Playing basketball at the highest level on two straight nights can take its toll on a team, and the New Orleans Pelicans are no exception. Though they fought hard in Chicago against the Bulls this past Saturday night, they were unable to hold onto their fourth quarter lead and lost 98-94.
They entered the fourth quarter up 6 points, but there was just not enough in the tank to make it through those last twelve minutes.
The Pelicans actually played one of their best defensive games of the season last night. They essentially shut down two of the Bulls top weapons in Jimmy Butler (4-16 from the field, 15 points) and Pau Gasol (6-15, 18 points).
Unfortunately, the great defense from the Pels was accompanied by way too many fouls being committed. They fouled 22 times to the Bulls’ 10, a number that could be slightly attributed to the game’s location, but ultimately was a result of a tired New Orleans team.
Dec 12, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler (21) shoots over New Orleans Pelicans center Alexis Ajinca (42) during the second half at the United Center. Chicago won 98-94. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
The result of these fouls was 24 free throw makes on 29 attempts for the Bulls, three times as many as the Pelicans, who made 8 on 11 attempts.
The Pels were bailed out in this respect on Friday night against the Wizards thanks to historically red-hot jump shooting. Although they did shoot a respectable 6-16 from deep, the Pelicans, specifically Anthony Davis, once again relied a bit too much on the mid-ranged jump shot.
Davis is already one of the most versatile players in the NBA.
His skill-set is growing everyday, and it seems like there is nothing he cannot do on a basketball court. On some nights, Davis has a tendency to become so caught up in what he can do instead of what he should do.
Last Saturday night in Chicago, was one of those nights.
Davis has added a solid mid-range jump shot to his arsenal over the last couple of seasons. Being able to knock down these shots from at or beyond the free throw line makes life hard for defenders who would rather cheat towards the basket to prevent an easy lay-in or dunk.
It is a great second option.
But when those perimeter shot attempts start to significantly outweigh shots near the basket, the efficiency more often than not starts to trend in the other direction.
Dec 12, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) is defended by Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson (22) during the first half at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
He was able to score 22 points this past Saturday night, but it came on 8-24 shooting.
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Sure, everybody has a bad shooting night every so often. But at least half of those 24 shot attempts were of the jumper variety, and that simply cannot be the case for someone as athletic as Anthony Davis.
He loves taking those shots, but he needs to focus on getting to the rim and keeping the jumper in his back pocket. Not only are those close range shots more efficient, but Anthony Davis can actually get to the rack better than most in the league.
This all boils down to confidence.
It’s great that Anthony Davis has confidence in that mid range shot, and he has justified it with above average execution. However, the shot selection is not only a product of confidence in his shot-making ability, but of his lack of confidence in his own well-being.
Anthony Davis has had his share of injury problems throughout his career. While nothing has been too serious his body has taken a beating, and most of that happens down in the low post.
It is there that he has shown how dominant he can be in this league, but it is also where he has been the most vulnerable. We have had to see Anthony Davis hobbling off of the court much too often after being down under the basket, something nobody including the big man himself enjoys.
Nov 25, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) reacts after suffering an injury against the Phoenix Suns in the second half at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Pelicans defeated the Suns 120-114. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
By sticking to his jumper, Anthony Davis can still get shots up and be a valuable offensive weapon without having to run the risk of putting his body in harm’s way. Some nights, he will get hot and carry the load for the Pelicans.
But he is not Dirk Nowitzki, a guy whose primary weapon has been that mid-ranged shot for almost two decades.
To be as great as the Pelicans need him to be, Anthony Davis needs to trust his body and his talent, and dominate the league from the paint. Everything else is just gravy.
If the Pelicans are ever going to get this season back on track, their upcoming road trip is the time to start.
Over the next two weeks they will stop in Portland, Utah, Phoenix, and Denver before a quick stop home to play Portland once again. Then, they head off to Miami for a primetime Christmas Day matinee.
A stellar month or so is all it will take for the Pels to get right back into the playoff hunt. And with a guy as talented as Anthony Davis at the helm, anything is possible……