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Three years ago Anthony Davis led the league in Player Efficiency Rating, the highest (at the time) by any player ever not named Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain or LeBron James when he was only 21 years old. The New Orleans Pelicans were swept out of the playoffs by the eventual champion Golden State Warriors, but the future looked bright for the team. He was on the verge of being the best player in the league.
Since then, though, the Brow has not been able to reach the same peak, either personally or with his team. While the word “regressed” might be too strong, for various reasons — not all his fault — his numbers have declined ever so slightly, and the team has struggled. Now with a superstar teammate for the first time in his career, can he lead the Pelicans to a postseason win?
Davis is in danger of getting dubbed with the “but he doesn’t win” tab. While most fans recognize that he’s been trapped in a bad situation and the perpetual losing isn’t really his fault, there’s also the reality that the longer it happens, the louder the voices of protest will grow. Eventually, you have to win to remain a top-10 player. Particularly being teamed with Cousins, he’ll run out of excuses if the Pelicans continue to struggle.
The Pelicans won’t have a good enough record for him to win MVP, but if they push their way into the playoff picture and he’s posting numbers around 25 and 12 (something he’s more than capable of) he will certainly get votes — perhaps even finishing in the top three. With Davis this year, it’s all about team success more than personal success.
When Davis first came in the league, the scouting report on his offense suggested that he might struggle there. Boy were those reports wrong. According to Basketball-Reference.com, only two players have a higher Player Efficiency Rating than he does over the last three years — MVP winners Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook. The only player to score more points per game and shoot over 50 percent is Kevin Durant. Add Stephen Curry and James Harden to that list if you look at true shooting percentage.
He has a jump shot with range, but that barely extends to the 3-point line, where he’s just 31 percent over the last two years. He’s in the 58th percentile on pick and pops at 0.945 points per possession, according to Synergy Sports. He’s more lethal rolling to the basket, where he averaged 1.347 PPP, good for the 87th percentile:
He was also solid on post-ups, where he was in the 58th percentile. Overall, he’s more a big man who can score like a big man and stretch the court than a big wing who can play the 4. That creates a different set of defensive challenges for opponents, and it’s why he is so successful.
Anthony Davis was in the 89th percentile on defense with .817 PPP, which is remarkable when you consider that he was the undeniable anchor of it. The Pelicans gave up 7.6 fewer points per 100 possessions when he was on the court, and factoring in minutes played, only Draymond Green (287.7) and Rudy Gobert (344.4) “saved” more points than his 220.0 based on Defensive Real Plus-Minus at ESPN. Opponents shot 7.8 points below their season averages when he was the closest defender within six feet of the rim, and he averaged 2.2 blocks and 1.3 steals per game.
He has the ability to stick with the ballhandler on the perimeter or protect the rim — sometimes doing both on the same play:
Kawhi Leonard has been granted the imaginary award for best two-way player in the league, but Anthony Davis has an argument there. He has a case for being both a top-five offensive and defensive player — the only challenge is translating that into wins.
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