Anthony Davis has shattered all expectations for how far along he would be in just his second season. Scouts believed in his upside enough that he was selected No. 1 overall in the 2012 NBA Draft, but you'd have been crazy to suggest that he'd be a top-15 player already.
And yet here we are, fresh off an All-Star appearance with a possible inclusion on one of the All-NBA teams for his efforts. The New Orleans Pelicans have flopped in comparison to their preseason expectations, but having a budding superstar locked in for the future is a giant step towards contention.
Davis has had a season for the ages, drawing statistical comparisons to the high marks of Shaquille O'Neal, David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon. It's easy to forget how young Davis still is—he's of legal drinking age as of March 11—when he's on the court dominating on both ends.
Davis' youth paired with spurts of brilliance has many around the league excited not for the current iteration of the long-limbed specimen, but the 2.0 version we'll see down the line. To reach the lofty ceiling that he possesses, he'll need to improve in a number of key areas.
Refining the Jumper
Nate Duncan of Basketball Insiders recently wrote an article ranking who he believes are the 10 best players in the NBA, with Mr. Davis checking in at No. 7. While his general case for Davis is sound, one of his claims goes a bit too far:
Based solely on his individual statistics, the 20 year-old Davis belongs higher on this list. He is fourth in PER, and fifth in win percentage. His midrange jumper became automatic almost overnight, and he is a terror in the pick-and-roll and on the offensive glass.
The last part of that sentence is absolutely true. Watch any Pelicans game and you'll see the havoc Davis wreaks around the rim chasing down rebounds and finishing all lobs thrown in his general direction. Even playing with pseudo point guards in the absence of Jrue Holiday, Davis has covered up for inaccurate passes and shooting with obscene athleticism.
But when it comes to the midrange jumper, Davis still has a ways to go before it can be considered, "automatic."
No one is going to be considered automatic from the mid-range area, and that's part of why it hs become the league's most scrutinized shot. Unlike at the rim, where players convert at a high rate, and the three-point area, where lower percentages are mitigated by an extra point, the area between the paint and the arc is no man's land, an iffy percentage bet without a considerable boost to justify it.
Of his big man peers, Miami Heat forward/center Chris Bosh is probably the closest thing to automatic that we're going to see. Bosh is shooting 52.5 percent between 10 and 16 feet this season, while clocking in at 45.5 percent from 16 feet out to the three-point line.
Davis, on the other hand, shoots around 42 percent from 10-16 and 39.3 percent from 16 feet out to the three point line. Most of those struggles come from the baseline:
Part of this stems from the basis of his game at this point. When stationed at the elbows, Davis has more space with which to take advantage of his athleticism against ill-equipped opponents, allowing him to get better looks at the rim. That's mitigated by the lack of space on the baseline, which forces him into less desirable shots.
Passing Out Of Doubles
With additional respect headed his way, Davis is going to face advanced coverage from opposing defenses sooner rather than later. Extra attention is a given now that the league realizes he's going to be a threat every time he catches the ball.
To be able to deal with the extra help shaded his way, Davis will have to become a better, more willing passer on par with some of his peers.
In fairness to Davis, it's not that he lacks passing skills altogether. He's not one to force his offense, so you'll often see him making the easy pass back to the perimeter to temporarily relieve pressure, only to reset himself in the post. Compared to other players his age, this is significant in itself, and is one of the clearest signs of his basketball IQ.
But among the other standouts at the power forward position, Davis assists on an abnormally low percentage of his team's shots.
|PLAYER||AST / G||AST %|
None of the players you see listed rack up assists in a traditional sense, but each makes at least a decent-sized contribution to their team's dimes while they're on the court. The fact that Davis' percentage is less than half of his closest competition is a little worrisome.
It's nothing to panic over, for a few reasons. Aldridge has made huge strides in this area since his rookie year, where he started his career with a paltry 3.2 AST percentage. As the Blazers have surrounded him with more shooters and he has grown into his game, he has watched that figure climb. That suggests that Davis will be able to grow in this area with more time.
More importantly, Davis' team has been in a state of flux all year, more than anyone could have predicted even after a chaotic offseason. Injuries have decimated the roster, not allowing the team to build any sort of continuity. The types of passing skills Davis should be learning—pocket passes to cutters, interior passes to big men—have been inhibited by a constantly changing supporting cast.
With a full offseason together (assuming no major changes) and a clean slate of health, the Pelicans should become more cohesive on offense, and Davis will be expected to be the fulcrum.
Demand More - Stay Aggressive
Davis leaps off the screen at you, whether you're watching games or just scouring box scores. It's hard not to get swept up in his exploits, wondering just how high of a bar he can clear in the years to come.
That comes with one caveat: Davis needs to recognize how talented he is, and take full ownership of his status as the best player on the Pelicans. This isn't to say that Davis shies away from responsibility or that he's afraid of the spotlight, only that his unselfishness needs to make way for his talent once in a while.
Killing a kid for being a team player willing to stand aside at times would be silly, and Davis is the type of high-character guy any franchise would love to build around. But even he has admitted that he needs to attack more and use his gifts every night, a practice that will become a habit in time.
After struggling with foul trouble in recent weeks, Davis turned in a masterful performance against the Lakers on March 5, scoring 28 points and pulling in 15 rebounds. Discussing the game with John Reid of The Times-Picayune, Davis said that he came in with a certain mindset that allowed him to dominate.
I had two terrible games and I came in with the mindset that whoever is guarding me, I'm going to do anything to get this win. I told myself, I'm not going to foul this game. The whole time, i was trying to move my feet, go vertical and stay out of foul trouble. That helped a lot to be on the floor for 42 minutes.
Pelicans guard Brian Roberts also told Reid about the effect Davis' performance can have on the team. "A.D. (Davis) was effective from the start and once we fed off him it was kind of a snowball effect. Getting out and running is key for our team."
There's no illusions about who makes the Pelicans go, though sometimes they fail to get the ball to him on offense in must-score situations. This is where the other two components he needs to work on come into play—when he is truly automatic on his jumpers and a savvier passer from the post, it will be impossible for his teammates to not give him the ball during crunch time.
Davis' field goal attempts are in line with a few of his teammates, and that's not how it should be. As he grows into his role as the Pelicans key cog, Davis will need to assert himself more and learn when he needs to put the team on his shoulders.
These are all small nitpicks, which reveal something you may already know: Anthony Davis is a stud with a bright future ahead. If these are the things he has left to improve upon, best wishes to his competition going forward.