One NBA team's unibrow-clad superstar is another 29 franchises' nightmare.
Anthony Davis' dazzling development is on full display this season. In less than one year, he's gone from freakishly gifted athlete to flat-out superstar. It hasn't been a sudden transition, but he's progressing quickly, more than most could have projected.
With each passing game comes renewed expectations—never mind an elevated ceiling. Limits on his potential disappeared long ago. When he looks to his left or his right, he sees clouds. When he looks up, he peers into the heavens and a potential future that stretches well past sky high.
Fueling his rapid rise to celebrity is near-matchless versatility, his ability to do just about everything and do it well. This is not to say he's perfect. There's still plenty of room for him to grow and improve.
But that's the scary thing for every team not named the New Orleans Pelicans.
Defending Davis, playing against him, is already difficult, and it's only going to get worse from here. Soon enough, there won't be a bigger, more strenuous task than playing opposite a 21-year-old with the interior presence of a conventional big man, shooting touch of a swingman and handles of a floor general.
Then again, that may already be true.
Try to describe Davis speaking only in hyperbole.
Overstating his abilities is almost as challenging as playing against him, because the way in which he carries himself and produces is inventive.
Recently, he's been on a tear, putting up video game numbers, per Basketball Insiders' Tommy Beer:
Over his last 8 games, Anthony Davis is averaging 32.3 pts,13.5 rebs & 2.5 blocks - while shooting shooting 58% from the floor & 85% on FT's— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) March 23, 2014
Through those eight games, Davis has also put himself in special company:
Anthony Davis has scored at least 28 points & grabbed 9 boards in 8 straight games. 1st player to do that since Shaq in 2001.— Tommy Beer (@TommyBeer) March 23, 2014
Penciling Davis into the record books has become something of a nightly tradition. Every game, he seems to do something he hasn't done before. At the very least, he tends to follow up spectacular performances with spectacular performances.
Against the Miami Heat, he was, not surprisingly, spectacular, recording 30 points, 11 rebounds and three steals, completely obliterating South Beach's front line.
Anthony Davis completely destroying the Heat's front line defenders right now. Bird, Bosh, Haslem. No answer at all.— Michael Wallace (@WallaceNBA_ESPN) March 23, 2014
It was Davis' third straight game with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds, tying him with Kevin Durant and Al Jefferson for the second-longest such streak of this season, behind only Kevin Love (six). And per ESPN's Michael Wallace, he's the only player in Pelicans history to hit 30 and 10 in three straight games:
Anthony Davis set 2 franchise records. First to score at least 28 in 8 straight games. Also first with 3 straight 30pt-10rb games.— Michael Wallace (@WallaceNBA_ESPN) March 23, 2014
"He's a very good, young player that can do virtually everything on the basketball court," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after watching Miami fall 105-95 to New Orleans, via Wallace. "His age belies his game."
That's an understatement.
The 21-year-old Davis is barely old enough to shamelessly purchase his own pear martinis. Renting a car isn't even an option for him in some states. Yet this is the same Davis who is also averaging 21.7 points, 10.4 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 2.9 blocks on 53 percent shooting per game.
Only four other players have sustained benchmarks of 20/10/1/2/53 for an entire season. Of those four—Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob McAdoo—none of them was younger than 22 at the time. Davis, meanwhile, just turned 21.
Point being, he's good—really good. In every area of the game, he's playing like a seasoned veteran, not an inexperienced sophomore still searching for an identity.
Pretty much everyone had him pegged for an elite defender coming out of Kentucky, but few could have predicted how quickly he would develop into an unstoppable offensive force, regularly eclipsing 20 points.
Back in January, Bleacher Report' Jared Dubin penned a statistically driven piece on Davis, delving deeper into his offensive ascension, unearthing situation-specific improvements:
While he still has ways to go before becoming one of the league's best one-on-one players, his ability to move without the ball and find creases in the defense has already made him a deadly finisher on pick-and-rolls, cuts and in transition.
He can (a) finish through contact; (b) catch and keep the ball high in the air to avoid being stripped, better enabling him to draw a foul; (c) slip his roll into open space and do filthy, dirty, disgusting things to the rim if you don't get in his way; (d) slip his roll into open space and pull up for a quick jumper; and (e) attack off the dribble after catching the ball near the nail, where he isn't close enough to just dunk right away and doesn't have enough room to pull the trigger on his jumper.
Among Davis' most notable advancements is his expansive offensive range. Not many 6'10" towers can step out and drill jumpers frequently and efficiently. Davis is an exception.
While he's still not chucking three-pointers in volume—don't worry, that will come later—he's been close to automatic outside eight feet.
|Season||%FGA Inside 8 FT||FG% Inside 8 FT||%FGA 16-24 FT||FG% 16-24 FT|
Not only is Davis stepping outside eight feet more frequently, but he's also hitting those shots at a higher rate. How do you defend a forward-center who can take you off the dribble, score in the post or splash home jumpers on the perimeter?
The Celtics witnessed firsthand how impossible it is to contain him when he jab-stepped his way to a lead-taking jumper over Jeff Green and Brandon Bass late in the fourth quarter on March 16. It was an unguardable shot by an unguardable player.
It was one of many displays showcasing Davis' unparalleled versatility.
Understanding Davis' Peers
Davis isn't the only matchup nightmare in the NBA—far from it, in fact.
Plenty of players cause headaches and wreak havoc for rival offenses and defenses. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kevin Love are all names that spring to mind when discussing talents who frustrate the opposition.
Love has an insane touch from the outside for someone his size, James can play and defend every position and Durant is basically a borderline 7-footer masquerading as a shooting guard. All of them, among others, are problematic matchups who make things difficult with out-of-position skill sets and across-the-board production.
But can anyone actually do what Davis does?
32-15-8 62% TS 30 PER RT @ZachLowe_NBA: I'm not sure I can fathom what peak Anthony Davis is going to look like.— netw3rk (@netw3rk) March 17, 2014
In Davis, the NBA has someone who could realistically lead everyone in points, rebounds, steals and blocks per game—in the same season. No one says that about Durant or James. There may be games when Durant goes for 30 points and 10 rebounds and James flirts with a triple- or quadruple-double, but Davis can consistently pad every stat line imaginable.
None of which is to say he's better than James or Durant. Davis doesn't pass like James, nor does he score like Durant. But one day, he could.
There's a foundation for everything in Davis' game. Big men don't typically enter the league under that all-reaching guise. He's more of an anomaly than Durant or LeBron in some ways, because neither of them entered the league as a power forward.
Over time, they've vacillated between different positions, especially James. Davis, on the other hand, is actually playing center. Most of his minutes have come at the 5 this season.
See, when referencing matchup nightmares, it's important to take into account positional expectations.
Are there even even five players who you would trade Anthony Davis for?— netw3rk (@netw3rk) March 17, 2014
When James notches a triple-double, it's incredible, yet typical. Forwards are supposed to rebound. Point forwards who shoulder playmaking responsibilities are becoming more common.
When Durant gets hot from deep, it's equally mesmerizing. Someone his size shooting from that distance used to be unheard of.
"Used to" being the operating phrase.
Durant is supposed to hit threes and score off the dribble. That's what small forwards and stretch 4s do.
No such definition pertains to Davis. While of similar size, he's a big man playing a big and small man's game on both ends of the floor.
So, Does That Mean...
Davis is a matchup nightmare, no doubt. There is no planning for what he can do on either end of the floor. To watch him play is to see skills from all five positions rolled into one—and then some.
As of now, he falls just short of the absolute nightmare. There are more frightening matchups in James and Durant. That this is even a conversation, though, speaks to Davis' scaling potential.
Who is the biggest matchup nightmare in the NBA?
In only his second season, Davis is close. He's right there, next to James and Durant, among a select few others, as someone who cannot be stifled by any one approach.
One day soon, given his rapid development, that will hold true to him more than it does anyone else, James and Durant included—just not now.
"He's spectacular. He's getting better every single day," James said of Davis, per The Associated Press (via USA Today). "When you know you're a star and your team looks at you as a leader, as a star, you make plays and that's what he's doing."
What Davis is doing, what he can do, isn't typical—not for someone his size, playing his position, at his age.
Does that mean what we think it means?
No, it doesn't.
But it soon will.