Scaletta’s Summer Top 100 is a ranking of returning NBA players. For a full explanation of our methodology, read our intro.
Many people (present company included) thought Anthony Davis could enter into the MVP conversation last season, but he took a step back.
Some of that was struggling with injuries. Some of that was his teammates (basically all of them) also struggling with injuries. Then you add on the new coach to that, and it was a rough season for Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans.
They made some key offseason moves, though, and they’re hoping to get back in the playoff race. Can this be the year that Davis stays healthy and achieves his maximum potential? The season hasn’t gotten off to the best start thanks to a sprained ankle, but it’s not that serious and Davis shouldn’t miss much regular-season time, if any.
When you look at Davis’ production on a per-minute or per-possession basis, he’s right there with the best in the league:
Nine players have accumulated 20 Win Shares over the last two years, Davis being one of them. But notice that he also has the fewest games. He’s third in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) among those players and also third in Win Shares per 48 minutes.
Ergo, it’s certainly within the realm of possibility that should he stay healthy for a full season, he could have one of the three best individual seasons in the league. That said, it’s hard to see him moving into what is now a two-way battle for best in the league. (Everyone probably knows who will be the top two in the rankings, but I will coyly pretend it’s a mystery.)
Davis has had a problem with injuries over his short career. He missed 18 games his rookie year, 15 the second, 14 the third and 21 last season. All told that’s 68 games, or slightly over 20 percent of the Pelicans’ games over that span. No matter how much a player contributes while he’s on the court, if his ability to remain on the court is an issue, then his contributions will always be limited.
Most will still regard Davis as a top-10 player for what he does on the court, but his place among the truly elite depends on staying there.
It’s hard to believe now, but when the Pelicans drafted him with the No. 1 pick, the experts questioned the offensive game Davis could develop. And while this shot chart isn’t “Curry-esque,” he’s highly efficient in the restricted area, and he’s solid all over the court:
While Davis has added a jumper, even extending it out to the three-point line, he’s still at his most lethal near the rim. He led the league in points scored as the roll man in the pick-and-roll, according to Synergy stats at NBA.com.
However, he was only in the 36.3 percentile on post-ups, in spite of those accounting for 18.4 percent of his plays. This sort of amplifies Davis’ biggest issue on offense in that he can’t generate his own points at a high level.
His offense is still a bit of a work in progress, but he’s already at a pretty stellar level, averaging close to 25 points on a 57.5 true shooting percentage the last two years, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
The narrative on Davis’ defense is interesting in that it keeps over-adjusting. He came out with a great defensive reputation, but his first two years the general conversation had him being “overrated.” Now everyone knows he’s overrated, but he’s gotten better, so he’s underrated, if you can follow me on that.
His Defensive Real Plus-Minus was plus-1.82 last year, a plenty respectable number. When he was the closest defender on the play, opponents shot 3.3 percent below their normal mark, per tracking data at NBA.com. But while he averaged 2.0 blocks per game, Seth Partnow’s rim protection stats at Nylon Calculus indicate that he actually cost his team 0.16 points per game at the rim.
Then again, a good number of his blocks come away from the rim, according to the block chart at NBASavant.com:
In sum, Davis has a lot of the tools to be a great defender, but he’s not quite on that level yet. It would help, however, if he had a team structure that could aid him in being one.