Anthony Davis has lived up to all the hype that preceded his NBA debut, but have we seen what the ceiling for his game looks like yet?
No one can answer that question with certainty, but at just 20-years-old, it's reasonable to suggest that the long-armed phenom is only scratching the surface of his talent. There are plenty of recent examples of players not living up to their draft status—Cleveland's Anthony Bennett is this season's poster child—but Davis has been as good, if not better, than advertised.
So how good can he be? To find the answer to that question, let's take a closer look at his production this season, and how it compares to his peers around the league.
Coming into the league, Davis' offense was the biggest question mark in his game. Although he ranked among the NCAA's most efficient scorers, he played more of a secondary role for Kentucky, compiling most of his production on lobs and easy buckets inside.
Jonathan Givony summed up his raw offensive game in his profile on Davis for Draft Express:
Davis is still a fairly raw prospect in many facets offensively, giving him a considerable amount of room for growth as he continues to develop. If an opposing defense can force him to take a jump-shot, put the ball on the floor, or attempt to score in a post up situation, they have a more than three times better chance of stopping him than if he simply catches the ball in the paint in position to finish.
Thankfully for Davis, while his jumper and handle are still developing, his presence in the pick-and-roll is strong enough to offset his deficiencies.
As a roll man, Davis is terrifying. He's pretty much the prototype for the modern-day big in the NBA: long, nimble and bouncy. Plays like this have become a typical part of a Pelicans broadcast:
As good as highlights like that look, the numbers are even better. According to MySynergySports.com (subscription required), Davis is the No. 1 rated player in the league as the roll man in pick-and-rolls, averaging a staggering 1.41 points per possession.
A huge chunk of Davis' offense is coming from those rolls, as well as finishes that aren't coming out of set plays, signifying that with time and opportunity he can become even more devastating. Rolls, transition and offensive rebounds are accounting for 44.8 percent of his offense.
Speaking of offensive rebounds, this is another area where his otherworldly athleticism allows him to shine. It's not just his vertical that leaves you impressed but the suddenness of his rise through the air.
That's to say nothing of his transition game, where Davis also ranks at the very top of the league with 1.67 points per possession. While most fans likely think of wings like LeBron James and Kevin Durant as the kings of fast-break basketball, it's AD who reigns supreme in this category.
Perhaps most important to his long-term success is his ability to get to the free-throw line and his penchant for converting there. Davis is averaging almost seven trips to the line per game, shooting a cool 84 percent once at the stripe. Having a big man that is prolific in this area is a boon for New Orleans, as their late-game offense can't be altered by hacking strategies.
All of that results in 20.7 points per game, good for 20th in the league and tops on his team. Pretty good for someone who can't legally drink until March.
As good as he has been on offense, Davis has been on another planet on the defensive end. Consistently surrounded by sub-par defenders, the Unibrow has compensated for the faults of his teammates in a spectacular manner.
It's a block party, and everyone is invited:
While the totals are a nice frame of reference, it's the numbers that don't appear in the traditional box scores that are even more impressive. Despite his skinny frame, Davis is intimidating inside because of his Gumby-like arms. That presence forces would-be drivers to reconsider a trip into the lane, lest they have their shots volleyed back at them.
As impressive as the shot-alteration is his ability to cause havoc in passing lanes with those arms. Davis is just short of two steals per game at 1.9, an important benchmark in a historical context.
What's the significance of two steals per game? Here's the full list of players who averaged two steals and two blocks per game over the course of a season:
|Two Blocks, Two Steals Club|
Gerald Wallace is the outlier among this group (though Crash is still the only All-Star in Charlotte Bobcats history), but it's pretty clear Davis would be in elite company if he could maintain those averages over the course of a full season. D-Rob and Hakeem are two players that serve as models for what Davis could one day be, and he's already approaching numbers from their prime years.
To put a nice cherry on top, the advanced metrics mesh perfectly with the counting stats. Davis' DRTG of 97 is unspectacular, but it's important to consider the larger context of his team's defense.
The next best DRTG among regulars in the Pelicans rotation is 104, courtesy of Greg Stiemsma. For the math-challenged, Davis has been seven points better on the defensive end than anybody else on the roster.
Translation: He's damn good.
Areas to Improve
With those qualifiers, it's hard to suggest that Davis still has a ton of room to grow. But that's the beauty of his breakthrough season—even as he sets the world on fire, there's still areas that could use touching up.
One such area is in the post, where Davis is still working on developing go-to moves from the back-down position. In post-up situations this year, Davis is producing just .52 points per possession, 54th best of qualified players.
That uninspiring number stems from a few different areas. For one, Davis' body is still filling out, listed at a svelte 220 pounds on the Pelicans' website. Against the more muscular centers around the league, Davis is going to have trouble backing down and finishing.
Because of that disadvantage, Davis often times settles for jumpers, a problem which is compounded by his lack of polish from range. Check out his shot chart from the past 30 days, courtesy of basketball-visualization site Vorped:
Those are two areas that have clear solutions. Davis has already added muscle between this year and last—a reported 18 pounds if Monty Williams is to be believed—and between time in the weight room and natural growth as he ages, the strength he needs to bang in the post will come, even if he looks leaner than some of his peers.
As far as his jumper is concerned, Davis is far from the first player to come into the NBA without a knockdown shooting stroke.
Take Blake Griffin of the L.A. Clippers, for example. After shooting under 30 percent from mid-range in both the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, Griffin shot 35.8 percent from the same area last season, a modest improvement that has helped diversify his game.
These are small nits to pick, but they're areas Davis will want to tighten up if he wants to reach his maximum potential.
Despite being located in a smaller market, Davis has caught the attention of several national voices, including Turner's own Steve Kerr.
Kerr, in a recent appearance on Bill Simmons' podcast, discussed Davis' play so far this season, as well as the potential he sees in him going forward. The former sharpshooter didn't mince words when it came to the Pelicans centerpiece (start around the 14:00 mark):
On the bright side for New Orleans, Anthony Davis is absolutely ridiculous. Over the next six to eight years, as LeBron fades, he might be the guy we're talking about in terms of being the best player in the league. He's got a Kevin Garnett type frame, but with a lot more offensive skill, and he's just scratching the surface.
That may sound like hyperbole for a player in just his second year in the league, but Davis has every ounce of talent required to be in that conversation. With a few slight tweaks, he'll be right there with the league's elite.
Here's a small fact to consider: If the season ended today, Davis' 2013-14 PER of 29.9 would rank as the 19th-best season in the history of the league, trailing only greats such as Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Talk about special company.
There's still plenty of time left this season and in his career, and there have been a number of players who have fallen short of limitless expectations set for them. It's impossible to predict future production, otherwise sportsbooks around the country would be out of business.
Still, Davis has already taken the first step toward superstar status, and the path is less rocky than many would have initially predicted. Is there a future MVP and NBA champion lurking inside Davis? Early signs are pointing to yes.
*All stats current as of November 24th.