Cousins To Davis Is Full Of Potential

Several weeks ago, the New Orleans Pelicans traded for DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins. The idea is simple: putting Cousins next to Anthony Davis gives the Pelicans, arguably, one of the most talented frontcourts in NBA history, and from that foundation, only good things can happen.

“Good things have not happened,” said the Arrested Development voiceover.

Boogie and AD have played 10 games together thus far and have gone 4-6. One of those four wins came in a game that Boogie didn’t play (he was suspended one game after getting whistled for his 18th technical foul resulting in automatically missing his next game). This means that practically speaking, the Pelicans are 3-6 since pairing Boogie with Davis. Those performances have been ugly, as the team has gone from having one source of incredible gravity (Davis) to having two of them and the team hasn’t immediately adjusted perfectly.

This has lead to people wondering if the trade was wrong-headed, and if what we’re witnessing is the beginning of an incredible disaster. Or, for those who have ever spent any time watching the Pelicans, the worsening of an ongoing disaster.

Here’s the thing though:

That’s Boogie Cousins throwing a perfect pass from beyond the three-point line to a cutting Anthony Davis, who, while spinning, catches it mid-air and throws it down. Put aside how awesome that dunk is – but, seriously, that dunk is awesome – and focus instead on the idea of a 6’11” hulk throwing alley-oops to a cutting 6’10” scythe.

“That’s great!” might be the reply, “But how often can they do that?”

Because our modern times demand that we rush to drawing immediate conclusions – which is obviously a good and healthy thing for all of us – the thought continues to be that this isn’t going to work out. But basketball players, even professional ones, do not adjust to one another immediately.

Anybody who has ever played the game knows this. I’ll take five guys who know each other over five strangers in any pick-up game we can imagine, not because those five strangers are necessarily worse players, but simply because they do not have the familiarity with each others’ games. Cousins and AD are both incredible players (and they both went to Kentucky) but that being true does not mean that they are capable of being immediately incredible players when it comes to working with one another on the basketball court.

But acknowledging this lack of an immediate gel does not then necessarily mean that they are incapable of ever achieving that greatness. It simply means that such cohesion takes time. Players have to learn what their teammates want and how they want to get it.*

So let’s revisit last night’s alley-oop. Cousins, the biggest player on the floor and the one being guarded by Portland’s Meyers Leonard, is at the top of the arc. Leonard having followed Cousins out to the three-point line opens up the lane for activity. Meanwhile, Portland’s monstrous Jusuf Nurkic is guarding Davis out on the baseline. This is the beginning of a problem, as Nurkic, while great, is huge and slow and fundamentally incapable of sticking with a cutting Davis. So now the Portland defense has to pick its poison: it can clear out the lane to keep players on Cousins and Davis (both of whom are competent shooters) or it can pack the lane to prevent what is about to happen. It chooses the former, both Cousins and Davis recognize this, and both are savvy enough to immediately take advantage of the opportunity.

It should be acknowledged that Portland’s defense is laughably bad, that Leonard and Nurkic are “defenders” in as much as they’re both on the court in jerseys for the team without the ball, and that other teams will be more defensively competent. But the point is that Cousins, with the ball beyond the three-point line, and Davis, in position along the baseline, realized what was available, realized what each were capable of, and realized how to make it happen. This is what happens as players slowly become accustomed to one another. This is what the Pelicans are hoping for.

Critics who declared that the Pelicans missing the playoffs this year were evidence that the Cousins/Davis pairing was doomed to failure are, frankly, missing the point. The rest of this season is about getting these two players familiar with one another. Next season is about figuring out if it can actually work, especially if New Orleans makes some practical personnel moves that put the sorts of players around Cousins/Davis that might make the team a more cohesive whole.

 

*In this, basketball is very similar to other activities involving human beings including…cooking each other dinner. Ahem.

Pelicans Win! Knicks Lose Twice! Basketball!

Last night’s Pelicans-Knicks matchup – overshadowed by far bigger sporting events – was nightmarish for three reasons. One, it featured Anthony Davis’s big night being cut short. Two, it featured the Knicks collectively refusing to get the ball to its best player. Three, the absence of the player perceived as the Knicks’ weakest link, Derrick Rose, wasn’t the problem.

Let’s do this!

Anthony Davis Has Big Night Cut Short

This website exists for many reasons – basketball is great! – but one of them is celebrating players who absolutely go off. So when those players are cut-off midstream (as Klay Thompson was after getting to 60 through three quarters), this website recoils in horror. Players going off is cool.

Davis posted his second-straight Anthony Davis last night (his seventh of the season), and in only 29 minutes, he had put up 40pts/18rbs. The game at that point wasn’t particularly close, so he might have only gotten a few more minutes of run, so maybe he posts a 45/23. But New York’s Kyle O’Quinn, having already spent his time on the floor getting abused by Davis, responded with something between a hard foul and an outright cheapshot. The hit sent Davis clattering into the first row, ending his night prematurely. The foul is here:

Whether or not it was dirty is really beside the point. But O’Quinn and the Knicks, who already play borderline unwatchable basketball, took the only interesting part of the game out of it, robbing viewers of the opportunity to see Davis finish his spectacular night.

The Knicks Freeze Out Kristaps Porzingis

One of the Knicks ongoing subplots has been the rise of Kristaps Porzingis. That dude is the team’s future, and by most accounts, he should be its present too. But with bigger names on the team still demanding their slice of the pie – Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose apparently sacrifice shots for no man – Porzingis has constantly had to play third-fiddle.

It’s tempting to reduce the situation to shot attempts. The Knicks are better when Porzingis shoots more; the team is worse when he doesn’t. It seems obvious then that Jeff Hornacek’s dry-erase board should be nothing more than a tally-board of Porzingis’s shot attempts, and whenever that number isn’t high enough, he calls in plays like, “Get Porzingis the goddamned ball so he can shoot it!” and “I swear to god if Porzingis doesn’t shoot it this time, you’re all getting benched!”

Instead, he oversaw a scenario in which two players shot the ball more than Porzingis did. The first one of those players is obvious: Carmelo Anthony. He’s the team’s workhorse, its best-paid player, its alleged everything, even at 32 with his best years almost certainly behind him. But the second of those players is not obvious: Brandon Jennings.

Jennings took 14 shots last night, one more than Porzingis, and it should be noted that he was shooting better than the Latvian. Porzingis only managed 9 points on a paltry 3/13 from the field. He was having an off-night. But Jennings is a bench-player who only got the start because Derrick Rose (we will get to this) disappeared before the game began. As a result, Jennings picked up the spot-start, and apparently concluded almost immediately that he should shoot the ball at least as often as the team’s future. That’s a wild conclusion to draw!

Derrick Rose Disappears

But Jennings was only in there because of Rose. The league’s former-MVP had literally disappeared prior to tip-off, after apparently absconding home to Chicago for reasons that remain unclear. (Update: He claims he was with family.) Critics are predictably furious and the Knicks, in as Knicksian a fashion as is possible, has been fined and reprimanded, which is precisely the thing to do when players disappear just before tip-off. But this tempest in a teapot is missing the bigger point: Rose* isn’t the player he used to be.

He clearly thinks otherwise. He is shooting as much as ever but his assists are down. He is plainly desperate to recapture whatever it was that he had before his knees turned into paper mache, even if that means refusing to get the ball to the Latvian that it ought to be going to. All of this makes a certain sort of sense in the modern NBA. Rose’s shelf life is remarkably limited, and is even moreso after his injuries. His obligation is to maximize his earning potential in the very small window he has for doing so.

But the Knicks obligation is, presumably, not to enable Rose’s wildass delusions of grandeur. Somebody somewhere has to intervene with him to declare that enough is enough when it comes to his voluminous offense and its underwhelming return. He is being paid at least in part to distribute the ball, and if he continues refusing to do so, the team has to deal with that for its own future.

More On The Anthony Davis

Anthony Davis notched his fifth Anthony Davis last night in a loss to the Dallas Mavericks. For those wondering, an Anthony Davis is one when player’s summed counting stats (points/rebounds/assists/blocks/steals) exceeds the total of his four starting teammates’ counting stats. Davis’s 34/13/4/2/1 total of 54 easily topped his four teammates’…uhh, let’s say unimpressive…19/15/6/4/2 total of 46. That it took those teammates a combined 102 minutes of playing time to deliver (substantially) less than Davis did in his 40 minutes is the icing on a cake that was left in the oven under the broiler for six hours.

The New Orleans Pelicants are 1-4 in games when Davis manages to do this, suggesting that an Anthony Davis might be less about what a player is doing and more about the underwhelming contributions of the teammates around him.

One tempting conclusion is that Davis’s production is easy given how bad his teammates are. If there is nobody else worth giving the ball to, after all, it becomes much easier to collect statistics. But FiveThirtyEight’s Chris Herring showed that Davis’s production for a team as bad as the Pelicants is simply unprecedented. It isn’t that he is a great player on a bad team. It is that he is a great player on an unbelievably bad team.

This is not ideal.

For the season, Davis is (as of this morning) averaging a 49.3 summed total of his counting statistics. Last night’s other four starting Pelicants (Solomon Hill, Omer Asik, Tim Frazier, and E’Twaun Moore) collectively average 64.9. This means that in last night’s game, those four barely managed to deliver 70 percent of their average, leaving Davis’s 109 percent to whither on the vine.

It is tempting to believe that the Pelicans’ opponents might have realized that they can let Davis get his while simply defending his teammates straight-up, although that Herring article also notes that Davis is drawing more double-teams this season, and that Davis has nowhere to go when they do, owing to the team’s abysmal shooting numbers.  It is also tempting to conclude that the Pelicants, although improved slightly since Jrue Holiday’s return, are a criminally assembled team whose GM should be investigated for point-shaving.

An Anthony Davis, The Statistic

Back to the Anthony Davis itself. The idea of a single player outperforming the entirety of his starting lineup is a curious one, especially in a game like basketball, wherein so much of what one player produces relies upon his teammates. The Anthony Davis, by comparison, requires teammates to fail at doing anything, while one player (seemingly), does everything. Here are some illustrations of the phenomenon:

Quadruple-Doubles

It might be appealing to imagine that quadruple-doubles (an exceedingly rare statistical phenomenon, as they have only have happened four times in league history, and each obviously involve significant statistical output from a single player.

But no.

Alvin Robertson’s 20/11/10/10/0 line gave him 51. His four starting teammates had him beat with points alone (they scored 73 between them).

Hakeem Olajuwon’s 18/16/10/1/11 gave him a 56. His four starting teammates again had him beat on points alone (they scored 65 between them).

David Robinson’s 34/10/10/2/10 gave him a 66. His four starting teammates did not beat him on scoring (they scored 49 between them) but Dennis Rodman’s 22 rebounds put them collectively over the top.

Triple-Doubles

Triple-Doubles also imply a statistical binge, but they tend to allow a player to emphasize more within a single area. Note that the best total of the three listed above is Robinson’s 66. We can do better than that. And here we finally start to find some examples of other Anthony Davises.

But first, a few that came up short:

Shaquille O’Neal posted a 24/28/3/1/15 for a 71. His teammates got 109.

LeBron James posted a 52/9/11/0/2 for a 74. His teammates got a 76.

Needless to say, it seems as though players – generally speaking – need to put up an absolutely outrageous total to overwhelm their teammates. Or their teammates need to have really, really bad nights. That also works. Or, in the case of the next example, both.

Russell Westbrook got an Anthony Davis in 2015 after putting up a 49/15/10/3/1 for an absurd 78. His teammates managed a 27 (and should have gently put down after having been hit on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper).

Outrageous Individual Performances

Finally, there is the surest way to generate one – score an epic amount of points. It should surprise nobody that some of the NBA’s highest scoring games (in the modern age) have been enough to generate Anthony Davises.

David Robinson’s 92 in 1994 (71/14/5/0/2) was good enough against teammates’s 73.

And Kobe Bryant’s 93 in 2006 (he posted a crazy-to-look-at 81/6/2/3/1 ) was just enough against his teammates’ 91.

Conclusion

The possibility was floated earlier that getting an Anthony Davis is less about a player’s good play, and more about his teammates’ bad play. But in each of the three examples above, the players who got them put up absurdly good numbers, and only one of those three involves starting teammates apparently unaware that the game had actually begun.

Note that the three game totals necessary were a 78, a 92, and a 93. Surely, there are more of these unicorns to find. But here is the thing to consider when looking at Anthony Davis having earned five Anthony Davis’s this year:

  • Two of his totals have been eye-popping: 79 and 69 (nice).
  • Three of his totals have been…not very outrageous at all: 54, 47, and 46 (!).

Which means that what we’re seeing with Davis is two things. The first is that he is a very good player. The second is that, when things go bad with his teammates, they go bad in shockingly bad way.

 

 

Anthony Davis Nearly Notches His Fifth Anthony Davis

The New Orleans Pelicans beat the Portland Trailblazers last night. This is cause for celebration, as the New Orleans Pelicans are an almost impossibly awful team run by a GM who may not, technically speaking, be alive. The team’s only bright spot is Anthony Davis, a player whose potential to be one of the best players in NBA history is equaled only by the potential for him to literally choke a teammate to death in the middle of the game.

Here are some things that are designed to better explain the situation in New Orleans:

  1. Imagine the most perfectly prepared steak in the entire world. Now imagine it sitting in a bowl of week-old Cream of Wheat.
  2. Imagine sitting behind the wheel of the world’s most finely tuned automobile. Now imagine that its wheels were all flat.
  3. Imagine the birth of your first child. Now imagine that it is one of five, and the other four are all terrible at basketball.

Part of what’s going on is injuries. The Pelicans’ practice facility was built on a cursed graveyard that was itself built on top of a cursed graveyard that it was itself built on top of a cursed graveyard. That’s three layers of curse and as we all know, curses work exponentially. That practice facility is cursed cubed. No matter what the Pelicans do, they cannot keep players healthy. This is not entirely the fault of the organization; injuries are a part of the game and have to be proactively dealt with.

The other part of what is going on is a terrible roster construction. Anthony Davis is surrounded by players who, even when fully healthy, are a weird assortment of skills and abilities, none seemingly designed to compliment anybody else. Tyreke Evans both refuses to distribute the ball and to acknowledge that he has a much better player on his team. Tim Frazier does distribute the ball but there are no shooters waiting to catch it. Omer Asik is a rebounder whose hands have calcified into enormous hunks of stone.

Not surprisingly, the Pelicans are 3-10, with no real indication that they are about to become the playoff contender that they were in 2014/2015. It seems quite likely that Davis – who is in New Orleans for the long haul, after signing a lengthy and lucrative contract extension with the team in 2015 – will again watch the postseason from the sidelines. This is criminal.

If all of this wasn’t convincing enough, Anthony Davis has taken to notching a statistical achievement that will be known, from here on out, as an Anthony Davis. Think here of the 5-5-5-5-5 game, sometime called a Kirilenko, after Andrei Kirilenko, a lengthy Russian who achieved three of them in his career (even though, as with most basketball things, the 5-5-5-5-5 game should be called an Olajuwon, after Hakeem Olajuwon, who managed six of them). Anyway, the 5-5-5-5-5 game involves a player getting at least five of each of the counting categories: points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. What we can take from a 5-5-5-5-5 game is that we have a player contributing, literally, everywhere, and in all of the imaginable ways too.

The Anthony Davis is slightly different. Rather than focusing on what a single player is doing, the Anthony Davis focuses both on what that player is doing, and what his good-for-nothing starting teammates are doing. To notch an Anthony Davis, a player’s production of summed counting stats (points+rebounds+assists+steals+blocks) must be superior to his four teammates’s summed counting stats (all of their points+rebounds+assists+steals+blocks).

Last night, Davis just missed achieving an Anthony Davis. He totaled 38pts/9rbs/6ast/2stl/4blk, or 59 total. His starting teammates managed 29pts/14rbs/13ast/2stl/3blk, or 61 total. Keep in mind that Davis’s output took him 37 minutes. His teammates needed 103 combined minutes to just barely eke by him.

“That doesn’t seem great,” you’re thinking, because there is only one Anthony Davis, and there are four of his teammates, and they played almost three times as much as he did, and, in fact, a scenario in which a player notches an Anthony Davis is generally a nightmare. At least the Pelicans won.

That’s more than they can say for three of the four times this season that Davis did achieve an Anthony Davis.

In a win over the Celtics, Davis’s 47 beat his starting teammates’ 44. (His starting teammates played 86 total minutes to his 38 minutes.)

In a loss to the Lakers, Davis’s 46 beat his starting teammates’ 43. (His starting teammates played 84 total minutes to his 34 minutes.)

In a loss to the the Warriors, Davis’s 69 (nice) beat his teammates’ 65. (His starting teammates played 92 total minutes to his 40 minutes.)

And in a season-opening loss to Denver, Davis’s absolutely immaculate 79 beat his teammates’ 62. (His starting teammates played 109 minutes to his 41 minutes.)

The Anthony Davis is hardly a refined statistic. Nothing involving simple arithmetic and looking at a box-score can be. But it remains an appalling testament to what an otherworldly player can achieve when surrounded by four tackling dummies full of wet sand. It is also, unfortunately, the kind of statistic that can likely be abused if placed into the wrong hands. It is possible to imagine hot-takers screaming bloody murder about a player notching an Anthony Davis having not done enough to get his teammates involved. Such a whinge might make sense in the case of a player who dominated the ball despite being bad at what he was doing. In the actual case of Anthony Davis’s Anthony Davises though, he is shooting almost fifty percent from the field and better than eighty percent from the line. He is notching this not because he is excluding himself, in other words – he is achieving this because he is absolutely the best (and only) option on the Pelicans’ roster.