Anthony Davis came into this league with sky high expectations. Some said that Davis was the best prospect since LeBron James in 2003. Instead of comparing AD to James I have used Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett. Duncan and Garnett, the two greatest power forwards of their generation (and possibly ever), represent two very different approaches to the position. Garnett's long and lean body type is the easiest one-to-one model for Davis physically. Duncan's stoic approach and irreproachable team mindset is more similar to AD's on court demeanor than Garnett's legendary trash talking persona.
AD's rookie season compared favorably to both Duncan and Garnett. As a sophomore Anthony Davis kicked it up a notch outscoring both per possession while being far more efficient from the field and the charity stripe. However, I did note that Davis was much less effective than both Duncan and Garnett when he stepped beyond 16 feet in his second season, knocking down just 36% of his attempts. Could Davis improve that mark while maintaining his efficiency advantages elsewhere? Let's dive into the numbers.
|Tim Duncan - 23||Anthony Davis - 21||Kevin Garnett - 21|
Stats via Basketball Reference
Wow. Davis practically lapped the field in his third season. As a passer Davis lags behind both Duncan and Garnett, but through three seasons I believe this is more a function of scheme than talent. AD demonstrated his assisting acumen after the All-Star Break. Before March 8th Davis averaged just 2.4 assists per 100 possessions. After it catapulted to 5.2 assists while Davis DECREASED his turnover rate slightly from 2.0 to 1.9. That shouldn't be possible.
The biggest advantage Davis has through three seasons is his near absurd efficiency as a big man. How is he so much more efficient than Duncan and Garnett through three seasons? No where can a larger discrepancy be found than in shot selection. To be sure, the NBA of 2014-15 is far, far different than the one Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett played in during their third season at the turn of the century. (Wow, that makes them sound ancient.) However, the answer to how Davis shoots so much better from the field lies more in where he shoots from than how well he shoots.
|0-3 Feet||3-8 Feet||8-16 Feet||16-3PT|
|Tim Duncan - 23||62.3%||31.3%||40.1%||23.0%||46.4%||33.3%||41.2%||11.6%|
|Anthony Davis - 21||71.2%||38.8%||39.6%||9.3%||45.7%||22.1%||41.9%||28.9%|
|Kevin Garnett - 21||67.9%||23.6%||47.6%||11.4%||44.1%||33.9%||41.7%||29.9%|
Statistics from NBA Stats
Compared to their sophomore years Davis has made enormous strides. In his second year Davis shot under 37% beyond 16 feet while taking a healthy number of long jumpers. In his third season he continued to take more but increased from hardly competent to competitive. Of note is AD's accuracy at the top of the key, where he excelled to an astonishing degree.
The real key to Davis's big gap in field goal percentage is both his near unstoppable finishing around the basket with a substantial increase in frequency. AD made 331 shots in the restricted area; Garnett only attempted 305. That's along with KG taking 94 more shots overall from the field.
Getting bigger and older on the glass
Anthony Davis's production on the glass is very impressive for his age. Garnett did not reach 24% defensive rebound rate until his 23 year old season, his fifth in the league. Duncan too did not hit 24% until he was 23, his third season in the league thanks to his extended stay at Wake Forest. After age 23 both players have maintained a rate of at least 24% and frequently exceeded 26%.
Age, strength, and experience obviously play an enormous role under the basket battling for rebounds. Each year Davis has outperformed Kevin Garnett at the same age. Before Davis played a single game Bleacher Report was pumping the brakes on AD's potential as the next Kevin Garnett in large part because Davis couldn't rebound like prime Garnett. Of course comparing Davis at age 19 to Garnett's prime years should have seemed foolish at the time. Three years in and at age 19, 20, and 21 Davis is the superior rebounder.
Projecting a ceiling
Thankfully, after three seasons estimations on AD's ceiling have all but disappeared. Could Anthony Davis be a combination of Garnett and Duncan? Maybe! Coming into the league writers salivated on Davis's potential on the defensive end while wondering if a rich man's Marcus Camby was his offensive peak. Now we read stories about Davis adding the 3-point shot to his arsenal while working on expanding his post game.
Partly with that in mind, Davis and Pelicans assistant coach Kevin Hanson have spent this offseason continuing to work on the three-year pro’s low-post skills. Davis has gradually become a more comfortable offensive player with his back to the basket, but as a former guard, his natural tendency is to face the hoop when he’s in a one-on-one situation. However, when matched vs. smaller defenders like 6-foot-8 Ariza and Gay, facing up somewhat negates the height advantage Davis has on those players; Hanson is working with Davis to be able to punish defenders who are undersized.
How can Davis follow up his third season? A 30.8 PER while averaging 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks seems more video game than real life. Here and now AD will need to make different kinds of improvements, the ones that lead to more victories. Carry a sluggish team through an East Coast road trip and avoid losses like those suffered at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks last season.
Statistically Davis still has room for improvement. Prove that the assist explosion in March was not an aberration to make opponents hesitant to double, or punish them when they do. Continue to mature on the glass and make small lineups more palatable. Avoid a late season slump on long distance shooting. (Related to his shoulder injury or leg fatigue last season?) Don't fall too deeply in love with the long ball.
Last year I said a PER above 28 wasn't out of the question for Davis; he ran circles around that projection posting a 30.81. Could Davis set a new record for PER (currently 31.82 by Wilt Chamberlain in 1962-63) this year? Might he average 26 and 11 with three each in assists and blocks? ESPN projected Davis as the second most likely MVP candidate, is it on the horizon as soon as next spring.
For Anthony Davis any of these achievements seem possible. If you asked him, only the wins and losses matter. While statistically Davis is beginning to look more and more like Kevin Garnett his approach sounds like Tim Duncan. Pelican fans could ask for no better marriage of talent and mentality.