Don’t look now, but Anthony Davis is about to have a season that’s going to blow your minds. He was amazing enough when he wasn’t being used that well, but there are some things to indicate that this year Davis is going to be utilized not just more, but also better. Mind-blowingly better.
Last season, Davis’s numbers weren’t bad at all, with averages of 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.9 blocks, 2.2 assists and 1.5 steals. He had a 59.1 true shooting percentage and a 30.8 Player Efficiency Rating. His box score numbers were bested only 10 times in NBA history, per Basketball-Reference.com.
When you factor in pace, though, things get a whole lot narrower. The only player to ever notch better numbers per 100 possessions was David Robinson, who did so in 1993-94 and 1994-95. And he only had a better true shooting percentage the second time.
And this is imperative to understand because Davis is about to see a much faster offense. Alvin Gentry is the new head coach, and he’s raised up in the “seven seconds or less” school of thought, having been personally instructed by Mike D’Antoni.
Last year, he took over as the offensive assistant for the Golden State Warriors, and their pace was a league-leading 100.69. Davis, by comparison, was on the fourth-slowest team that had a pace of 93.70. Supposing that the Pelicans run at a Warriors-like rate next year, Davis’s numbers go up considerably:
Now, as impressive as that jump already is, it’s barely scratching the surface. That’s because while it accounts for the bump in pace, it doesn’t factor in how Davis will be used better and smarter, and how he’s already taking steps to accommodate his new coach.
As analytics have become more popular, most people now know that the midrange shot is the least efficient in basketball. There’s a provable correlation between taking a lower percentage of shots from that range and being a more efficient player, as shown in the chart below:
What’s striking about Davis is that his true shooting percentage was still very high in spite of the fact that he had such a high percentage of his shots come from midrange. When you include the number of points he was scoring, it’s even more impressive.
In the following chart, the horizontal axis shows the true shooting percentage, the vertical axis, points scored and the color scale indicates the percent of shots that come from midrange. Notice the midrange percentage of MVP candidates such as James Harden (9.3), Russell Westbrook (17.4), Stephen Curry (12.3) and LeBron James (14.6 percent).
Davis (28.0) was significantly more likely to see a bucket from midrange than all of them, yet he was right with James and Harden in efficiency and outscored Curry. Harden was the only player to log 1,000 minutes and have a higher true shooting percentage and scoring total than Davis. And Davis had almost three times as many of his attempts come from midrange.
So what happens if and when Gentry starts designing an offense to get Davis to move shots inside the restricted area, outside the three-point line — or both?
Davis attempted 719 midrange jumpers last year, which comes out to 10.6 per game. What happens if we move half of those to the optimal areas and reduce his percentage to where the other MVP candidates are?
While much has been made about Davis adding a three-pointer, the more compelling news is that he’s added 12 pounds of muscle:
— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) August 27, 2015
That bodes well for him backing down and posting up defenders at the rim. Contrary to popular belief, shots just outside of the restricted area aren’t very good. It makes sense if you consider they’re coming from right outside the restricted area for a reason: the shooter couldn’t get into the restricted area. Usually, that’s because a defender was involved.
Last season, Davis was just 42.1 percent from three-to-eight feet and 73.6 percent from three feet or less. With a better-designed offense and more muscle, what if Davis pushes just three of those mid-range shots inside the restricted area per game?
The 1.7 points he’s presently scoring on those shots currently becomes 2.9, and 3.1 after we adjust for the faster pace. We’re just putting those shots in better places. At the rim is still the best place to score and Davis is working to get there more.
But let’s also factor in that the added muscle is likely to result in Davis being able to draw more shooting fouls. Again, being conservative, let’s assume it turns just one midrange shot into a true shooting attempt from the stripe each game.
Based on his 80.5 percent mark from the foul line, the extra true shooting attempt (2.3 free throws) would give him 1.8 points per game, or about 1.0 more than he’s getting from using that attempt on a midrange shot. Again, adjust for the faster pace and it projects to 1.1 more points.
But wait! There’s more! There’s this whole thing about the three-point line. Davis has never been a three-point shooter, but no one has asked him to be. Now, it seems like he’ll be doing at least some. We have no idea what kind of three-point shooter he’ll be. However, his long-two percentage indicates that knocking down a shot now and then from deep range isn’t unrealistic.
From between 18-21 feet, Davis shot 44.8 percent last season. Only seven players made more shots from that area.
There were five other bigs who shot 42 percent or better from 18-21 feet and attempted 25 or more threes on the seasons. I’m calling them “stretchish 4s” because they’re not your typical “stretch” 4s for the most part, but they’re on the cusp:
As a group, the five players shot 47.4 percent from long two and 37.7 percent. Using that 9.7 percent average fall off, I’m projecting Davis to shoot somewhere around 35.1 percent from deep. That figure is far from exact, but as I’m only projecting two three-point attempts per game, and it only changes his scoring average by .3 points, I’m not going to fret over a couple of percentage points.
Warning! You may want to secure your jaw right now because it’s about to hit the floor. By just redistributing a few of his midrange shots to the inside and a couple to the outside, Davis stands to boost his scoring to 29.1 per game with a true shooting percentage of 65.7 percent. That would put him in line to have one of the most efficient 25-point averages in NBA history.
And that’s using the same number of shots. Of the players who scored 24 points last season, Davis had the lowest usage percentage — and that’s something that has a definite chance of going up. If it even goes up one percentage point, his scoring average would go over 30.
Ergo, averages in the neighborhood of 30 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks and a true shooting percentage near 65.0 are very reachable and virtually unprecedented. Shaquille O’Neal, who averaged 29.3 points, 13.2 boards and 3.2 blocks with a true shooting percentage of 60.5 in 1993-94 is the only one to be even in that ballpark. No one else has hit 28.0, 11.0 and 2.0 on 60.0 percent.
Even if you reel in some of the already conservative projections, Davis is on the cusp of a mind-blowing season.