Can we now stop calling Davis a top-five player?
Top-five players elevate teams by themselves. Top-five players assure their teams of 50 wins and playoff berths, regardless of circumstances. Top-five players don’t say, “We are a better team than our record indicates.”
Last season, Davis became the NBA’s next big thing. He had a historic PER and was named First Team All-NBA while leading the Pelicans to 45 wins and their first playoff berth in four years.
In the offseason, Davis was rewarded with a five-year contract extension that could be worth roughly $145 million when all the dust settles. He became a trendy pick for MVP. And with a taste of the postseason and a new coach from the staff of the defending champs, everybody said: “Watch out for the Pelicans.”
Just ask new coach Alvin Gentry, who must be wondering why he left Golden State.
“Terrible, terrible, bad effort, not playing hard, not giving a damn,” he said after a loss to Phoenix this week. “That is the way I want to sum it up.”
Sunday’s win in Denver moved the Pelicans to 8-19, which is 14th in the Western Conference and 27th in the NBA. They are one game better than the directionless Brooklyn Nets and three games worse than the Nuggets, Sacramento Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves. Think the Milwaukee Bucks have been a disappointment this season? They have a better record than the Pelicans.
Yes, the Pelicans have had to incorporate new schemes that come with a new coach. They have had more than their share of injuries. Their schedule has been road-heavy thus far. But you can put the violin away now, because they also have Davis. An alpha dog. A franchise player. A transformational talent, by many accounts.
If Davis was all or any of those things, he would have prevented a 1-11 start. He would be doing something about a defense that is dead last in points allowed and defensive rating and 27th in opponents’ shooting. He would be demanding the ball instead of watching lesser teammates go for theirs.
“We will play great defensively and then they get an offensive rebound,” Davis said. “Or we come down, swing the ball around, and get a good shot (and) next time we don’t do that.”
Sometimes it looks like Davis doesn’t know that the Pelicans are his team and he’s the guy who is supposed to prevent those sorts of things. Maybe he is blissfully unaware. Maybe it is not part of his personality. Maybe at 22, he is just too young.
Or maybe way too many folks got way too excited way too quickly.
Last season, Davis was fourth in scoring, eighth in rebounding and first in blocks. He also had a 30.81 PER, marking just the 18th time in NBA history someone has cleared 30. Those who have done it before him include Michael Jordan (4 times), Wilt Chamberlain (3) and Shaquille O’Neal (3). The only other active players who have done it are LeBron James (4) and Dwyane Wade (1).
Davis also pushed the Pelicans into the playoffs. They were swept by eventual champion Golden State, but Davis acquitted himself nicely in his first postseason, averaging 31.5 points, 11.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks.
Given his precocious display, it was natural for folks to go overboard in projecting a ceiling for Davis. But maybe that was it. He is still among the league leaders in scoring, rebounding and blocks but his PER is down to 24.8 – still excellent but not otherworldly. The six-point drop can be attributed to two categories – shooting and defending.
Last season, Davis shot 53.5 percent virtually without the use of the arc (1-of-12) and had a defensive rating of 100, both among the league leaders. This season, Davis is shooting 48.6 percent, which includes a 13-of-42 mark from deep and a paltry 27 percent on shots from 10-16 feet. Meanwhile, his defensive rating has climbed to 105, just two points better than acclaimed turnstile James Harden.
This is not to say that Davis is not a great player, which he is. He is certainly an All-Star and an All-NBA candidate. His dropoff in shooting this season is probably best attributed to an attempt to grow his game and extend it to the arc. Individual defensive rating is not the be-all and end-all metric because it is impacted by which teammates share the court with you. And at his age, there is no GM who wouldn’t want the opportunity to build around Davis.
But Davis doesn’t control the game like Stephen Curry or LeBron James, who is still miles better than any other player. He doesn’t impose his indomitable will nearly as much as Durant and Westbrook. He isn’t as good as creating for others as Blake Griffin, who over the last year-plus has surpassed Chris Paul as his team’s most indispensible player.
And 8-19 is 8-19. Davis isn’t lifting an otherwise ordinary group anywhere near contention, which is what Paul George is doing in Indiana. Say what you want about Harden, who may appear to be the patsy of this piece. But a season ago, the Rockets had as many significant injuries as the Pelicans, and Harden led them to 56 wins and a trip to the conference finals.
Would you even take Davis over Kawhi Leonard right now?
There is no denying that Davis is an All-Star and an All-NBA candidate and will be for many years. But before we start talking about MVP awards and transformational talents and statistical comparisons to Wilt Chamberlain, it would be nice if Davis could show the leadership associated with top-five players and lift his team out of the lottery.
TRIVIA: Four active players have won a playoff game while with the Detroit Pistons. Who are they? Answer below.
THE END OF CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT: Justin Bieber was baptized in Tyson Chandler’s bathtub. Are you finished rubbing your eyes yet? OK. Justin Bieber was baptized in Tyson Chandler’s bathtub.
“Everybody wants a nice cooked steak, but nobody wants to see you chopping up the cows in the back. The last five or six months, Parsons has been in the back butchering the cows — that’s the kind of work he’s had to do.”
TANKS A LOT!: If the Philadelphia 76ers lose to Memphis on Tuesday, they will have dropped 39 of 40 games dating to last season. None of the previous 70-loss teams had a stretch of 39 losses in 40 games. “I sit on the sideline sometimes thinking I’m crying too much for fouls,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “You go back and look at it and they’re not fouls. We get overwhelmed. There’s a physical side right now we are lacking.”
LINE OF THE WEEK: Klay Thompson, Golden State vs. Phoenix, Dec. 16: 31 minutes, 15-22 FGs, 8-13 3-pointers, 5-5 FTs, three rebounds, two assists, one steal, one turnover, 43 points in a 128-103 win. One of the strange things about Golden State’s record-breaking winning streak to start the season was that Thompson never really caught fire. Not anymore. In the third quarter, Thompson scored 27 points on 9-of-11 shooting, including 4-of-6 from the arc, recalling his NBA record 37-point third period from last season.
LINE OF THE WEAK: C.J. Miles, Indiana at Memphis, Dec. 19: 24 minutes, 0-9 FGs, 0-5 3-pointers, 0-0 FTs, three rebounds, zero assists, zero steals, zero blocks, three turnovers, zero points in a 96-84 loss. Miles has been a key component for the Pacers this season, shooting nearly 41 percent from the arc while spending some minutes at power forward in Indiana’s small lineups. But the first donut of the season from the 15-point scorer probably cost the Pacers the game.
TRILLION WATCH: It was a rather ordinary week, although we had someone crash the season leaderboard. Bucks forward Damien Inglis had a 2 trillion Tuesday at the Lakers, Spurs forward Rasual Butler had a 3 trillion Wednesday vs. Washington and Pelicans guard Ish Smith had a 3 trillion Sunday at Denver. But the best lack of effort for the week came from Mavericks forward Jeremy Evans, whose 6 trillion Wednesday at Indiana made him the eighth player this season with at least a 5 trillion. Honorable mention to Timberwolves forward Damjan Rudez, who ruined an 11 trillion with a foul Tuesday at Denver.
GAME OF THE WEEK: Cleveland at Golden State, Dec. 25. Last June, LeBron James somehow twice beat the Warriors virtually by himself. Golden State has lost just one game since. In this NBA Finals rematch and possible NBA Finals preview, it is nice of Kyrie Irving to return for Cleveland and even things up a little bit.
GAME OF THE WEAK: Philadelphia at Milwaukee, Dec. 23. The squads have a combined 24 players 25 or younger, including 14 on Philadelphia. The Bucks don’t have their coach, as Jason Kidd needs hip surgery and is turning over the reins to Rand Paul lookalike Joe Prunty. The Sixers? Well, they don’t have a team.
TWO MINUTES: OK, I could play my first game in six months on national TV against human avalanche Russell Westbrook. Or I could wait three days and play against the league’s worst team and Kendall Marshall. Hmmn, lemme see. … Stephen Curry’s streak of games with at least one 3-pointer is now in triple figures. Curry got there in Friday’s revenge win over Milwaukee, when he went 2-of-6 from the arc. Curry has made at least two threes in every game this season and has been held to one 3-pointer just 10 times during the streak, going 1-of-10 twice: at Memphis on Dec. 16, 2014 and at Charlotte on Nov. 28. By contrast, Kyle Korver’s record 127-game streak included 30 games in which he made just one three. … Knicks rookie Kristaps Porzingis had matchups this week against Philadelphia’s Jahlil Okafor and Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, the two other top rookies this season. Porzingis lost both statistical battles, but the Knicks won both games. When Porzingis was asked to grade himself, teammate Kyle O’Quinn interjected, “He didn’t even go to school. He doesn’t know how the grading system works.” … The Bulls lost Friday – in four overtimes – despite having three players with at least 30 points. That has only happened a handful of times in NBA history, including Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game. … There was a report this week that representatives of Rockets guard Ty Lawson are inquiring about his trade value around the league. This season, Lawson has six donuts, or games where he went scoreless. He had seven in his previous five seasons in Denver. … Raptors forward Anthony Bennett was sent down to the D-League on Sunday, making him the first top overall pick to be demoted. Previously, the previous highest pick sent to the D-League was Hasheem Thabeet, selected second overall in 2009. … The Thunder are 18-9 overall but 8-0 when Kevin Durant takes 15 shots or less and 7-0 when Westbrook does the same. … Coaches are getting smarter about how to circumvent the rules and use intentional fouling in the last two minutes of quarters. The Clippers stole an overtime win in Detroit on Monday when they had J.J. Redick bear-hug Pistons center Andre Drummond on the second of two free throws by Jamal Crawford that cut the deficit to 93-91 with 25 seconds left in regulation. Because Redick was fouling a potential rebounder, that put Drummond on the line. He split the free throws, keeping it a one-possession game, and Redick forced overtime with a 3-pointer. “Redick fouls him while the ball is in the air, so they call it a loose ball foul and Andre goes down; he’s trying to rebound the ball, so he’s technically in the play. It’s my fault. I should have had him out of the game,” coach Stan Van Gundy said.
Trivia Answer: Arron Afflalo, Amir Johnson, Tayshaun Prince and Rodney Stuckey. … Happy 48th Birthday, Ervin “Not Magic” Johnson. … We wish a safe and happy holiday season to all of our readers.
Chris Bernucca is the managing editor of SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Monday during the season. You can follow him on Twitter.