strong rim protectors than not, and will work to force him to shoot instead.  (I won’t scar you by putting up his shooting inefficiencies here)

On the flip side, Gordon is easily the best catch and shoot guy on the team, sporting a quick release and a catch and shoot 3P% of 48.2% – only surpassed by Kyle Korver amongst players who jack 3 or more three pointers a game.  That would make him excellent if he had any kind of scoring prowess off the dribble . . . AND he doesn’t. With zero or one dribble, he hits 46% of the time from the field.  With 2 dribbles or more, he shoots 32% and turns the ball over 20% of the time.   Put Eric Gordon in a pick and roll and he turns the ball over 24.5% of the time and he generates 0.65 points per possession.  That places him in the 25th percentile and makes him one of the worst guards in the league at creating shots for himself and others.

Possibly the best option is the injured and, of course, unavailable Jrue Holiday.  While he is not as prolific of a driver as Tyreke is, he is more efficient, turns the ball over at a very low rate and ends up in the top 25 or so across the league getting results as a PNR ball handler.(He’s a hair lower in ISO situations)  He is also extremely skilled off the dribble, as his shooting percentage declines exactly 1.4% from shooting without a dribble to shooting after multiple dribbles.(2+) It’s undeniably valuable to have a guy who can probe or move if pressured and not have that impact his shooting much, especially if the point is to force cracks that Davis can exploit.  BUT (and there’s always a but with these guys) the overwhelming issue with Jrue is that while his shooting doesn’t decline on the move – his shooting isn’t anything to write home about to begin with.  He’s merely solid from any range and he doesn’t draw free throws to supplement his scoring.  The end result is he’s slightly better at generating scoring opportunities than Tyreke, wildly better than Gordon, but hardly spectacular.

 

So that’s the question Dell has to deal with.  He needs guys who can crack the defense for Anthony Davis to shatter, but his stable of guards consist of one guy who can do it whenever he wants but fizzles badly at times, one guy who can’t do it at all but provides desperately needed spacing, and one guy who can do it consistently, but not spectacularly – when he’s healthy.

Perhaps the easy answer is to bring them all back and see what happens if they are all on the floor.  Maybe having Jrue around will help Tyreke and Eric be more effective.  Me? I’d go with moving at least one, probably two, and trying to find someone who can complement Davis better.  Give him a devastating wing to work with – and this team would become nigh unstoppable.

So what do you think?  Would you prefer to have the same wing players roll out next to Davis next year?  Would wou prefer a transition or PnR focused complement?  Anyone want to point out I conveniently ignore defense for most of this discussion?

Let me hear what you think!

 All stats in this article were gleaned from the NBA.com stats tools.

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