Is Alvin Gentry Good For Anthony Davis?

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Published: March 7, 2016

“Primarily responsible for the Warriors offense — top-rated for most of the season — Gentry believes the Pelicans have underutilized Davis’ offensive skills. Not only did he express this during his initial interview with Loomis and Demps, but Gentry also came into that session equipped with charts and graphs to illustrate his point.”

That was the quote that sold me on Alvin Gentry as the new Pelicans’ head coach. For seasons I had been frustrated by the lack of touches for Anthony Davis under former head coach Monty Williams. I even wrote about it last season. This would be the year that Davis finally becomes a top MVP candidate; time to hit the next level as an offensive player/human highlight reel. And we’ve seen flashes of it in his 59 point game. But overall this has seemed like a bit of a down year for Davis. So let’s look at how Gentry has done so far with the Pelicans’ superstar.

Touches

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You would imagine the biggest key to utilizing Anthony Davis more would be to simply get him more touches. Monty was often criticized for going away from Davis in the 4th quarter, often without the big man even getting to touch the ball on many possessions. This year it’s clear that Gentry is running the offense through Davis more—he has 7 more touches in the front court per game in basically the same amount of minutes. His Usage % is also up as well: 28.8% this season compared to 27.8% last. Those extra touches aren’t translating to more points, but there’s more to offense than just scoring. Davis has shown flashes of excellent passing towards the end of last year and at times this season. Maybe he’s acting as more of a facilitator in the faster, more fluid Gentry offense?

Passing

Image 3On the surface it actually looks like he isn’t. His assists and secondary (hockey) assists per game are lower than last season. His potential assists are barely higher so his lack of stats can’t be blamed on teammates simply missing shots.

But take a look the passes made and received. His making about 8 more passes per game compared to last season. Combined with the passes received, Davis is getting the ball more and also getting the ball out of his hands quickly once the defense reacts. From there the offense might stall out, but it’s not because he is acting as a ball stopper. To me this is fairly encouraging. It looks like an NBA offense can flow around him incredibly well. And if the Pelicans can find a way to upgrade their roster this offseason (a big if, depending on who you ask) there is still potential to reach the elite level everyone predicted when Gentry was hired.

What’s Going On

Per 36 minute numbers

The Per 36 minute numbers for Davis are almost exactly the same as last season. It’s almost eerie how similar they are. And on the surface it’s tough to look at this is a down year stats-wise for him. Don’t forget he finished 5th in MVP voting. But as I pointed out earlier, Davis is getting the ball more often than last season, his usage rate has increased this year. Seeing his stats stay the same isn’t a good thing in the case. So, what’s caused this kind-of stagnation?

A lot of this is opponent game plans. Davis on the block is constantly getting double or triple teamed. Something that was not happening all of last season. Unfortunately the rest of the Pelicans’ offense doesn’t react well to this and often stands in their original spots. With no good outlet pass to make Davis either has to put up a high contested shot or turns the ball over. This is part of the reason his Turnover Percentage is 8.6% compared to 6.3% last season. It’s also one of the main causes for his FG% being 50% after being above that mark last season.

His teammates are another reason for dip in efficiency this year. We’ve yelled and yelled and raved about the lack of basketball IQ on this team. More than that it is filled with ball-stoppers. Often Davis makes a pass to a teammate and they do nothing but dribble. Part of that is limited by skill sets and others by injury. It’s a bit of an annoying excuse, but at the same time Davis can’t do this all by himself. Some of it is guys like Cole and Evans like to drive to the basket. Davis won’t get credit on an assist if that happens.

And some of this is on Davis himself. Trevor Ariza and Matt Barnes have basically marked him out of games this season. For a guy who is 7-foot and freakishly athletic, he shouldn’t be a non-factor when wing players are guarding him. Bulking up would be important, but spending more time in the film room will help as well.

It’s tough to be upset about a guy ranked 8th in points per game at 23.9, but it’s still disappointing not to see a step forward being taken by Davis and this offense. Overall, it’s a mixed bag. Some of this is on his teammates, and some of this is on the coaches to develop more effective offensive sets for Davis. But despite that there are some good things to see coming out of this. The passing numbers in particular are encouraging. And with another year in Gentry’s system, and some better teammates, there’s no question that Davis can bump his PER from 25.1 back to the 30.8 it was last year.

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