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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.”

The strangest All-NBA ballot

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Remember those odd All-NBA votes? Dwyane Wade, Luke Doncic, Danilo Gallinari and Andre Drummond on the second team, Marvin Bagley III on the third team.

One voter – Kennegh Lau of BesTV, a Chinese outlet – is responsible all those. His ballot:

First team

G: Stephen Curry (Warriors)

G: James Harden (Rockets)

F: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)

F: Kevin Durant (Warriors)

C: Joel Embiid (76ers)

Second team

G: Klay Thompson, Klay (Warriors)

G: Dwyane Wade (Heat)

F: Danilo Gallinari, Danilo (Clippers)

F: Luka Doncic, Luka (Mavericks)

C: Andre Drummond, Andre (Pistons)

Third team

G: Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers)

G: Donovan Mitchell (Jazz)

F: Marvin Bagley III (Kings)

F: Pascal Siakam (Raptors)

C: Rudy Gobert (Jazz)

A couple other standout All-NBA votes: Michelle Beadle of ESPN voted Eric Gordon third team at guard ahead of Kemba Walker, Bradley Beal, Klay Thompson, etc. Richard Walker of the Gaston Gazette voted Domantas Sabonis third-team forward ahead of LeBron James (who played more minutes than Sabonis!).

There are outlier votes for every award. You can dig through all the results here. Massimo Lopes Pegna of La Gazzetta Dello Sport (an Italian newspaper) apparently submitted his All-NBA team as his All-Defensive team (though it doesn’t exactly match his actual All-NBA team). Beyond that, these votes aren’t necessarily wrong. The consensus isn’t always right.

But All-NBA voting has taken heightened importance with its super-max connection. Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake. Ballots like Lau’s will increase scrutiny on the system.

That’s an overreaction. There are 100 voters so no single ballot carries too much importance. Again, it’s OK for someone to stray from the consensus.

It’d still be good to reconsider the salary incentives of All-NBA, though. The players who had the best regular seasons – my All-NBA criterion – aren’t necessarily the ones who deserve the highest salaries in years to come. It’s a flawed link, and that goes far beyond Lau’s ballot.

Magic Johnson ready to welcome D’Angelo Russell back to Lakers

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In 2017, then-Lakers president Magic Johnson traded D'Angelo Russell to the Nets and delivered a biting sendoff: “What I needed was a leader.”

Russell wasn’t ready to run a team on the court. His work ethic and maturity off it left plenty to be desired. Most infamously, he alienated his teammates by recording and posting a video of Nick Young discussing sleeping with women other than his fiancé.

But Russell went to Brooklyn and became an All-Star.

So, with rumors swirling about Russell returning to Los Angeles in free agency, Johnson is changing his tune.

Johnson, via Bill Oram of The Athletic:

“Now he’s ready,” Johnson said. “He’s much more mature. I said the only thing, he was immature back then. He could always score, but the guys would never play with him because of what he did (with the Young video). But now all those guys are gone and he’s on another level now.”

This is peak Johnson – talking about players on other teams (no longer tampering), spinning the story to make himself look good and directing the Lakers’ roster without having to take responsibility for it.

There is truth to what Johnson is saying here. Russell is more mature now. It would have been difficult to keep him in a locker room with teammates who didn’t trust him.

But Johnson is also the one who moved Russell rather than betting on his talent. With the right nurturing, Russell could have become a star in Los Angeles in the first place. The Lakers wouldn’t have to use all their cap room to sign him now. They could have already had him.

It’s a little disingenuous for Johnson to present this as him being right all along.

Magic GM John Hammond: ‘We have no idea’ when Markelle Fultz will play

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Markelle Fultz has played just 33 games, the most recent one in November, since the 76ers drafted him No. 1 overall in 2017. Philadelphia traded him to the Magic in February, and he didn’t play at all for Orlando last season.

When will Fultz return?

Magic general manager John Hammond on 96.9 The Game:

He will not play in summer league with us. We didn’t think there was any way that he was going to do that. We didn’t plan on him doing that. So, probably not the place for him right now.

But overall, I can just say that he’s doing well.

He’s working extremely hard. He’s in good shape. His weight is good. His overall body-fat percentage is very good. So, if you look at him, you say, “Wow, he looks great.” So, it’s just a matter of him just continuing to get more comfortable, continuing for him to get himself in a position where he’s ready to step on the floor and help us.

And look, we have no idea when that’s going to be. We’re hoping much, much sooner than later. But once again, we’re trying to do this the best we can, and that’s have that word of patience.

We want to have patience with him and get him ready and put him on the court when he can be most productive.

Patience is probably the right approach, because I don’t know an alternative. But I’m also not sure where patience gets anyone.

Fultz’s issues run so deep. It doesn’t appear time is solving anything. Does Fultz have a long-term injury that’s actually healing? Does he have a mental block that’s actually being addressed? It’d be nice to see some signs of progress.

Unfortunately, that won’t happen in summer league. The next opportunity for Fultz to publicly display his ability will likely be training camp.

But the way this has gone, I have no expectations of Fultz being ready for that, either.

Bradley Beal: Wizards told me they won’t trade me

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The Wizards don’t have a long-term general manager.

They do have a plan for Bradley Beal.

Washington coach Scott Brooks, acting general manager Tommy Sheppard and owner Ted Leonsis have each conveyed it to the star guard.

Ben Golliver of The Washington Post:

Beal said that Leonsis, Sheppard and Coach Scott Brooks have each independently told him in recent weeks that he would not be moved.

“They’ve been very transparent and that’s been great,” Beal said. “They’re not keeping me in the dark about anything, even about the trade rumors. . . . It’s great having that peace of mind.”

Leonsis is the most important deliverer of that news. He’s the only one guaranteed to last into a new front-office regime.

But Leonsis also said last January the Wizards wouldn’t trade Otto Porter. They dealt him to the Bulls a week later.

These declarations are obviously non-binding, and Leonsis doesn’t have a great track record of sticking by his word. The owner might say John Wall aggravating his injury changed Washington’s outlook. But that’s the point. Situations change.

What happens if the Wizards are one of the NBA’s worst teams next season? That’s quite possible given their roster/cap outlook entering free agency. Would they keep Beal through a year of his prime even if playoff-bound teams are making lucrative trade offers?

And what if Beal reaches the final season of his contract? Would Washington keep him and just hope for the best in unrestricted free agency?

How long does this no-trade pledge last?

The Wizards reportedly plan to offer Beal the largest extension possible this summer. That’d be worth $111,786,897 over three years.

That’s also way less than he could get by playing out the final two years of his contract and hitting 2021 free agency. Especially if he makes an All-NBA team in 2020-21, which would make him super-max eligible. Or he could make an All-NBA team next season that would make him eligible for a super-max extension, which would be worth the same as a new super-max contract as a free agent.

Beal’s projected max contracts:

  • Extension in 2019: $111,786,897 over three years ($35,134,668 per year)
  • Super-max extension in 2020: $250 million over five years ($50 million per year)
  • Re-sign regular-max in 2021: $214 million over five years ($43 million per year)
  • Re-sign super-max in 2021: $250 million over five years ($50 million per year)
  • Leave in 2021: $159 million over four years ($40 million per year)

So, Beal will likely reject an extension this summer and wait until he makes an All-NBA team or his contract expires, whichever comes first. That’d at least be the financially prudent path.

In the meantime, he can know the Wizards say they won’t trade him – however far that assurance goes.