While everyone has been glued to the actions of, or should I say, reactions to DeMarcus Cousins and keeping a watchful eye on the New Orleans Pelicans moving ever so closer to the edge of slipping completely out of the Western Conference playoff picture, Anthony Davis is quietly putting together the best season of his young career.
No, seriously, go google AD’s name right now and limit the search results to the past month. That’s right, not one article has been written glorifying the superstar’s exploits this season. Alrighty then, don’t mind if I do!
Let’s start with the well-known durability concerns. Through his first four years in the NBA, the 70 games played plateau had badly eluded Davis. Well, he was able to recently check it off his to-do list. Davis appeared in his 71st game against the Mavericks a few nights ago, and with seven games left on the schedule, he’s probably aiming to happily eliminate those fragile, injury-prone or soft tags which have followed him around the league since winning an NCAA championship at Kentucky.
In addition to the bonafide display of good health, Davis is in the process of adding the finishing touches to his biggest stat-stuffing campaign to date: 27.9 points, 12.0 rebounds and 2.2 blocks. Those averages are scintillating enough on their own, but when referenced historically, they become mind-blowing. Since the turn of the century, only Shaquille O’Neal (2000-01) has posted a season with averages of 27, 12 and 2 or better. Furthermore, just three players in all have compiled such a combination of numbers since blocks became an official statistic in 1973-74.
Now some may prefer Davis’ 2014-15 campaign as his advanced statistics topped most anything he’s posted this season but realize he was a much more limited and dependent player back then. For instance, 60.5% of AD’s shot attempts came with zero dribbles; that frequency is down to 49.4% this season. In addition, his assisted field goals and points in the paint frequencies have fallen too, indicating less reliance on playmaking guards and demonstrating greater comfort outside the paint area.
But, my favorite indicator that he’s taken another step towards superstardom is his propensity for production during fourth quarters. Isaiah Thomas of the Boston Celtics has received a lot of press for his spectacular finishes to a countless number of games and rightly so. A fourth quarter average of 10.0 points on a shooting line of 46.8 FG% / 38.4 3FG% / 89.8 FT% is jaw-dropping. After their victory against Orlando, Russell Westbrook joined Thomas in the 10-point final frame club, but that’s it for the list for over the last 20 years.
Scanning through all the available seasons on NBA.com/Stats one notices no other player has averaged double digit scoring for the final quarter. Kobe Bryant came closest back in 2005-06 when he averaged 9.5 points, but his efficiency wasn’t memorable: 41.1 FG% / 31.9 3FG% / 83.6 FT%.
Thankfully, Davis sits on the other side of the efficiency spectrum. Alongside his 9th highest fourth-quarter points average (6.7), AD has the least number of turnovers among the best producers and the best FG% in the top ten save LeBron James. This is similar to what Davis has done in the past, but the reason this year is a little more special is a higher usage rate. Davis is starting to carry the team more and more like a superstar.
Two years ago Davis had a fourth-quarter usage rate of 27.1%, good for 37th in the league. Last year that figure was at 30.1%, ranking him 21st among players who appeared in 10 or more games. Here in 2016-17, he’s bumped that all the way up to 33.0%. The only non-playmaking guards/wings ahead of him on the list? Boogie and Joel Embiid. The only player above him with a lower turnover ratio? DeMar DeRozan. The only player with a higher FG%? LeBron, again.
Furthermore, Davis’ USG% jumps up to 36.3% in clutch moments, which is defined as the minutes with a difference of 5 points or less during the final five minutes of games and including any pertinent overtime periods. Here’s where it gets interesting though: prior to the Cousins trade, Davis had a USG% of 35.6% and an uninspiring 41.1 FG%; since, it’s climbed to a 38.5 USG% and a 44.0 FG%. That’s pretty incredible considering Boogie’s usage was 49.3% in crunch time situations for the Sacramento Kings! Make no mistake, this is AD’s team and he’s spread his wings out further despite the addition of another high volume piece on offense.
On the other side of the ball, Davis is practically Draymond Green’s equal in lowering defended opponent field goal percentages. His DRPM lags behind only Rudy Gobert, Green and Robert Covington among players seeing over 30 minutes a game. He ranks third in defensive win shares, is one of the biggest hustle stats producers across the board and sports the highest defensive rebounding percentage of his career, a 28.3% clip which ranks 13th best in the league among players with 1000+ minutes.
Everywhere you look, he sits among elite company. All the numbers say he’s one of the most potent weapons on both sides of the ball — don’t forget he remains years away from his prime. Yet, all I’ve read of late from the mainstream media is they’re eager to label him a great-stats-bad-team player; that he’s destined to be leaving town quicker than anyone would like to believe.
If one feels it apt to compare AD to Jerry Stackhouse and then with their next breath practically deem the Boogie-Brow combination a failure so early into its existence — which it’s looking to be anything but — I don’t care to waste my time trying to change the opinions of those who searched high and low for failure and made a mistake of gleaming too much from incredibly small sample sizes.
But for the rest of you all, realize Davis’ path is far from being set in stone. If the Pelicans beat the Kings tonight, they’ll have won 10+ games in a month. This is news because New Orleans hasn’t registered double digits wins in a month since January 2011. Ending the NBA’s second longest drought is noteworthy and a call for further analysis, not some poorly worded epitaph.
Anthony Davis is healthy, as dominant as he’s ever been and playing the part of a closer — just what one would expect from a legitimate superstar. Congratulate him already!