Anthony Davis has the skills and athletic ability to take his game to another level this season, but it's the addition of Jrue Holiday that could have the biggest impact on his progress.
Davis has fallen slightly under the national radar as a result of next year's draft hysteria and Damian Lillard's flashier rookie season. That would've seemed impossible a season ago, when draft experts were claiming his best-case scenario was, "Blake Griffin meets Tyson Chandler," but last year's solid, unspectacular campaign slowed the hype train a little.
Part of that is a product of who he played with. As good as Davis is defensively —his 104 defensive rating was a full six points below the team's 2012-13 average— there were just too many sieves on the court surrounding him.
Though his All-Star selection was based off of his improved offensive numbers, Holiday's defense is arguably the more valuable part of his game to this point. Standing 6'4" with a 6'7" wingspan, he has the height and length to defend many 2-guards and the quickness to deal with smaller, faster points.
There are two sides of Holiday on defense:
On the ball, Holiday is in total control of his body, hips low and body between the rim and his man. It's one thing to possess the tools to be a good defender, but making use of them is not a foregone conclusion.
Off the ball, Holiday is just as strong. Ray Allen has mastered the art of shedding defenders on screens, but in this clip, Holiday proves to be a worthy adversary. Even when he over-pursues the three-point shot (understandable with Allen) at 0:37, he cuts quickly to shut off the driving lane.
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The impact of having a plus defender in Holiday is twofold for Davis. At a basic level, point guard defense is increasingly important with the pick-and-roll in vogue. Having an athlete like Holiday chasing guards around picks as opposed to the slow-footed Greivis Vasquez will cut down on the ground Davis will be expected to cover.
As an added bonus, decreased responsibility will allow Davis to save energy and pick his spots. Averaging only 28.8 minutes over 64 games last season, Davis should expect a boost in playing time for his sophomore campaign. Having another solid defender around in Holiday will allow him to reserve more strength for the offensive end.
It's there that Pelicans fans might see Davis make the bigger leap. With all due respect to Vasquez, Holiday represents a significant upgrade at the point guard spot for the New Orleans Pelicans. Vasquez has found a way to become an effective distributor despite his lack of athleticism, but having a guard like Holiday who can distribute and turn the corner on pick-and-rolls is invaluable for a big man.
Teams will have to pick their poison in pick-and-roll sets involving these two. Holiday is a career 37.4 percent shooter from deep, so going under screens is a risky proposition. Unfortunately for opponents, leaving an open lane for Davis and/or Holiday is less appealing:
Holiday has played with some pretty shoddy big men, from Spencer Hawes to the immortal Kwame Brown, so anyone with athleticism and a working set of hands exceeds his previous partners. Davis is a quantum leap by comparison.
The two have already had the opportunity to get used to each other at this summer's USA Basketball minicamp. Both players talked to Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated about what they have seen in each other's game:
"Anthony showed me a lot more [this week]," Holiday said. "He can dribble, we know he’s athletic, hitting step-back jumpers, 15-foot jumpers and all that. I didn’t know he had that until now."
"He’s one of the smoothest players I’ve seen," Davis said. "Nothing bothers him, nothing worries him. He goes out there and does what he has to do to win. That’s excellent. … He’s an exceptional player. He can definitely come off the pick and roll pretty well. He can score the ball."
Davis developing a consistent jump shot is the key to unlocking the potential of the duo. If defenders are forced to respect Davis from 15 feet or more, passing and driving lanes will open up that the Pelicans can exploit.
Adding a 23-year-old All-Star with a skill set that aligns perfectly with your own is a recipe for success. Expect another good year from Holiday, and a breakout from The Unibrow.