Anthony Davis Ending Sophomore Season as Part of NBA's Elite

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Anthony Davis Ending Sophomore Season as Part of NBA's Elite
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Anthony Davis is already a stud power forward, and what comes next is perhaps a terrifying reality for the rest of the league.

With Davis' sophomore season coming to a closethe New Orleans Pelicans announced Thursday that he would miss the rest of the season due to back spasms—The Brow has demonstrated a combination of skill and potential that suggest it’s only a matter of time before he takes over the league. Davis will only be 21 years old when next season tips off, and it’s already apparent he is a superstar in the making.

The New Orleans Pelicans' shortage of talent and bevy of injuries have certainly put him at the forefront of the team, but it's not like he overdoes it. Everything seems to come within the flow of the game as it pertains to him.

Davis boasts a top-five player efficiency rating (PER), per Basketball-Reference, and more impressively, he is accomplishing this without a single refined skill. Indeed, Davis is a 6’10’’ athletic marvel who just seems to effortlessly glide on the court. He is a mixture of fluid movements coupled with what looks like a game where nothing is ever forced.

The second-year player has a smooth jump shot that makes you believe he’s a small forward, and Davis’ ball-handling is reminiscent of a young Kevin Garnett.

The aesthetics of it all are certainly fascinating and enjoyable, but that’s not what makes Davis great. Let's look at the facets of his game in order to grasp not only where Davis is, but also where he is headed.

 

Offense Remains a Work in Progress

Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images
Anthony Davis puts the ball on the floor and attacks.

Davis lacks polish as an offensive player, but it barely matters because of his physical gifts.

Despite being under legal drinking age for most of the season, Davis averaged 20.8 points per game on 51.9 percent shooting this year. He gets his points mostly through the help of his teammates, but there are signs that the team will eventually gravitate around Davis’ offensive prowess.

The best way to utilize him is in the pick-and-roll because he is a dangerous finisher around the basket. Per Synergy Sports (subscription required), he converted 54.2 percent of his pick-and-roll field-goal attempts this year.

Defenses are typically forced into abandoning perimeter players to pick up Davis, which leads to high-percentage looks for other Pelicans. He was actually a guard in high school, and then became an interior player because of a growth spurt. That transition makes him a good passer, even though his 1.6 assists per game might not suggest it on the surface.

Also, Davis is a good pick-and-pop option because of a potent mid-range jump shot. Opponents do not yet respect his jumper, but considering he hit 40.1 percent of his mid-range jumpers this year (according to NBA.com), that time is coming.

By next season, he should be able to draw out defenders and fool them with pump fakes much like Chris Bosh, and then explode to the basket for easy scores.

The semi-perimeter skills are certainly intriguing, but Davis will likely become the focal point of the Pelicans offense on the low block. In this setting, his preferences are the turnaround jumper and a soft right-handed hook shot that looks like a floater. Watch him put the hook shot to use:

Davis is fairly good at converting these shots, but he gets himself into trouble in post-ups because of his lack of strength. He has instances where he catches the ball somewhere between the elbows and the three-point line because he cannot establish deep post position.

Thus, he has to put the ball on the floor and make due with whatever shot he can manufacture in this space, given that he is not yet comfortable enough to dribble a second time.

"I'm very long and lengthy, so I can usually get to the basket in one dribble," the big man told Grantland’s Zach Lowe. "But if I can get to that second dribble, and get to my counters, guys can't slide with me. That's going to be huge for me."

Davis converted 40.3 percent of his post-up shots this season, according to Synergy Sports, and this offers context with respect to why. Once he starts bulking up a little and improves his ball-handling, Davis should become one of the best low-post players in the league.

Jonathan Bachman
Anthony Davis' low-post game is still taking shape.

Keep in mind, he still needs to add counters (left hook and drop step, for instance), and that will probably come around his mid-20s. The repetitions coupled with experience and know how should allow his post game to flourish by then.

Still, Davis’ improvements have impressed some of the sharpest basketball minds, and count the Point Forward’s Rob Mahoney as one of them:

The pick-and-roll success was a given; players as long and lithe as Davis tend to give opponents fits when utilized on the move, and from his first day in the league Davis was deadly when aimed toward the basket. It’s the other flourishes that have improbably brought Davis to the brink of the league’s top 10 in scoring: The isolation play, the catch-and-shoot accuracy, the quiet aptitude from the low block. In a year’s time Davis has gone from a specialist of sorts to a more broadly applicable scorer, the kind of jump which then gives the Pelicans a world of room to experiment with different kinds of complementary players.

The scariest aspect about Davis is the multitude of players he already seems to emulate, despite the fact he probably isn’t close to reaching his ceiling. He has parts of Tim Duncan and KG. The Duncan comparison might be the most eye-opening of all given that he spent four years in college, whereas Davis only spent one.

 

Prospective Defensive Star

Davis has the tools to be a lockdown defensive anchor, but he is not there quite yet.

Teams put him in pick-and-rolls to force him away from the hoop, and also to make him wonder what his assignment is. Davis understands the scheme of head coach Monty Williams, but he is slow to react at times.

The action moves a bit too fast for him at the moment. He simply needs more experience in order to gain a better understanding of his responsibilities.

What’s more, most interior players have an easy time backing him down in post-up situations and creating good looks for themselves because Davis lacks the necessary strength to offer resistance.

Don Ryan
LaMarcus Aldridge backs down Anthony Davis on the block.

The big man is still impressive in his own right, though. His length and athleticism allow him to occasionally make up for mental lapses.

He is quick to close out on shooters and even deflects shots every now and then. Keep in mind, Davis accomplishes this despite getting himself out of position, which suggests he should be able to become a huge defensive piece once he understands all of the nuances on that side of the ball.

Davis certainly has room to grow, but he’s still an asset defensively. His inability to rotate to the ball in a timely manner results in opponents getting high-percentage looks in the paint.

This explains why the Pelicans defend virtually at the same statistical level whether Davis is on the hardwood or not, per NBA.com. He is not yet a stopper, but the coaching staff has put in a few wrinkles to help expedite the process and take advantage of the things he does well.

Davis is not a great perimeter defender, but he can still switch out onto wing players and give them some space to prevent drives. The sophomore's long arms allow him to contest shots even when he invites players to settle for jumpers.

In addition to his league-leading 2.8 blocks per game, Davis racks up a fair amount of steals on average (1.3). The majority of his swats come in one-on-one settings or when he rotates to the ball and catches a fairly young player that has no clue how to properly attack the paint.

When matched up against a post player, Davis is skilled enough to perfectly time his jump to deflect his opponent's shot attempts. Watch him block David West below:

The real intrigue comes when he is tasked with guarding a perimeter player. Indeed, even when he gets beat off the bounce, he is quick enough to recover and bother the shot or simply block it outright. Watch below as he catches Carmelo Anthony:

The play on Anthony is certainly indicative of his ability to recover on plays, but it also highlights his lack of knowledge in terms of player tendencies.

Anthony loves to go left, and therefore, Davis should have been sitting on that particular hand. He still recovered and swatted the shot, but it certainly helps to illustrate how Davis gets himself out of position and occasionally commits fouls, although he cleanly rejected Anthony in the video.

He’s averaging 3.1 fouls per 36 minutes, which is on par with other notable power forwards in their second seasons. Have a look below:

Foul Rates as Sophomores
Player Fouls per 36 minutes
Amar'e Stoudemire 3.3
Blake Griffin 3.3
LaMarcus Aldridge 3.3
Kevin Love 2.9
Tim Duncan 2.7
Chris Bosh 2.7

Basketball-Reference.com

Obviously, it’s impossible to determine if Davis will remedy these warts, but the evidence certainly leads one to believe he will. He has improved on both sides of the floor when compared to his rookie year, and he does not look as lost defensively as last season.

Davis has become a better shot blocker and is a better defender overall because he has learned how to better cover ground with his wingspan and make quicker reactions to the ball.

 

Emerging Beast

D. Clarke Evans/Getty Images
Anthony Davis could become an evolutionary version of Tim Duncan.

Davis is an amazing talent, and it seems fairly evident he will one day rule the NBA.

Remember, Davis is only two years removed from college, and he will finish the season averaging over at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. For the sake of context, here is the list of players on pace to accomplish this same feat this year:

It’s quite an exclusive club, but that undersells how impressive Davis has been in his second season as a pro. When we look back at NBA history, only 32 players have reached these thresholds in their second campaigns, and 20 of them are in the Hall of Fame.

Granted, this isn’t a surefire indicator of future success, but it gives an idea of how rare of a talent Davis is. He is rapidly approaching the likes of Griffin, Aldridge and Love at the ripe age of 21.

The moment he becomes a dominant force on either side of the court, we will have to consider him possibly as the best at his position given the multitude of things he already brings to the table (points, rebounds and blocks).

It’s worth noting, for all of his gifts, Davis is also more than happy to help out his teammates by doing the necessary evils.

Indeed, he screens, hustles to the ball, defends physical players and sets an example by playing the right way. As ESPN.com’s David Thorpe noted (subscription required), the combination of talent and attitude makes Davis an incredibly special player:

Players who do the little things like he does are the game's true stars, the best of the best. Because it's those small details that help win titles. The Pelicans are not close to that now -- they need to fill out the roster with guys who complement Davis -- but they have something that only a very select few teams have: a future MVP winner. 

Based on his evolution to date, it’s only a matter of time before Davis is the very best power forward the league has to offer. That’s probably still two or three years away, but it looks as though Davis will be a top-10 player by next season, if he isn't already.

 

All stats accurate as of April 9, 2014.

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