One of the early surprises this season has been the splendid play of Anthony Davis. Through his first eight games, Davis is averaging 20.9 points and 10.8 rebounds per game for the New Orleans Pelicans, emphatically stating his case as one of the best two-way players in the league. His steal and block numbers have taken a jump as well, but I think his most impressive leap has been on the offensive end.
Davis' field-goal percentage has actually dropped—he's shooting 46.8 percent from the field compared to 51.6 percent last season. But the caveat to those numbers is that he's also shouldered a much larger offensive load, taking about five more shots per game and increasing his usage rate from 21.8 percent to 24.4 percent.
The fact that he's been slightly less accurate from the field has also been largely offset by his huge increase in free-throw attempts. Through eight games he's already attempted 57 free throws, an average of 7.1 per game compared to 3.5 per game last year. It also helps that he's shooting 86 percent from the line.
Davis is supremely athletic and a fantastic finisher on the inside, but being able to leverage that athleticism into both trips to the line and an assortment of dunks and layups will make him a much more efficient player overall.
One of the reasons Davis has been able to fill an expanded scoring role without sacrificing much on the efficiency front is that the Pelicans have made some fundamental changes in how they play offense. When Davis has been on the floor, the Pelicans have been making a concerted effort to push the ball in transition, playing at an average pace of 96.9 possessions per 48 minutes. When he's been on the bench their pace drops to 91.4.
His blocks and steals help initiate many of those fast breaks, but he really shines as the endpoint of those transition opportunities.
This season, an incredible 24.0 percent of Davis' points have been scored on fast breaks, up from 12.8 percent last season. He's scoring 5.0 points per game on fast breaks, by far the most of any big in the league. From the video above it's easy to see how a faster pace plays to his advantage. Getting the ball in space before the defense has a chance to get set is the perfect recipe for him to convert athleticism into jaw-dropping highlights.
The other place he's really leveraging that athleticism is on the offensive glass. So far his offensive rebound percentage has jumped to 11.7 percent, the ninth-best mark in the league among players who have played at least 200 minutes. Between getting out on the break and crashing the glass, nearly a third of Davis' scoring can be traced to energy and effort.
But Davis has not just been taking advantage of the chaos that ensues in transition and after one of his own teammates misses a shot. He's also found ways to be much more productive in the half court.
In terms of a post game, Davis is still very raw and often at a disadvantage because of his lack of strength. Of the 35 field goals he's made in the restricted area this season, every single one was either assisted, off an offensive rebound or in transition. But he has improved his ability to catch the ball on the move and make controlled decisions.
Here he rolls hard to the basket after setting a high screen for Eric Gordon. As he crosses the free-throw line, he catches the bounce pass from Gordon with one hand, gets the defender on his hip and then finishes with his left hand.
In this next example he again catches the ball on the roll but finds the lane clogged in front of him. He sheds a defender with a pump fake, avoiding a traveling violation, and finds Gordon open on the wing.
Davis has also become very adept at working the baseline, finding space and using his length to create passing angles. The Pelicans have been running some nice actions where a guard curls down to set a cross screen in the lane for Davis, allowing him to slip across to the other block and receive a pass.
The other really promising development for Davis has been his outside shooting. He made just 29.4 percent of his mid-range jump shots last season, but you can already see how his scoring area is starting to expand.
If Davis can continue to make himself a mid-range threat, he'll open up a world of possibilities for the Pelicans offense around getting him touches at the elbow. His length and quickness already make him a face-up threat from there, but as he continues to grow as a passer and shooter, defending him will be much more difficult.
There are certainly things for Davis to continue working on as an offensive player, but the early returns on his larger offensive role have been one of the real bright spots in the Pelicans' slow start.
Statistical support for this story from NBA.com/Stats
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