Anthony Davis Is On Another Level

03/01/2018 at 11:03am

By Ian Levy
Nylon Calculus, brought to you by The Step Back

In case the internet has been down at your house for the past few weeks, Anthony Davis has been on a tear. There was the game on Feb. 10 against Brooklyn when he went for 44 points, 17 rebounds and six steals. Then there was his 45-point, 17-rebound, 5-steal, 5-block effort against the Miami Heat. And earlier this week, he took it to another level entirely -- 53 points, 18 rebounds and five blocks against the Phoenix Suns.

The Pelicans have won seven straight games, moving themselves up to the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference playoff race, but just a game and a half out of the No. 3 seed. Over that seven-game span, Davis is averaging 39.3 points, 15.0 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 3.0 steals and 2.7 blocks per game, shooting 53.5 percent from the field and 39.1 percent on 3-pointers. He’s done all that without his running mate, and fellow All-Star, DeMarcus Cousins.

Cousins was lost for the season late in a game against the Houston Rockets on Jan. 26, when he tore his Achilles’ tendon. The Pelicans followed that game with a 1-5 stretch where they were outscored by an average of 9.3 points per 100 possessions. It looked New Orleans was in danger of sliding out of the playoff picture and facing down another offseason of difficult high-stakes decisions.

Instead, this explosive stretch from Davis has reversed their fortunes and has them playing some of their best basketball of the entire season. It hasn’t just been Davis -- Jrue Holiday has been averaging 25.3 points, 7.6 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game over the same stretch, shooting 53.8 percent from the field -- but Davis’ flaming hot hand has been the biggest factor.

While Cousins and Davis had developed an incredible chemistry together, having Cousins out of the lineup has helped Davis shift to a different style of play. Through the time of Cousins’ injury, Davis had played just 427 minutes (about 28 percent of his total) without Cousins, Alexis Ajinca or Omer Asik on the floor. Since Cousins went down, Davis has played about 71 percent of his minutes without any of those players or Emeka Okafor, who was recently signed for the rest of the season.

This shift from functionally playing power forward to spending more time as a small ball center has payed huge dividends.

On offense, Davis has seen a dramatic increase in touches to compensate for Cousins’ absence. In particular, he’s getting far more touches in the middle of the floor and more opportunities to create for himself. The trade-deadline addition of Nikola Mirotic has helped as well. Even though he hasn’t been shooting as well in New Orleans, his threat as an outside shooter has at least as much gravity as Cousins’ did, helping make sure there is enough room for Davis to operate.

We see a similar pattern on defense, where Davis is getting more opportunities to play in the middle of the floor and has been more productive as a result.

Davis is much more mobile than Cousins and so it made sense for the Pelicans to usually have the former match up with the more mobile opposing big man. The issue is that Davis was a superior rim protector but was more likely to be pulled away from the basket while Cousins and his strength patrolled the paint. Davis has been much effective defending the rim with Cousins out, but he’s also been defending more shots around the basket and more disruptive creating blocks and turnovers.

The Pelicans still have some climbing to do, but a playoff seed that secures them home court advantage and keeps them away from the Rockets and Warriors in the first round is certainly within reach. The team is undoubtedly better with Cousins on the floor but the silver lining of his injury has been freeing up Anthony Davis to fully unfurl his considerable talents again.

Nylon Calculus covers basketball analytics for The Step Back, a premium NBA vertical at