Anthony Davis is coming off of the best season of his NBA career. In carrying the New Orleans Pelicans into the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference with averages of 28.1 points, 11.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game, the five-time All-Star was recognized as a finalist in Most Valuable Player and Defensive Player of the Year voting.
That sets Davis up well to do a number of things in 2018-19, one being leading the league in scoring.
Davis came close last season. The only player to finish the regular season ahead of him in that category was James Harden, who averaged a career-best 30.4 points per game. Harden is a threat to lead the league in scoring again - as is Russell Westbrook, LeBron James and Kevin Durant - but there are three reasons to believe Davis will come out on top for the first time in his career.
From his already well-rounded game to what the new members of the Pelicans bring to the table, let's take a look at each of them in detail.
Davis has the skills to do so
Davis is perhaps the most versatile big man currently in the NBA. A 20-plus point per game scorer since his sophomore season with the Pelicans, the Chicago native has developed into a dynamic player who can create offence with his back to the basket, space the floor as a roll man and shooter, get out in transition and finish plays around the basket at one of the highest rates in the league.
Further separating himself from other players at his position is Davis generates an almost identical amount of offence in each of those areas. According to NBA.com , he scored 4.0 points per game or more on post-ups, rolls, cuts and runouts in transition last season, as well as almost 3.0 points per game on spot-ups and putbacks.
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That gives Davis the tools to take whatever the defence gives him. If a smaller player switches onto him - something that happens frequently in today's switch-heavy NBA - he can attack the mismatch in the post . If a like-sized defender matches up with him, he can draw them out of the paint with his jump shot or take them off the dribble with his guard-like handle.
When combined with his ability to play off-ball, there isn't a power forward or center with as polished of a skill set as Davis.
Davis does all of his scoring without much fanfare, too. He had possession of the ball for an average of 1.92 seconds per touch last season, the second-lowest rate among players who scored at least 20 points per game. His decisiveness makes him one of the easier superstars in the league to build around because he doesn't need to dominate the ball to get his numbers, although one move this summer could lead to more of the offence running through him next season...
DeMarcus Cousins is no longer in New Orleans
Davis and Cousins shared the floor for 26.1 minutes per game last season. In those minutes, Cousins was involved in far more plays than Davis, posting a usage rate of 29.0 percent when they were on the court together compared to 25.2 percent for his All-Star teammate.
Then Cousins went down with a season-ending injury and Davis put the Pelicans on his back to keep their postseason dreams alive. Not only did he have the third-highest usage rating in the league from Jan. 27 onwards, Davis led the way in points per game, field goals made per game and field goal attempts per game. He also finished fourth in free throws made and attempted per game during that stretch.
Davis was just as much of a force in the playoffs. He averaged 33.0 points per game in the first round against the Portland Trail Blazers and 27.8 points per game in the second round against the Golden State Warriors. The only player to finish the postseason with a higher scoring average was LeBron James.
It'll be much harder for Davis to sustain those types of numbers for an entire regular season, but letting Cousins walk in free agency gives the Pelicans an opportunity to put a team around him that can maximize his strengths. A lot of their success in the playoffs came from them doing just that, as their most-used lineup featured Davis at center with Rajon Rondo, Jrue Holiday, E'Twaun Moore and Nikola Mirotic surrounding him.
With Rondo and Holiday being strong playmakers and Moore and Mirotic being knockdown 3-point shooters, it opened up the paint for Davis to shine as a roll man and cutter.
Boogie's departure paves the way for Davis to spend more time at center next season, where he was at his best last season. It helps that the Pelicans made signings this offseason that should help, not hinder, him in that role.
The new additions should complement Davis
In place of Rondo next season will be Elfrid Payton, a 24-year-old who brings a similar pass-first approach as the Pelicans' starting point guard last season. In place of Cousins will be Julius Randle, a bully ball power forward who has proven he create offence for himself and others.
The Pelicans signed Payton and Randle in the hope that they can help the team build on its success in the second half of 2017-18, particularly in the open court , where Payton and Randle thrive. Both players are capable of grabbing-and-going, which will enable Davis (and others) to focus on running the floor following missed shots and turnovers.
Randle was the better scorer of the two in transition last season, but many of Payton's assists came from him pushing the pace. In a system that better aligns with his strengths, it shouldn't take long for Payton to develop chemistry with Davis.
The Pelicans will need to play at a high tempo when Payton and Randle are on the court at the same time to make up for their weaknesses. With neither being big time threats to score outside the paint - Payton has converted 29.8 percent of his 3-point attempts in his NBA career and Randle made only 32 shots outside the paint last season - New Orleans will likely struggle to generate consistent offence in the halfcourt, even with Davis playing at an MVP level.
Fortunately for the Pelicans, they now have the personnel to throw different looks at team. Whereas lineups built around Payton, Randle and Davis will look to run defences off the court, ones built around Holiday, Mirotic and Davis will look to space them out with their 3-point shooting.
Which one Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry chooses to play more in a given game will likely depend on the opponent, but it positions Davis well to lead the league in scoring either way.
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