There are many times when NBA fans will say a player has “no help” around him. Some famous examples are the 2006-07 Cleveland Cavaliers team that LeBron James led to the NBA Finals before getting swept by the San Antonio Spurs, the 2000-01 Philadelphia 76ers team that Allen Iverson took to the NBA Finals and five games against the Los Angeles Lakers, and the 2005-06 Los Angeles Lakers that Kobe Bryant led to the playoffs before getting beat by the Phoenix Suns in seven games. While there is a hint of truth in that these players all stood out as the definite alpha on both sides of the ball, the true drop off in talent between these leaders and the rest of their rosters were not as great as Anthony Davis currently faces with the rest of his Pelicans team.
Looking at the Pelicans, it is a bit of a surprise that Davis is not adequate receiving help. The roster features former all-star Jrue Holiday, former Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans, former Most Improved Player of the Year Lance Stephenson, and last year’s Wooden and Naismith Award winner and highly touted lottery pick Buddy Hield. New Orleans also has productive veterans on winning teams like E’Twaun Moore, Omer Asik, Alexis Ajinca, Terrence Jones, Solomon Hill, and Quincy Pondexter. There are also the players who were productive on lesser quality teams like Langston Galloway, Alonzo Gee, Tim Frazier, and Dante Cunningham. Overall, the Pelicans were supposed to have much more depth this season, yet despite historical levels of production from superstar Anthony Davis, the Pelicans are 0-3.
That is all those players have been this season; names. Holiday, Evans, and Pondexter were injured. Stephenson is playing decently off the bench, but still below average with only 12.0 points per 36 minutes in a sizable role off the bench. The two listed centers on New Orleans, Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca have combined for a flat out pathetic 3.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 0.7 assists, and 0.3 blocks on 36.3% shooting.
No one on New Orleans besides Davis has stood out in anyway this season, and the statistics show it. Davis not only leads the Pelicans in points, rebounds, steals, blocks, field goal percentage, offensive rating, defensive rating, PER, and win shares, but he is the the only player on this team producing at even an average level.
Losses to the Warriors and Spurs can be expected, but the 19 point margin of defeat against San Antonio without Tony Parker, and the loss to Denver are unbelievable with Davis’ insane levels of production. It really adds a whole new element of truth to the concept of a player “not having help” around him.
This is quite literally true. The win shares per 48 minutes statistic measures how many wins a player contributes in 48 minutes of action. The league average for win shares per 48 minutes is .100. Davis’ win shares per 48 minutes is an insane .306. If Davis continues playing at this level for the entire season, a very difficult accolade, that would place Davis’ 2016-17 season at 11th all-time in single-season win shares per 48 minutes – right in between Michael Jordan’s 1987-88 season (.3077,) and LeBron James’ 2009-10 season (.2987.)
Both Jordan and James won the MVP award in those respective seasons, and he completely deserves the award at this point if Russell Westbrook wasn’t playing at that same unbelievably high level for the 3-0 Oklahoma City Thunder. It is exactly that which separates Davis from Westbrook, James, Bryant, and Iverson. While there is a seemingly low quantity of help for the latter four players, Davis literally is not being helped as he tries to lead the Pelicans to playoff contention.
The Thunder lost Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka this offseason. Those losses shouldn’t be minimized, but neither should the impact their role players have had so far. Eight of their players are above the league average mark in win shares per 48 minutes: Anthony Morrow (.422,) Westbrook (.383,) Joffrey Lauvergne (.296,) Alex Abrines (.225,) Enes Kanter (.196,) Andre Roberson (.189,) Domantas Sabonis (.128,) and Steven Adams (.106.)
Whereas most of the Thunder roster is playing a winning brand of basketball, only Davis is playing statistically winning basketball. The 2nd best Pelican in win shares per 48 minutes is Tim Frazier with a nearly league average .099 mark. After Frazier, it goes Dante Cunningham (.058,) E’Twaun Moore (.056,) Lance Stephenson (.054,) Terrence Jones (.036,) and Omer Asik (.033.)
Those players are playing considerably below league average basketball, but it is definitely better than the collection of Pelicans playing so horribly, that they are credited for negative win shares. This group of players includes Solomon Hill (-.116 win shares per 48 minutes,) Alexis Ajinca (-.162,) Langston Galloway (-.192,) Buddy Hield (-.200,) and Cheick Diallo (-.232.) These players have actually played so horribly in enough minutes, that their cumulative -0.7 win shares simply cancels out Anthony Davis’ personal 0.7 win shares thus far.
No one player or group of players on the Thunder is cancelling out Westbrook’s production, and as the win share statistic shows, they are providing to be an excellent supporting cast. It is the same way, to a lesser extent, with the supposedly poor supporting casts of the 2007 Cavaliers, 2006 Lakers, or the 2001 76ers.
The 2007 Cavaliers were definitely driven by LeBron, but his teammates were by all means playing winning basketball. Anderson Varejao and Zydrunas Ilgauskas each got 6.6 win shares on .164 and .148 per 48 minutes respectively, Drew Gooden got 6.5 on .139 per 48 minutes, and the Cavs had six more players with at least two win shares that season.
In comparison, Tim Frazier is on pace to get 5.3 win shares, but there is a very low chance that Frazier both plays at his current level like he is with 13.7 points, 9.0 assists, 5.0 rebounds, and 0.7 steals in 32.0 minutes per game on 50.0% shooting for an entire 82 game season. Other point guards are just too good defensively, and other scouting departments will catch on to the journeyman’s play – which is still statistically below league average.
The 2006 Lakers featured Kobe Bryant, but they were also coached by the legendary Phil Jackson, and the Zen Master had his team playing well enough to make the playoffs. Lamar Odom had a fringe all-star level of a season with 9.2 win shares on .137 per 48 minutes. Smush Parker, who is the subject of mockery of the 2006 Lakers, got 5.8 win shares on .100 per 48 minutes that year. Brian Cook (4.5 and .145 per 48 minutes) and Chris Mihm (4.0 and.124 per 48 minutes) were good contributors, and four more players got at least two win shares that year as well.
The 2001 76ers are perhaps the greatest example of the falsely uncredited team. Iverson, with his 31.1 points per game and 11.8 win shares is definitely the alpha on this team offensively, but everyone on this team played hall of fame coach Larry Brown’s tough brand of defense. George Lynch (6.5 win shares and .118 per 48 minutes,) Aaron McKie (5.9 and .118 per 48 minutes,) Tyrone Hill (5.5 and .111 per 48 minutes,) and Theo Ratliff (5.2 and .138 per 48 minutes) all played elite defense even if they didn’t score too many points. The Sixers also had five more players with at least two win shares, all of whom got them at an above average rate.
On nearly any other team, a player averaging Davis’ 37.7 points, 12.7 rebounds, 3.0 blocks, 3.0 steals, and 2.7 assists on 50.0% shooting would mean at least one win, and most likely two or three wins in the three games New Orleans has played so far. The Pelicans, however, have been literally a one man show. Until Anthony Davis’ teammates step up, this season will be long and brutal for the Pelicans.