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For an elite scorer, Anthony Davis gets assisted a lot. Is that good or bad?

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Anthony Davis destroyed the All-Star game as we knew it.

Davis repeatedly ran to the rim during last year’s game, finding creases in the Eastern Conference defense. And his teammates kept feeding the Pelicans star in New Orleans. Davis scored an All-Star-record 52 points, making 19 assisted shots alone. Nobody has ever made more total shots, assisted or unassisted, in an All-Star game.

Essentially, Davis just kept exploiting a major flaw of the exhibition: As uninspired as on-ball defense is, off-ball defense is almost non-existent.

After the game, Chris Paul told NBA commissioner Adam Silver something needed to be done about the All-Star game’s competitiveness. The league is debuting captain-drafted teams this year. We’ll see whether that increases intensity – Davis is on LeBron James‘ team – but Davis’ style hasn’t changed.

The Pelicans star is scoring a lot, most of his points coming on assisted baskets. That’s a double-edged sword. Is Davis the ideal team player, comfortable working in the flow of the offense? Or is he incapable of creating for himself, dooming New Orleans in critical possessions?

The truth lies somewhere between.

Davis is averaging 27.4 points per game, and 70.1% of his baskets have been assisted. Only Karl Malone with the 1997 Jazz and Shaquille O’Neal with the 1998 Lakers have matched that combination in the last 22 years (as far back as NBA.com data goes).

Here are the highest rates of field goals assisted among players who scored at least 24 points per game in that span:

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Notice Davis’ inclusion four times on the leaderboard. This isn’t an aberration. It’s his style of play.

And it bears no resemblance to this season’s other top scorers:

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Davis’ high percentage of shots assisted is due in part to his position. Perimeter players tend to dominate the ball, allowing them to create for themselves whenever they want. Bigs like Davis have to wait for the ball more often.

But other high-scoring bigs – like Joel Embiid and Davis’ own teammate, DeMarcus Cousins – are assisted far less often. Davis, who famously played guard before a growth spurt in high school, is also a modern big capable of handling the ball and shooting from deep.

Yet, Davis depends on passes to set him up.

The Pelicans seemingly acknowledged that by surrounding their biggest star with plus passers. Point guard Rajon Rondo‘s passing has devolved least among the skills that shone at his peak. Shooting guard Jrue Holiday is a former point guard. Cousins is an excellent passer for his size, though he’s out for the rest of the season due to injury (which has pushed Davis back to center even more often).

For now, Davis seamlessly fits Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry’s ideal style. New Orleans ranks second in the NBA in assists per 100 possessions (behind only the Warriors).

“We pass the basketball,” Gentry said. “We’re not an isolation basketball team. That doesn’t say that he can’t do that, but we would prefer to have flow and movement to our offense.”

But Davis was also heavily assisted Gentry’s first two seasons with the Pelicans, when they were slightly below average in assists per 100 possessions, and when Monty Williams coached the team. This just appears to be who Davis is, regardless of offensive context.

The concern: Davis can’t do more.

A free-flowing, unselfish offense is nice. But there are times – especially when the shot clock is running down – a player must create a shot for himself. Those situations come up more often in the playoffs, when the game slows and defenses set.

“I feel like, if we need a bucket or a team is going on a run and we need to calm them down or we need to get a look,” Davis said, “I’ll take it upon myself to try to get the ball and make something happen for the team.”

The results are uninspiring.

Davis holds an effective field-goal percentage of 44.7% on shots off multiple dribbles – well below league average of 50.3% on such shots. Ish Smith, who averages just 10.7 points per game to Davis’ 27.4, has scored more points per game on unassisted shots than Davis this season.

Davis doesn’t try to create for himself often, but when he does, he usually stumbles. Maybe he’d perform better in a larger sample but just chooses not to push that part of his game. And to be fair, he was awesome in his lone playoff appearance – a 2015 sweep at the hands of the Warriors – at a time when his style should get harder to play.

It’s commendable Davis scores so much, even if he rarely creates for himself. Heck, it’d be commendable he scores so much, BECAUSE he can’t create for himself.

Many players increase their scoring by seizing the ball and hijacking the offense. Davis has done it within the team construct. Scoring while working so much off the ball is not easy.

So, how does he do it?

To start, he runs the floor hard. He leads centers in fastbreak points per game by a fairly wide margin:

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That’s in part because Davis plays so much (36.4 minutes per game), but that’s also to his credit. How many players can handle such a heavy load and still run the floor as hard as he does?

Davis alone is outscoring 27 other teams’ centers combined in fastbreak points per game:

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In the halfcourt, Davis uses a variety of methods to gain an advantage.

“Like most really good players, I think, really good offensive players, he moves well without the ball,” Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. “He cuts well to get into the post area. He comes off screens that they set for him.

“Certainly, Steph Curry is great without the ball. But you look at LeBron and Kevin Durant. Those guys are fantastic players off the ball. You have to be aware of them, cuts. It makes them very tough to guard. I think that’s something that’s really underrated about scorers in this league.”

Defenses must account for Davis in so many parts of the court. He’s an elite finisher, capable mid-range shooter and emerging threat on 3-pointers:

anthony davis shot chart

Davis also possesses an impressive catch radius. He’s 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, major hops and soft hands.

“He’s an easy target,” Rondo said.

Rondo said he can throw passes in Davis’ direction with the expectation the big will catch them.

“Hell, yeah,” Rondo said. “He better. Or else I’m going to cuss him out.”

Once Davis catches a pass, he’s decisive and often attacking. He leads the NBA in shots off exactly one dribble.

Davis isn’t strong enough to bump his man off balance regularly, which might partially explain why he’s so dependent on teammates to set him up. Davis wouldn’t gain much ground working one-on-one with the ball for an extended time. But he more than makes up for it with quickness and agility.

We’ll eventually learn more about how Davis’ style translates to the playoffs. New Orleans (31-26) is tied with the Nuggets for seventh in the West, just 0.5 up on the Clippers and 1.5 games up on the Jazz.

But Davis isn’t simply putting the Pelicans on his back and trying to carry them into the postseason without Cousins. Davis needs his teammates to set him up.

That could put pressure on them to ensure their star player gets the ball often enough, though Rondo and Holiday both said they don’t have to consciously seek out Davis.

“There might be games where he hasn’t got a touch or something like that,” Holiday said. “But for the most part, he finds it in different ways.”

Report: NBA not bringing other eight teams to Disney World bubble

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The NBA bringing the “Delete Eight” teams to its Disney World bubble to train as other teams depart?

Like other plans for the Knicks, Bulls, Cavaliers, Pistons, Hawks, Hornets, Timberwolves and Warriors… it’s not happening.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The NBPA has no interest in that idea, sources said. It’s a non-starter. The inevitable solution for the eight teams left out of Orlando: The NBA and NBPA agreeing upon voluntary workouts in the team facilities, sources said.

The NBPA won’t agree to mandatory reporting for players on the eight teams outside of the restart but will eventually allow it on a voluntary level, sources said.

Bringing those other eight teams to the Disney World bubble was always a ridiculous idea. Why would the NBA jeopardize its highly profitable setup just so some lousy teams could train and maybe hold glorified scrimmages?

Voluntary team workouts are a reasonable allowance. Though it’s difficult to ensure players coming and going from a team facility won’t spread coronavirus, some players are playing basketball in groups, anyway. At their own facilities, teams can at least enforce protocols to increase safety. And players who’d rather be more careful wouldn’t be forced to participate.

There’s no reason to make anything mandatory. These eight teams’ seasons are over.

Suns keep winning, T.J. Warren keeps scoring, Nuggets outlast Jazz in 2OT

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The Suns are unbeatable. T.J Warren is unstoppable. And the NBA is unapologetically fun.

Just another day in the NBA bubble.

Phoenix – already the NBA’s only undefeated team at Disney World – moved to 5-0 in seeding games with a 119-112 win over the Heat.

The Suns are still a half game outside play-in position with a tougher closing stretch than the ninth-place Trail Blazers.* But Phoenix sure is making the race interesting, and Portland isn’t closing the door.

*Both teams still play the 76ers and Mavericks. The Suns also play the Thunder. The Trail Blazers’ last seeding game is against the Nets.

Whether or not they make the playoffs, the Suns should absolutely be encouraged by this stretch. Unlike an early-season surge, when Aron Baynes and Ricky Rubio carried big loads, Phoenix’s young players are leading the charge now. Devin Booker scored 35 points tonight. Jevon Carter added 20 points on 6-of-8 3-point shooting off the bench. Deandre Ayton (18 points and 12 rebounds) continues to impress. Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson have steadily contributed at forward.

Expectations are rising for next season.

First, the Suns aren’t ready for this season to end soon.

All the best bubble stories were in Phoenix last season.

Pacers forward T.J. Warren – whom the Suns dumped with a draft-pick sweetener last summer – continued his scoring binge with 39 points in a 116-111 win over the Pacers.

Warren could always get buckets. But he has been on another level lately.

The Nuggets (somewhat safely in third place) and Jazz (who might prefer to finish sixth) had few obvious reasons to care about beating each other.

But then the game got going, and both teams’ competitive juices took over.

Donovan Mitchell drove for a layup to force overtime. Nikola Jokic converted inside to force double overtime. Finally, Jamal Murray – who scored 23 points in his first game of the resumption – put Denver up for good with a jumper then 3-pointer in a 134-132 victory.

Bubble games have featured such great energy and competitiveness.

Damian Lillard to Paul George on Instagram: ‘keep switching teams … running from the grind’

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Damian Lillard missed a pair of clutch free throws in the Trail Blazers’ loss to the Clippers today. Patrick Beverley and Paul George let Lillard hear about it. Lillard boasted in his post-game interview about his series-winning shots over Beverley’s Rockets in 2014 and George’s Thunder in 2019 (which literally came over George).

Now, the conflict has spilled onto Instagram.

Bleacher Report:

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Dame, PG and Pat Bev went at it in our comments 👀

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George:

And you getting sent home this year 🤣 respect✊

Beverley:

Cancun on 3😂😂😂

Lillard:

keep switching teams … running from the grind . You boys is chumps

George:

@damianlillard respect that too in my stint with my first team I had more success… Dame time running out g

George did lead the Pacers to Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals, losing to the eventual-champion Heat. Indiana also pushed Miami to Game 6 in the 2014 Eastern Conference finals. George doesn’t get enough credit for those achievements.

Though Lillard’s Trail Blazers peaked in the 2019 Western Conference finals, they got swept by the team that lost in the NBA Finals.

But George forced his way out of Indiana despite that being the only place he could earn a super-max contract. He also re-signed with the Thunder, announcing his plan at a big party thrown by Russell Westbrook, then requested a trade to join Kawhi Leonard on the Clippers only a year later.

Lillard just has different sensibilities. He said he’d stick with the Trail Blazers rather than join a super team. Lillard even talked disparagingly about players who get pressured into bypassing super-max contracts in order to be viewed as a winner elsewhere.

So, this clash makes sense.

Maybe it got too personal for George, who has overcome major injury and returned even better. He surely doesn’t want to be called a chump at this point in his career.

But I disagree with George’s championships-only argument. There is plenty of room for major achievements that fall short of a title – like the Pacers’ deep playoff runs George cited. And Lillard’s series-winning shot last year. George was the casualty on that play. There’s no way around it, and it’s likely still a sore spot. That was a high-profile moment that supersedes missed free throws in a seeding game.

Lillard and George can go back-and-forth about their accomplishments. Both have done plenty in this league. Their individual routes to success show their contrasting values. Neither are wrong. They’re just different.

That’s perfectly fine and – when it leads to spats like this – fun.

Damian Lillard misses clutch FTs, Trail Blazers blow key game against Clippers backups

Damian Lillard vs. Clippers
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The Clippers – maybe wanting to give the Lakers a tougher first-round matchup – showed their lack of interest in beating the Trail Blazers today by sitting Kawhi Leonard. Down five with two minutes left, the Clippers really waved the white flag by closing with a lineup of:

But that group ended the game on a 12-2 run to hand Portland a devastating 122-117 loss.

The Trail Blazers are now just half a game up for ninth in the Western Conference. This further opens the door for the Spurs, Pelicans, Suns and even Kings to make a play-in (and gives the Grizzlies more breathing room for advancing to that stage).

After McGruder hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 26 seconds left, Damian Lillard drew a pair of free throws with Portland down one. Lillard is arguably the NBA’s most clutch player, and he had made 89% of his free throws this season. But he missed both – to the particular delight of injured Clippers guard Patrick Beverley:

Beverley and Lillard have a longstanding personal rivalry. The Clippers also have Paul George.

After the game, Lillard – who hit a series-winning shot against Beverley’s Rockets in 2014 and another series-winning shot over George, who was with the Thunder, last year – didn’t mince words.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Lillard:

Asking me about Patrick Beverley, who – I sent him before at the end of a game. Paul George just got sent home by me last year in the playoffs. So, they know. The reason they’re reacting like that is because of what they expect from me, which is a sign of respect, and it just shows what I’ve done at a high clip more times than not. So, I’m not offended by it. If anything, it should just tell you how much it hurt them to go through what I put them through in those situations previously.

I love Lillard’s ability to remain calm and in control. Kudos for him for finding a way to boast after missing a pair of free throws that effectively cost his team a big game. Really. Lillard’s emotional maturity is an asset.

Expect the Trail Blazers to follow his lead and not further unravel. They can and probably should still be favored to reach the play-in.

But their margin for error definitely just shrunk.