NBA Position Battles: Who Should Start Next to Anthony Davis in the New Orleans Pelicans' Frontcourt?

Of all the different frontcourt combinations the Pelicans have used this season, who has been the best fit with Anthony Davis?

Anthony Davis is in the fifth season of his NBA career and only once have his New Orleans Pelicans/Hornets had a winning record.

The Pelicans have had trouble surrounding their franchise big man with talent over the years, and this season is no different. While guys like Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans are generally coveted NBA players who have had effective stretches when they've played this season, the rest of the Pelicans' roster is filled with guys who would be on the low end of a the rotation -- or out of it entirely -- if they were on your standard playoff team.

New Orleans has trotted out 16 different starting lineups this season, and Anthony Davis has had four different frontcourt partners in the 40 games he's played: Omer Asik (17 times), Dante Cunningham (11), Alexis Ajinca (9), and Terrence Jones (3).

While neither of those guys is what you would consider a top-tier NBA talent, it would be interesting to know which one has been the best fit with the team's franchise cornerstone this season.

Let's see what the numbers say.

As far as individual production goes, neither player's line is particularly jaw-dropping this season.

Omer Asik 29 16.3 2.9 47.7% - 59.0% 5.6 0.5 0.2 0.3 0.4
Dante Cunningham 30 25.1 5.9 40.5% 36.8% 55.6% 4.2 0.6 0.6 0.5 0.5
Alexis Ajinca 21 14.1 4.3 46.5% 0.0% 71.4% 4.3 0.3 0.4 0.7 0.8
Terrence Jones 41 24.3 10.6 47.5% 24.1% 58.5% 5.9 1.2 0.7 1.1 1.0

Jones has the most respectable line of the quartet, if for nothing else than because he's the only player on the entire Pelicans roster outside of Davis, Holiday, and Evans averaging double-digits in scoring. It also doesn't hurt that he's leading these four players in rebounding, assists, steals, and blocks, while shooting a respectable 47.5% from the field.

When you look at the advanced stats, Jones stands out again, although he concedes some categories to Asik.

Category Omer Asik Dante Cunningham Alexis Ajinca Terrence Jones
nERD 0.2 -1.6 -0.6 -0.5
Offensive rating 116 98 92 102
Defensive rating 106 107 102 104
Player efficiency rating 10.4 7.8 10.9 15.7
Win shares 1.1 0.8 0.3 1.8
Win shares per 48 minutes .113 .050 .050 .089
Box plus/minus -2.7 -2.0 -4.6 -0.9
Value over replacement player -0.1 0.0 -0.2 0.3

Jones has the best player efficiency rating (15.7), box plus/minus (-0.9), value over replacement player (0.3) marks of the four, while also leading the group in total win shares (1.8). Asik, meanwhile, leads in win shares per 48 minutes (.113) and nERD -- our proprietary player ranking that measures the total contribution of a player throughout the course of a season, based on his efficiency -- while having the best combination of offensive/defensive rating (although it's worth noting that Jones trumps both Cunningham and Ajinca in each of those categories, as well).

But while individual stat lines are all well and good, it's how these players fit with Davis that we're interested in. Here is the data for each two-man lineup featuring Davis and one of these frontcourt partners.

2-Man Lineup MIN Off Rtg Def Rtg Net Rtg REB% eFG%
Davis, Asik 321 102.5 104.5 -2.0 49.9% 48.9%
Davis, Cunningham 500 104.2 98.5 5.7 49.6% 50.9%
Davis, Ajinca 140 101.6 112.6 -11.0 48.1% 50.0%
Davis, Jones 500 104.7 100.1 4.7 46.8% 51.0%

The Davis-Cunningham duo has the best net rating of these four iterations, but the Davis-Jones combo is not all that far behind, and it leads the pack in effective field goal percentage. The Davis-Jones lineup hasn't rebounded the ball very well this season, but it's worth noting that they have the best assist percentage (65.3%) of any two-man combo which has played at least 100 minutes together for the Pelicans this season (out of 54 iterations).

Jones doesn't necessarily run away with the job here, but he's one of the team's leading scorers, has a round and efficient stat line, and the Pelicans have performed well in the 500 minutes he and Davis have played together. In terms of raw stats, advanced metrics, and lineup data, Jones appears consistently at or near the top of the pack when compared with Asik, Cunningham, and Ajinca.

It's perhaps time for Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry to consider giving the starting frontcourt of Davis and Jones a few more looks.