News flash: Anthony Davis is really, really good.
We all know about the recent 10-game winning streak that helped move the New Orleans Pelicans to fourth in the Western Conference standings, as well as propel Anthony Davis into the MVP conversation.
As Raby mentioned early in his piece about Davis and the MVP narrative, it certainly was expected that a majority of production lost after DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins’s injury would have to be added to Davis’s already colossal workload. No problem for the Brow. He’s carried the team and then some since Cousins went down, with injuries being the only thing able to slow him down.
I’ve watched Anthony Davis for so many games that I’ve lost count, yet he seems to do something every single game that just blows me away.
— Jason Quigley (@JasonQuigs) March 8, 2018
I tweeted this the other day after some crazy block or something in the Kings game, but it could really apply to some play or stat line in almost every Pelicans game. Through media, we’re often reminded of some of the ridiculous stat lines he puts up, so we won’t rehash them here (but just for the fun of it, in the win streak he scored 44, 38, 42, 45, 53, 41…)
Oh yeah, and Sunday he notched his first-career triple double. With 10 blocks.
However, the MVP award is not just one where a player can put up flashy stats on a terrible team like the Rookie of the Year (see: Michael Carter-Williams, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns). Davis is in the Most Valuable Player conversation because his outstanding and efficient play has led to wins, and certainly a lot more wins than the general public thought New Orleans could get after they lost a top-15 player in Cousins.
Davis said in his interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols that he’d have to play with a “Russell Westbrook mentality” of having to shoot possibly 40 times in a game, whatever it takes to win games. He was already playing well this season before the injury, but after it, and especially since the All-Star break, he definitely seems to have adopted that mentality.
The impressive part surely isn’t the aggressive mentality change alone, as Westbrook is often looked at negatively because of his tendency to take over games while forcing shots. He’s been impressive by increasing scoring production while not dropping his percentages.
Davis scored 26.5 points per game before Cousins went down for the season, and he has been averaging a gargantuan 31.7 points per game since then. He went from a usage rate of 27.5% before the Boogie injury to a usage rate of 33.2%, which would rank fourth among NBA rotation players this season behind James Harden, Joel Embiid, and Westbrook, meaning that the ball is finding his hands a lot more often at the end of possessions. His minutes played have risen slightly from 36.3 to 37.1 minutes per game, but even with more minutes and a higher usage, five whole points per game is a huge jump.
Let’s take a look at Davis’s shot chart so far this season (59 games):
This doesn’t tell us much besides the fact that Davis (predictably) does well when he gets close to the rim and hits just under half his shots from around the top of the arc in a smallish sample size.
Next, let’s look at his shot chart in the games before Boogie went down (42 games):
Okay, this definitely looks more like the superstar player we’re used to watching.
Now, how about Davis’s shot chart from the 10-game win streak?
Insert flames emojis here.
The full season chart doesn’t add up to the combined results of the 10-game streak chart and the pre-Boogie injury chart because the Pelicans lost five of the six games in the adjustment period following the injury. Davis was held to under 40-percent shooting in three games during that stretch, something that had only happened once before then this season. Then, as the team adjusted to life with pieces from the trade deadline and life without Boogie, his offense started changing. Davis credits a phone call from Cousins for his mindset change following that rough six-game stretch:
Anthony Davis said he received a phone call from DeMarcus Cousins the other day, telling Davis to be more decisive on offense. Cousins said "What are you doing? You need to go out there and just be you." Davis: "Ever since then, I've been going out there and being aggressive"
— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) February 15, 2018
Davis went from 17.6 field goal attempts per game before Cousins’s injury to 23.5 per game after the injury, and 24.6 shots a contest during the win streak. Additionally, during the streak, he took 14.3 shots in the paint per game, which is up over three full attempts from the 11 he averaged before Boogie went down. His attempts and makes at the free throw line have slightly increased. Also, over half of his three-pointers on the season have come in the 17 games he’s played since the injury to Cousins, which has helped contribute to his ever-growing offensive versatility.
In the recent win against the Kings, 7-foot center Kosta Koufos was often tasked with guarding Davis. Koufos actually did as efficient a job as he could, but at his best, Davis is unstoppable.
Then, a little over a month ago in the previous contest against the Kings, Koufos once again matched up with Davis. In both clips, Koufos can be seen hurrying to the three-point line to guard Davis, which is a product of Davis hitting two three-pointers in each game. Attacking the closeout, he’s able to get what he wants on offense despite a good effort on the shot contest.
He’s not solely able to do this against Koufos or lowly teams like the Kings, either. Davis also was able to often have his way against reigning First-Team All-Defense center Rudy Gobert in Sunday’s matchup against the Jazz.
Other members of the team also need to step their games up, that is true. Nevertheless, Anthony Davis has shown that he has the offensive versatility and superstar mentality that’s necessary to carry a team to victory. In the remainder of the season without his star counterpart in Cousins, Davis’s ability to consistently perform at that elite level will be vital to the team’s success.