There’s no way around it – Anthony Davis is an absolute stud. The All-Star power forward is off to a sensational start this season, averaging 31.6 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2.4 steals, and 3.0 blocks through five games. The only problem? The Pelicans are 0-5 in those games, last in the Western Conference. After sneaking into the playoffs two seasons ago, the Pelicans were dreadful last year and are clearly off to another horrible start in 2016-17. With 23 year old Anthony Davis performing at a superstar level, the Pelicans need to start building a winning team around him. Fast.
Davis’ current contract takes him through 2021, so they don’t need to worry about him bolting as a free agent just yet; however, they must take advantage of his youth and dominance before they’re left with a disgruntled superstar looking to leave New Orleans (I’m looking directly at you, Chris Paul). No one who follows the NBA, especially Pelicans fans, want to see a young superstar play on a non-competitive team year in and year out. It’s time for the Pelicans to build a roster around Davis that is built to win in the modern NBA.
The Pelicans Struggle to Build Around Anthony Davis
The starting lineup surrounding Davis so far this season has consisted of Tim Frazier (who?), E’Twaun Moore (I repeat – who?), Solomon Hill (Yes, the dude who signed a $52 million contract despite averaging just 6.0 points per game in his career), and Dante Cunningham, whose skill set and talent ability scream backup power forward. To put it lightly, the supporting cast around Davis is atrocious. The only positive thing coming from this starting lineup is that it seems the Pelicans are finally willing to declare Anthony Davis as their starting center. With the game shifting away from a traditional two big man lineup, this adjustment from the power forward slot has been long overdo.
Granted, the Pelicans let Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson walk in free agency to the Houston Rockets, and Tyreke Evans (knee injury) and Jrue Holiday are out indefinitely. Holiday is away from the team spending time with his ill wife, which by the way is a devastating situation, worth reading up on if you haven’t already. However, what is the front office’s plan to construct a roster around Davis? Even when healthy and with the team, Evans and Holiday are not long term solutions at this point.
Shooting and Defensive Versatility
With the modern form of the game, the two skills that are valued more highly than ever are shooting and defensive versatility. There’s no secret that the sheer volume of three point shooting has increased tremendously the past few years, and defensive versatility has been an extremely valuable tool to disrupting the flow of offenses. Coaches covet players who can guard Draymond Green one on one, while also being able to switch on to Stephen Curry and contain him if need be. Teams like the Warriors feast on mismatches when their quicker guards are matched up against slower big men.
Those two skills – shooting and defensive versatility – are fairly nonexistent on the Pelicans roster. Overreacting to statistics five games into the season is often foolish, but the fact that the Pelicans rank 29th in the NBA with a 26% three point field goal percentage is telling. They lost their two best three point shooters from last season – Anderson and Gordon – while replacing them with players like Lance Stephenson (30.6% career three point shooter) and Terrence Jones (30.7% career three point shooter). The departures of Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson are clearly missed from beyond the arc.
The only two players on the current roster who fit the bill as a shooter and/or versatile defender are rookie Buddy Hield and swingman Solomon Hill. Hield isn’t known for his defense, but the sixth overall pick out of Oklahoma should develop into an elite three point shooter and above average scorer. Hill on the other hand provides defensive versatility. He is a capable shooter, yet at 6’7”, 225 lbs., he can guard three positions defensively.
It’s Time to Adopt Small Ball
In the modern pace and space offense, the strategy of having two big men clogging up the lane is dead. Even the grit-and-grind Memphis Grizzlies are shying away from the strategy that has brought the franchise to six consecutive playoff appearances. New coach David Fizdale has made the decision to bring Zach Randolph off the bench, running the offense through their perimeter players more so than through Randolph and Marc Gasol in the post.
For the Pelicans, playing Omer Asik next to Anthony Davis is no longer a viable option. While a great rim protector, Asik provides next to nothing offensively, taking up valuable room in the paint instead of extending defenders to the perimeter.
There is undoubtedly a lack of talent on the current roster, which has contributed to the Pelicans struggles. Moving forwards, New Orleans will need to find the right type of talent to put alongside their franchise player. Lining Davis up next to a traditional defensive-minded center (Asik), ball dominant guard who can’t extend out to the three point line (Stephenson), and an undersized point guard who doesn’t shoot threes all that well (Frazier) is NOT the answer. When your best three point shooter on the season is Dante Cunningham, who has averaged 1.2 threes per game at a 37.5% clip, there is clearly an issue.
Davis needs to be surrounded by three or four shooters, opening up the floor and allowing Alvin Gentry‘s offensive system to thrive. Gentry served as the head coach of the Steve Nash-led Phoenix Suns and more recently as an assistant coach on the Golden State Warriors, the two teams that pioneered the free-flowing, high paced, and shooting heavy offense that has come to dominate professional basketball. Give Gentry the right players around Davis, and he will produce results.
The Pelicans don’t need to rebuild; they simply need to retool. Find players who can help Davis on the defensive end while also finding players who can be counted on to knock down shots from the perimeter. Play at a high place, and let “The Brow” put his freakish athleticism on full display.
Anthony Davis is a special talent – the Pelicans better not waste the golden opportunity that comes with having such a transcendent young player on your team. It’s time to shake up the roster in the Big Easy.