[A re-post. When I wrote this two months ago, I was relatively convinced we wouldn't be getting Anthony Davis; now, most likely, we are. Huzzah. - R]
He's been called the most impressive defensive college prospect in multiple decades, labeled "one of the most physically gifted players on this planet at the moment," with "the potential to not only star at the next level, but set off a chain reaction of new ideas." He steals from guards on the perimeter, blocks forwards in mid-range, and erases just about every attempt around the rim. He tip slams, he crosses over, he shoots threes.
He is Anthony Davis and, given health, he will be the number one overall pick this June.
Bio: Davis was born and raised in Chicago Illinois, playing his HS ball at Perspective Charter High. He stood at just 6'0" as a freshman, with an opposing coach having since noted that, "'most of the coaches on the South Side knew him as the little guy who would shoot threes from the corner in junior high.'' He grew to 6'4" as a sophomore and 6'8" as a junior without any resultant injury troubles, and he grew to combine his guard skills with his increased stature. Ahead of his subsequent recruitment to Kentucky, Davis quickly became the #1 rated HS prospect according to a number of services, ahead of Austin Rivers.
The Chicago Sun-Times published a report alleging that Davis' father, Anthony Davis Sr., had asked the University of Kentucky to pay $200,000 for Davis' commitment. The Davis family strongly opposed the claim, threatening to sue. The Sun-Times refused to back down from its anonymously sourced reporting, drawing some criticism, but the issue has since died down with no former investigation or legal charges from either the Davis family or the University of Kentucky. Davis joined Kentucky for the 2011-2012 school year and season.
His freshman season has been a historic one, with Davis on pace to win Freshman of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and National Player of the Year. Kentucky is two wins away from a national title as well, their Final Four matchup with local rival Louisville coming up this Saturday.
Stats: Given that Davis is such a ridiculously valuable defensive player, his eye-popping offensive statistics almost seem a little unfair.
His 35.4 PER leads the nation, and is the highest since Blake Griffin's 37.3 in 2008-2009. His 19.7 WS lead the NCAA, his turnover rate is an absurdly low 9%, and he converts 67% of his twos (one of the top-15 marks of the last decade), ranks #1 in dunks, and #2 in second chance points. Davis is primarily an off-ball player at this point, which is one of the main reasons his 16% usage ranks fifth on his team. Neither his jump shot (27%) nor his isolation post moves are developed enough at this stage for him to be even a #2 scoring option on an NBA team. But, like Tyson Chandler or Kenneth Faried, he's so talented off the ball and in space that he looks ready to contribute from a scoring perspective without many of the "traditional" scoring skills.
His defensive numbers are even more insane. At 5.8 blocks per 40 minutes (pace-adjusted), he leads the country, but perhaps just as importantly, he averages just 2.4 fouls per 40 minutes. Essentially, this is a center averaging two and a half blocks per foul. His defensive value is far more pronounced in help situations than in man ones. As evidenced many times this season (and again through Perry Jones III's efficient offense down the stretch of yesterday's Baylor-UK game), players can power into Davis' slight frame with some effectiveness. That aside, this is the exact definition of a defensive centerpiece in the modern NBA.
Skills: For me, the craziest part of Davis is this: take all those historic, mind-numbing offensive and defensive statistics and put them aside for a second; Anthony Davis, somehow, looks even better by the eye test.
There was a play in yesterday's Baylor game where Davis was caught out on the perimeter with a guard. 30 feet from the basket, he stayed with him step for step before he passed off to a forward. Another switch put Davis on the forward, who crossed over and got past him. A split second later, Davis had somehow recovered and was fully in front of him again. The forward crossed, jabbed, and stepped back, freeing himself completely for a second time, putting at least three feet of room between himself and Davis, still leaning backwards from the move. And of course, it didn't matter. The fadeaway jump shot was blocked, Kentucky retained possession (as they do on seemingly the majority of Anthony Davis blocks, unlike so many of the fifth and sixth row swatters we see in today's league) and that was that.
No, his opposition isn't NBA quality yet, but the things Anthony Davis does on a basketball floor, the way he moves around the floor, the angles and defensive lanes he sees on a possession-to-possession basis are otherworldly.
This isn't to say he has no weaknesses. Davis is far from a finished product from both a physical and skill standpoint. He just turned 19 earlier this month, and his frame still has a lot of filling out to do. Bigger NBA players will punish him in the post when isolated, and the array of head and ball fakes under the rim he'll face in the league will require some major adjustment.
Additionally, his efficient off-ball game works because of the superiority of his athleticism, an advantage that will be severely diminished in the NBA, and so the development of both his jump shot and back-to-basket game will be critical. We've arguably never seen an 18 year old like Anthony Davis, but that's no unequivocal implication that we've never seen a 20 year old or 21 year old along the lines of what he will become. Simply put, there is much work to be done.
Overall: He's the best prospect since LeBron James. He can be the foundation of an elite defense all by himself, and the thought of an Eric Gordon-Trevor Ariza-Emeka Okafor-Anthony Davis defensive foursome is very exciting indeed. But honestly, so are many other configurations - Davis-Monroe, Davis-Biyombo, and Davis-John Wall could all be dominant forces in this league, and there's more than an 85% likelihood that one of those combinations occur instead of the one we want. For now, all we can do is hope, plot, and dream of a Batman to our Commissioner, assuming the Commissioner stays a Hornet himself.