Breaking Down the New Orleans Pelicans Frontcourt: Which Combination Works Best?

Different combinations of Anthony Davis, Omer Asik, and Ryan Anderson have produced a variety of results. Let's break them down.

For a long time, LeBron James has been the best basketball player in the world, and Kevin Durant has been next in line waiting to take the crown. Just a couple years ago, no one would have bet on any other outcome. But according to the numbers, Anthony Davis is right there this season.

The New Orleans Pelicans have a talented roster, but the question entering this season is how all the pieces would fit and if head coach Monty Williams was the man to solve the puzzle. This summer, the Pels brought in big man Omer Asik from the Houston Rockets to pair along with Davis and stretch big Ryan Anderson.

On paper, they all have different skill sets. Asik is an elite defensive stopper and has the size to body up against any center in the league. Anderson has the size to be a rebounder and brings value on the perimeter by his three-point shooting. And Davis is an alien.

How do they all fit together? Asik was a big pick-up for them this offseason, as it allowed Davis to defend fours and not get banged up by bulkier centers. However, that still happens when Asik sits, although bringing in Anderson gives the Pels a lot of offensive flexibility.

Here are the numbers for how Davis has performed with both Asik and Anderson on and off the court, courtesy of

PPP = point per possession
PPS = point per shot
TS% = true shooting percentage

Davis w/ Asik1.271.2160.6%1.09152.3%0.97051.2%
Davis w/out Asik1.291.2361.6%1.14557.3%1.14356.0%
Davis w/ Anderson1.261.2060.1%1.25455.3%1.13656.0%
Davis w/out Anderson1.291.2361.7%1.12154.1%0.97651.0%

As you can see, Davis has been incredible regardless of who's paired with him this season. However, some trends can be found on the defensive side of things.

The Davis/Asik pairing has been quite stingy on defense, allowing just 0.97 points per possession when those two share the court. That mark would be best in the league, ahead of the first-place Golden State Warriors. When Asik sits, however, the defense gives up a miserable 1.143 points per possession, which would be ahead of only the historically bad Los Angeles Lakers.

The Davis/Anderson pairing gives completely opposite results. They blow the league out of the water on offense together – the Pels score 1.254 points per possession and shoot 55.3% when they’re together (which would be easily the best in the league) – but are in bad Lakers territory on defense.

When Davis is by himself, the team defends at a rate of 1.042 points per possession, which is currently around league-average. So there is an obvious trade-off – putting Asik with Davis lets the Pels defend at a league-best rate, and putting Anderson with Davis lets them do the same on offense. It’s not a bad problem to have, really.

You probably know where this is going: how do the Pels play with all three on the court together?

Not very well.

Davis w/ both1.171.0853.8%0.84641.5%0.96249.4%

The three have only played a combined 14 minutes together this season, which seems like an odd coaching decision by Williams. Those three are definitely three of their best five players, so it would seem like a useful exercise to at least find out if they can all co-exist together.

In their 14 minutes together, they have defended at an even better league-best rate. However, their offense has been very bad in that time together, scoring just 0.846 points per possession, much lower than even the league-worst 76ers' offense.

The Pelicans have all the pieces and have moments of brilliant defense and brilliant offense. The question will be whether they can put a lineup together that combines those two. Playing all three big men together might be the answer, if the coaching staff would let the experiment run its course. But Davis is going to be incredible all season on both ends of the floor, regardless of who he is playing with. Figuring out that combination, however, might mean the difference between playoffs and lottery for New Orleans this year.