After twelve games, Anthony Davis is averaging 26.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, 3.5 blocks and 2.2 steals on 58% shooting. He has led a deeply flawed New Orleans Pelicans roster to a 7-5 record and become a one-man League Pass wrecking crew. At just 21 years old, Davis is must-watch television, the best player at his position and without any doubt a future MVP of the league.
Since I started following the NBA religiously in 1996, only two other 21-year-olds have had the same air about them: Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Both will go down among the top ten or twelve players of all time by the end of their respective careers. It is no exaggeration to state that Davis could join them some day. The opportunity to witness his development is to be cherished.
AD is an athletic freak, a once-in-a-generation force of nature on both ends who is just scratching the surface of his potential. He is a player whose stats will never tell the full story of his impact, yet he is a threat to put up one of the most ridiculous statistical résumés we have ever seen all the same.
Quite simply, Davis is already putting up a combination of numbers that we have never seen from the power forward position. Tim Duncan never averaged 58% shooting. Charles Barkley never averaged three blocks. Karl Malone never averaged two steals. Kevin Garnett never averaged 25 points. Kevin McHale never averaged 11 rebounds.
Of course, those five did combine for six MVPs and 16 Finals appearances, so Davis has plenty to prove yet. Indeed, nothing is promised in the NBA – injuries can stall any young star’s rise to the top – but regardless of what Davis might or might not become, he is a one-of-a-kind superstar and legitimate MVP candidate now and it is important that we celebrate his unique skillset.
He is already the best shot blocker in the league. Just ask Rudy Gay, who had the nerve to attempt to dunk on him in Sacramento this week:
On the weak side defensively, Davis is a young Marcus Camby with greater smarts, longer arms and even quicker instincts. No shot is safe. Here he cogently helps on DeMarcus Cousins in the post and swipes Boogie’s shot from behind:
As things stand, Davis is the only player other than Shaquille O’Neal to average 3.5 blocks a game at 21 years old or younger. He may well eventually join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Mark Eaton, Hakeem Olajuwon and Dikembe Mutombo in the 3,000-block club if he is blessed with their same long-term health and longevity.
At 6’11” with a 7’7” wingspan and the agility and athleticism of a guard, Davis is able to contend shots he has no business getting to. Here Alec Burks drives down the lane and AD, stationed six feet away outside of the key, reaches out and blocks it:
Ridiculous and unfair.
He is able to cover unseemly amounts of ground and disrupt an entire offensive possession single-handedly. See this Kobe/Carlos Boozer pick-and-roll for example, where Davis hedges hard well beyond the three-point line at the top of the key to force the ball out of Kobe’s hands and then recovers to Boozer 25 feet away in the blink of an eye to successfully contend the shot.
This is reminiscent of a prime Kevin Garnett.
AD will always be measured against KG for obvious reasons. Like Garnett, he entered the league with a skinny, lanky frame and far more speed dexterity than any 6’11” man should possess. KG was a far more vocal leader, which helped him become one of the best defensive anchors in league history and the heart and soul of the ‘07/08 title-winning Celtics. He was also a better passer than AD and perhaps the best illegal screen setter the game has ever seen, but his advantages end there. KG was never as outright fast as AD nor as long, and in his third season was nowhere near as polished as a face-up threat as Davis is proving to be.
Consider some of the perimeter jump shots Davis made on his way to a 43-point, 16-for-23 shooting night in Utah on Saturday:
These are go-to shots for him now:
Per NBA.com, he is shooting 53% on catch-and-shoot two-point jumpers. The idea that defenders will have to honor his shooting ability as well as contending with his insane athleticism around the rim is a scary one for the rest of the league.
Get up on him too tightly outside the paint and he will blow by you. Try to deny him the ball and he will go back door for the lob:
Like KG, Davis is not a classic back-to-the-basket big man, which is in many ways a good thing. Unlike Boogie or Dwight Howard, he can dominate games offensively without requiring slow-it-down, dump-it-in-the-post half-court sets to be built around him. His preference for catching the ball at the top of the key and making quick decisions serves to keep the floor spaced and the offense fluid whilst making it very difficult for the defense to double team him.
And Davis is already a better and more willing scorer than KG ever was. In his wondrous ‘03/04 MVP season at age 30, KG put up 24 points a night with a PER of 29.4 and a “true” shooting percentage of 54.7%. At age 21, AD is putting up a PER of 35.8 and a “true” shooting percentage of 62.4%. Yikes.
Equally important as Davis’ face-up game is the good old-fashioned rim run. There are easy buckets available to any NBA big man who is willing and able to sprint from one end of the court to another in transition, and Davis is more willing and able than perhaps any big man we have ever seen.
Malone was a relentless rim runner but was never as gazelle-like as AD. Dennis Rodman dashed up the floor with as much natural athleticism but was not the powerful finisher that AD is. A young Barkley was a master of dunking all over people in transition but his end-to-end forays were usually reserved for when he had the ball in his hands following a rebound. AD is running indiscriminately from rim to rim, on opponent misses and makes:
This puts an untold amount of pressure on opposing defences and translates to several easy points per game. Here he throws down an alley-oop dunk on Robin Lopez’s head three seconds after a Blazers miss at the other end:
This is not just great stuff, but greatly efficient, winning stuff. And this is the crux of the issue for me and why Davis truly has the potential to be the greatest power forward of all time and a multiple-time champion.
In a league in which fit is often as important as talent, Davis is a ridiculously talented player who would seemingly fit well with any team. He is a superstar who is not needy. He is easy to play with. He does not dominate the ball for 20 seconds of the shot clock like Chris Paul. Yet unlike Blake Griffin, his jump shot is so fluid that he could play with Paul and seriously contend for a title. He does not require hiding on defense like James Harden and he is not moodily insistent on post touches offensively like Dwight Howard. He is not braindead like Kyrie Irving and he is not utterly useless without the ball in his hands like Kevin Love.
He brings no negatives to the table. He even appears to be a 100% likeable personality. He does not flop and whine like LeBron, he does not admonish teammates like Kobe, he does not get involved in fake tough guy antics like KG. He just does his job – and he even has a full head of hair unlike Kevin Durant. What’s not to like?!
Already on his way to becoming a dominant defender who is elite in transition and efficient in the half-court, Davis is a tailor made winner in today’s NBA and a stylistic joy to behold. Sign me up for the next 15 years of his career. I’ll be glad to say I was there to witness it.