Anthony Davis continues to astound. It’s truly amazing to think that after watching him play for six seasons, but it’s true — He’s still getting better.
For the first time since the 2014-15 season, we need to truly discuss AD’s potential in the MVP race. His candidacy is really just beginning to take flight, but all the underlying support had already been laid.
Throughout the years, Davis has racked up plenty of individual stats, and this season is no exception. The Chicago native is currently on pace to set career bests in shooting from the field, behind the arc, and from the free throw line. And all that while being asked to create more offense for himself. Davis ranks second in the league in scoring and blocked shots while also ranking in the top five in PER, win shares, and win shares per 48 minutes.
Diving into individual plays, Davis continues to stand out. He ranks in the 79th percentile in post-ups, the 85th percentile in isolation (alongside Kyrie Irving), the 94th percentile off cuts, and the 97th percentile on putbacks on offense. AD remains one of the elite finishers in the game, but his ability to score on his own is where he’s making strides. Milwaukee took to doubling Davis before the ball arrived to force the Pelicans to try different options down the stretch Sunday afternoon.
After struggling with the initial adjustment when DeMarcus Cousins went down, Davis has been on an unprecedented tear. He’s averaging 39.2 points, 14.4 rebounds, 3.6 steals, and 2.8 blocks during the current five-game winning streak. When Fox Sports New Orleans is comparing a player to prime Hakeem Olajuwon, you know you’re doing something right.
They didn’t mention exactly when in 1993 Olajuwon pulled the feat off. If it was late in the 1992-93 season, I want to mention Olajuwon finished second in MVP voting behind Charles Barkley. If it was early in the 1993-94 season, Olajuwon won the MVP himself.
Comparing apples to apples (by possessions, not per game or minute) Davis is actually outperforming peak Olajuwon. From 1992-1994 Olajuwon averaged 33.6 points and 15.7 rebounds per 100 possessions while posting a 26.3 PER with a 57.1% TS%. Anthony Davis this season is averaging 36.4 points and 14.3 rebounds per 100 possessions with a 28.5 PER and a 61.9% TS%. Anyone who can stand toe-to-toe statistically with Olajuwon from the early-to-mid 1990’s is playing superb basketball.
Big men winning the MVP has been a rare occurrence recently; Dirk Nowitzki was the last big to win it over a decade ago in 2007. Thanks to the season (and success) James Harden is having in Houston, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he won rather easily this season. Team success continues to be a fundamental requirement to truly enter the MVP round table. Yet, a quick glance at the standings finds a top four seed and home court advantage in the first round to be realistically within reach with just 23 games to play.
If the Pelicans make the playoffs, Davis should certainly finish in the top five. If they can wrangle home court in the first round, a top three finish — the best in franchise history since Chris Paul was robbed of an MVP in 2008 to give Kobe Bryant a career achievement award — is very much in play.