Anthony Davis' Evolution on Full Display in Breakout Sophomore Season

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2014

USA Today

Quick. Name one thing Anthony Davis cannot do.

I'm waiting.

Still waiting. 

Come on, we haven't got all day.

Give up? Good.

There isn't anything on the basketball court Davis, an amalgamation of NBA greats, cannot do. Different aspects of his game are still works in progress, but his rapid evolution suggests kinks will soon turn into strengths, and strengths will inevitably become indomitable.

That's the type of season Davis is having, unprecedented and spectacular. On the heels of an impressive, albeit injury-limited, 2012-13 rookie campaign, he's taken his ceiling, raised it and removed it entirely.

"I think he's unreal," Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters Sunday following their loss to Davis' New Orleans Pelicans, per the team's official Twitter account. "If there are 10 better players in the league I haven't seen them."

That's because they don't exist. There aren't 10 NBA players better than him. 

Breakout seasons don't come in more convincing fashion. Not even two years into his career, Davis has firmly planted himself in top-10 conversations, expanding upon his already vast skill set, successfully completing the transition from rising prospect to unequaled star.

Boston Beatdown

One only needs to ask Boston how freakishly talented Davis can be.

In Beantown's 121-120 overtime loss to New Orleans, the Celtics experienced firsthand how things could go from manageable to unfeasible to Anthony Davis. 

The 21-year-old sophomore sensation went for 40 points and 21 rebounds, becoming the second-youngest player since 1985 to register such benchmarks in a single game. Shaquille O'Neal accomplished the same feat in 1993 at the age of 20. 

Davis is also the first player to go for 40 and 21 in the last two years. He joins Shaq, Chris Webber and Dwight Howard as the only four players to do so this side of 1991. 

In adding three blocks to his Sunday-night performance, Davis is now one of five players to record at least 40 points, 21 rebounds and three blocks in the same game since 1985. The other four are Shaq, Hakeem Olajuwon, Joe Barry Carroll and Patrick Ewing (twice). Davis is the first player to post said stat line since Shaq in 1993, more than 20 years ago.

Yeah, he's kind of a big deal.

A really, really big deal.

Against the Celtics, his entire repertoire was on display for us to see. Shooting, scoring, passing (three assists), shot-blocking, interior defense, perimeter defense—you name it; he provided it. All of it.

But in a performance worthy of hours upon hours of reflection, one play, one moment stole the show. 

With the game tied and under five seconds remaining in regulation, New Orleans put the ball in the hands of its superstar and watched him go to work.

Here's the thing: It was no ordinary play. Not for a wiry, 6'10" big man. 

Then again, Davis is no ordinary big man.

Tom Ley of Deadspin did a fantastic job breaking down the Pelicans' final regulation sequence:

With just under five seconds to play and the game tied, the Pelicans drew up a play that put the ball in Davis's hands at the free-throw line. Davis made one jab step at his defender before rising up for a jumper just as a second defender rushed him from the left. Davis's body was calm, his form as pure as any seasoned jump shooter's, and the shot splashed home.

Try to think of another big man in the league who gets that play drawn up for him in that situation. This is what separates Davis from the other elite defenders and rebounders in the NBA: he's a weapon on the offensive end of the court, the kind you can give the ball with the game on the line and let go to work.

Big men don't take those shots. They can't, or at least they aren't supposed to. 

Towers are supposed to be restricted to the paint. Many of them are clumsy, incapable of putting the ball on the floor or jab-stepping, let alone sinking jumpers.

One possession, one touch is all it took for Davis to do everything a big man shouldn't be able to do. Not that we should be surprised. That shot wasn't an anomaly.

For Davis, it was routine.

Sustained Improvement

There is no range to Davis' offensive game. There is no exact limit to how or where he can score.

This year alone, the one-eyebrowed behemoth has habitually stepped outside the paint, shredding nets from mid-range distances. On occasion, he can even be found playing behind the three-point line. He seldom bombs away from deep—2-of-7 from beyond the arc this season—but that doesn't matter. The point is, he can.

Davis' 2013-14 shot chart via

The majority of Davis' shot attempts still come within point-blank range. More than 58 percent of them, in fact, according to (subscription required). But that also means 41.5 percent of his field-goal attempts come outside that range, up from 38.5 percent last season, so he's taking jump shots more frequently.

Oh, and he's making them more frequently, too.

Anthony Davis vs. the World
Season%FGA Inside 8 FTFG% Inside 8 FT%FGA Outside 8 FTFG% Outside 8 FT

Appropriate responses include "Wow," "Holy hell" and "I'm never tweezing my eyebrows again."

Because we're all suckers for perspective, we're going to compare Davis' percentages outside eight feet to a pair of superstars considered mid-range aficionados—Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade.

AD vs. 'Melo vs. Wade
Player%FGA 8-24 FTFG% 8-24 FT
Carmelo Anthony48.844.1
Anthony Davis40.740.7
Dwyane Wade47.645.4

Anthony and Wade clearly have the edge, but the fact that we could make such a comparison without reddening in embarrassment attests to Davis' progressing offensive game. Plus, in time, Davis could make this a more worthy comparison. 

At some point, he's going to space the floor more. He spent his first season playing the bulk of his minutes at power forward. This year, he's been at center more. Soon enough, we'll be talking about Davis being a cross between a stretch 4 and stretch 5, about him potentially being someone the NBA has never seen.

In due time, Davis looks like he will be the best of all worlds. His defense is already impregnable, he's scoring from all over and glimpses into his playmaking abilities are revealing themselves with more regularity.

As good as Davis is now, he's going to be even better, which, while impressive, is also scary.

Blinding Future

SACRAMENTO, CA - MARCH 3: Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans in a game against the Sacramento Kings on March 3, 2014 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and o
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Gauging Davis' future is difficult, but only because it's too bright to make out.

What we're seeing now is just a taste, the onset of a transformation not yet complete. There will come a time when Davis is even better than he is now.

Probably tomorrow.

And then the day after.

And the day after that.

Davis' evolution is an ongoing process that knows no bounds. As the quickest player ever to 2,100 points, 1,100 rebounds and 275 blocks, Davis is someone who could one day lead the league in points, rebounds, blocks and steals per game, all in the same season. He is someone with an indeterminable ceiling who can only be compared to hodgepodges of legends past and present and no one player in particular.

"We’re definitely going to enjoy it, but we are not going to stop here," Davis told reporters after the Pelicans' victory on Sunday (via postgame video).

They most certainly aren't, because Davis won't. He already ranks ninth in win shares despite having missed eight games and playing for the lottery-bound Pelicans. He's taking the NBA by storm days after turning 21.

Davis is already great, playing like a top-10 superstar and top-five building block.

What comes next, now that Davis is approaching world domination, is anyone's guess.

Recurrent All-Star appearances?


MVP candidacy?

Yes, yes and yes. All of that.

And so, so much more.

Anything is possible when finding weaknesses isn't.

*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and (subscription required).


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