We are unveiling a new pregame series at Project Spurs, where Quixem Ramirez dives into the Spurs' opposing team's SportVU data, mostly because he has no life. SportVU, powered by cameral technology in all 29 NBA arenas, tracks miles per hour, distance traveled, touches, where they touched the ball, how long they touch the ball, and lots of other basketball minutia.
Today's team: the New Orleans Pelicans. DISCLAIMER: If you do not like numbers, do not read ahead.
Anthony Davis has been the best player in the league. (Seriously.)
LeBron James's Player Efficiency Rating has dipped to a meager 29.3 thus far, which is second in the NBA. He's led the league in PER for six consecutive seasons. He's pretty decent at basketball.
Anthony Davis is just playing better.
Davis' 29.9 PER barely edges James, though it will likely regress to a less ridiculous amount. But still. Davis' production is very real. The dude is turning 21 in four months, and he's already grasped the nuances of NBA defense, while adding a semi-reliable shot from 10-18 feet.
How good has he been? Well, I'm glad you asked, hypothetical reader.
He's good at defense.
Only Roy Hibbert is blocking more shots per game than Davis, who has tallied 47 blocks in 12 games (3.9 per game). But unlike Hibbert, Davis is quick enough to create steals, so let's add 23 steals to Davis' tally. In total, Davis is averaging nearly six steals and blocks combined per game.
Let's just say, for simplicity's sake, Davis is averaging four blocks and two steals per game. (He only needs five blocks and three steals tonight to average four blocks and two steals. I say "only" because he's a freak.)
David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon are the only players in NBA history who have reached those benchmarks for an entire season. They only accomplished the feat once. Davis will have accomplished this feat in his second season if he keeps this pace up.
But steals and blocks are not necessarily indicative of "good defense." DeJuan Blair is averaging about two steals per game, but Dallas is still four points per 100 possessions worse defensively when he's on the floor.
Davis can protect the rim too, even when he's not blocking shots. Opponents have made 27 of 67 shots (40.3 percent) within five feet of the rim when he's defending, according to SportVU. Though New Orleans is a pretty mediocre defense individually, they have approximated a top 10 defense in Davis' minutes (101.7 points/100) — a massive improvement from their defensive efficiency when Davis sits (106.0).
He's good at rebounding, too.
Davis is averaging 11 rebounds per game, the fifth highest mark in the NBA. Here's the thing: He's just 16th in rebound chances per game.
What does that mean? Davis is making the most of his opportunities. He's converted 69.3 percent of his chances into rebounds, and 60 of his 132 rebounds have been "contested" according to SportVU. Davis is in the top seven in both rebounding percentage and contested rebounds.
For the most part, Davis, criticized for his lanky frame, has tussled with the big boys successfully.
He's not too shabby on offense either.
Davis is touching the ball about 51 times per game, according to SportVU — 10 of which occur from the elbow or within 12 feet of the basket.
New Orleans' offense has been very, very good this season, and Davis is likely an important reason. They are seventh in points per possession, a year after finishing 16th. (This is a very different team, to be fair).
He's a force in pick-and-rolls — especially on dives to the rim, because Davis attracts the attention of several help defenders, which precipitates dangerous play action elsewhere. Davis is a good enough shooter from outside 10 feet to warrant some defensive attention, too.
Davis is taking seven shots in the restricted area per game. Seven per game. And when he isn't taking a super efficient shot, looks he's making two-thirds of the time, Davis is getting to the foul line.
Davis' field goal percentage is actually lower this season, but that doesn't matter much when he's taking seven free throws per game. Davis also happens to be the very rare big man that doesn't completely suck at the line. He's a 84 percent foul shooter currently.
Among players averaging 50 or more touches per game, Davis is first in points per half court touch, averaging 0.68 points every time he touches the ball on New Orleans' side of the floor.
Kevin Durant and LeBron are the only players I'd take over Davis for the next five seasons. And that may be a discussion very soon.
Some random non-Davis tidbits.
There happens to be other players on this roster, too. Apparently.
The Pellies pried away restricted free agent Tyreke Evans from the Kings, inking him for four-years, $44 million. Has he been worth it?
Evans is driving to the hoop 7.5 times per game according to SportVU. He's made 38.9 percent of his shot attempts on drives, amounting to 0.57 points per drive. Not very good. But the Pellies are scoring nine points per game because of his drives, so even though Evans is not finishing, his drives have generally resulted in something positive. New Orleans has been equally good with Evans on the floor. I guess that's worth $11 million a year.
New Orleans' starting lineup.
New Orleans' starting lineup (Holiday-Gordon-Aminu-Davis-Smith) has logged 160 minutes this season. They've outscored their opponents by 8.1 points per 100 possessions, the seventh highest net rating among lineups with at least 100 minutes.
The Davis-Anderson pairing has been dramatically better.
This did not work out last season. In the 691 minutes Davis and Ryan Anderson shared the floor, they were outscored by 112 points. It failed because Davis can't bang with bigger bodies consistently. The spacing is awesome, but New Orleans hemorrhaged an un-godly amount of points (115 per 100 possessions), because they had no rim protection.
Davis is playing more with Jason Smith this season, alleviating his defensive burden.
Anderson missed the first nine games of the season with a broken toe in his right foot. In the three games he's played, all off the bench, Anderson has played a whopping 53 minutes with Davis, despite it's well-documented struggles.
They've blitzed their opponents by 37 points in these minutes. It's not sustainable — New Orleans would lead the league in pace, rebounding percentage, field goal percentage and net rating by a country mile — but it's a marked improvement from last season.