In April I wrote a recap of the Unibrow's rookie season. Quickly to review, it was one of the best rookie seasons ever (despite missing 18 games), and likely the best season for a 19 year old in league history. There was a strong argument that Andre Drummond's season was comparable, thanks in part to increased efficiency while playing fewer minutes. And to be sure, Drummond has improved this season nearly across the board, except obviously, at the foul line. Claiming that he has taken "the leap" would be generous at this point, but Detroit is also integrating new pieces. Other players, notably Paul George, have taken a noticeable leap around the league.
Anthony Davis was a prime candidate for making the leap. At Team USA camp this summer, Davis was dominant, culminating in an impressive 22 point, 7 rebound showing at the final scrimmage. Kyrie Irving was considered the star of the event, but as we have seen, going against Damian Lillard has a tendency to lead to impressive stat lines.
Pelicans writer Jim Eichenhofer projected AD's leap just before the preseason began. After just three preseason games, Times-Picayune writer John Reid was also on board. And just a week into the regular season, even national writers took notice. The leap was happening, but it was much larger than expected -- Anthony Davis led the NBA in PER for the first couple weeks of the season.
So what is bigger than a leap?
This is what is really happening: liftoff. Two way stars are rarely created in just their second season. Even less so (read, never), when their second season coincides with the player finally being able to buy their own drink. Anthony Davis is currently having the best season for a 20 year old in league history. Many times analysts will say that the value of being on a list is the other people who accompany the player. I will go out on a limb and say when the list looks like this:
- Anthony Davis
- LeBron James
- Shaquille O'Neal
- Chris Paul
That it is a list you want to be on. Comparing the functionally of the four names is a non-starter though. The players obviously excel at what they do on the court, but they do it in much different ways. Instead I would like to loop back to my earlier comparisons with Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett -- the two best power forwards in their era. I would take the time to compare Davis to current power forwards LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love, and Blake Griffin, if they were truly in the conversation.
Advanced: Per 36 Minutes
I think most people would be rather shocked to find out that Anthony Davis, at this point in his career, is at least as good of a rebounder as Tim Duncan and significantly better than Kevin Garnett. As I noted in my first article, the reasoning behind "Anthony Davis isn't the next Kevin Garnett" was based mostly on trying to compare 36-year old Garnett to 19-year old Davis. Which is ridiculous. As the statistics clearly indicate, Davis is currently the best rebounder for his age in the group. Also I would note that Garnett's defensive rebounding increased dramatically after he turned 23 (going from 22% before to consistently above 26%). It should not be a surprise that once teenagers become men, their rebounding frequency increases.
Anthony Davis came into this season with a much improved jump shot. The statistics bear this out as he has gone from shooting 29.36% (64/218) his rookie season to 40% (38/95) from mid range. Kevin Garnett, to compare, shot 44.07% (238/540) from mid range in his second season. However, observe Garnett also attempted a good deal more mid range shots. The NBA was a much different place in 1997. Tim Duncan, on the other hand, shot 37.8% (110/291) from mid range. As a counter to this, Davis is shooting 65.29% (111/170) in the restricted circle. Better than Garnett's 62.1% (213/343) and worse than Duncan's 65.89% (199/302). (All of these statistics are thanks to nba.com/stats, which has shot charts dating back to 1996-97.)
I expect we will continue to see Davis function as a blend between Garnett and Duncan. While AD is unlikely to become the technician Timmy is on the low block, he has shown a few go-to moves that are dependable. Functioning primarily on the left block, he demonstrated both a righty hook shot moving into the lane and a necessary counter drop step to the left hand against Portland. He still settles too frequently for fadeaways and face up jump shots for my liking, but ideally those will also begin to convert more often. Like a young Garnett, Davis continues to get the majority of his offense from being the longest and most athletic player on the floor. According to MySynergySports, 119 of his 164 (72.5%) made field goals have come off the Pick and Roll (31), cutting (25), offensive rebounds (29), or in transition (34). Hopefully he will find ways to incorporate more face-up game into his repertoire, as I would like to see him take slower defenders off the bounce more frequently.
Defensively, Davis is already a terror, but he has a number of areas to still improve upon. Foremost among these is his tendency to bite on ball fakes. He did a good job defending LaMarcus Aldridge in the post; including blocking his fadeaway twice and forcing difficult misses on two more occasions. But when challenged with a switch or recovery, Davis oftentimes leaves his feet only to give the opposition the easiest of bailout calls. Teams are shooting just 45.8% at the rim when Davis is in the area, but Monty's defensive scheme (along with the decision to play Ryan Anderson defensively at center) means Davis is not at the basket as frequently as other big men. While Roy Hibbert, Serge Ibaka, and Dwight Howard are at the basket for 9+ FGAs defensively, Davis currently sits at 6.0.
Davis will likely continue to rack up stocks (steals + blocks) at a rate much higher than either Garnett or Duncan ever did, but his ability to quarterback a defense is where Pelican fans hope to see the most improvement. On-court communication is improving rapidly this season but Davis becoming a louder voice could accelerate the process. I am not encouraging the kind of bad guy mugging that Garnett has trademarked over the past seven season, but simply for Davis to demonstrate the leadership that any NBA team expects of its franchise player. And I recognize the difficulty in doing this in ways any writer will be able to acknowledge. Davis is still the youngest player on the roster and the method of leading by example is difficult to quantify. All that said, defensively for AD not only knowing what he should be doing, but telling the other four players on the court what they need to be doing on the fly is the next step.
As my analogy reaches its predictable conclusion, the hopes established by "4 - 9 - 6 - 7" are in the process of being realized. Winning the lottery was not about getting a good player or one capable of making the leap to being a great player. It was so much bigger than that. It was about getting the next superstar in the NBA.
As Ryan Schwan stated for Bourbon Street Shots, Anthony Davis needed some minions. Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans (note, both players currently posting career highs in PER) have steadily improved while orbiting around the Unibrow. The team may or may not make the playoffs this year, as competing in the incredibly difficult Western Conference is a mighty obstacle. But the trajectory is undeniably skyward.