Anthony Davis isn't just the future of the NBA; he's the present as well.
Even though the 21-year-old big man has just two years of experience at the professional level, he's already blossomed into one of the league's 10 best players. That's not an exaggeration after his tremendous 2013-14 season, one in which he joined the 20-point, 10-rebound club while leading the league in blocks per game.
In fact, you could make a convincing case that he's already in the top five. When I put together my NBA 200 rankings for Bleacher Report—based solely on the 2013-14 campaign, taking potential and reputation out of the equation—Davis actually checked in at No. 5, trailing only Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
The big man with only one eyebrow, just a pair of years removed from playing for John Calipari in Lexington, Kentucky, has become a dominant two-way force at the sport's highest level, developing into one of the league's premier all-around players. Parts of his defensive game could certainly improve (rotations above all else), and his offense still has holes he's working to fix, but he's an unbelievably talented star.
Talented enough that he could supplant Derrick Rose as the NBA's youngest MVP winner, in fact.
The Chicago Bulls point guard was 22 years and five months old when he claimed the trophy; Davis won't hit that age until August 11 next year, a date that's well into the 2015 offseason.
There will be stiff competition, primarily from Durant and LeBron, but Davis has the ability to hit each of the three criteria necessary for earning enough votes to take home the league's top individual honor—statistical prowess, team success and narrative.
Statistical Prowess: Put Up Comparable Numbers to Last Season's
Davis' dominance during his sophomore season really can't be overstated.
He averaged 20.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.3 steals and 2.8 blocks per game, and his efficiency statistics made things all the more impressive. Davis shot 51.9 percent from the field, knocked down 79.1 percent of his attempts at the charity stripe and turned the ball over only 1.6 times per game. It was all good for a player efficiency rating of 26.5, per Basketball-Reference.com.
That combination of stats doesn't just resonate on a modern level; it has to be compared to historical greats in order to fully explain how dominant "The Brow" was during his second go-round.
However, what makes Davis so special is the well-rounded nature of his game. Not only did he lead the league with those 2.8 blocks per contest, but he was one of only eight players in the NBA to top a block and a steal during the average outing—Davis, Joakim Noah, Andre Drummond, Cousins, Paul Millsap, Marc Gasol, Derrick Favors and Josh Smith.
Notice anything yet?
Only Cousins and Davis are repeat offenders, yet Boogie's game simply pales in comparison to that of The Brow. Sure, he outproduced Davis by 1.9 points, 1.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 0.2 steals per game, but he recorded less than half the blocks and put up his numbers in far less efficient fashion. Those 3.5 turnovers per contest, for example, really hurt.
Oh, and defense. Despite the steal and block numbers, Boogie doesn't really play it. Davis does, usually at an elite level.
But let's stick to the sheer per-game numbers. No one in the current NBA can match them, and only a scattered few throughout NBA history have been able to do so. According to Basketball-Reference.com, only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (three times), Bob Lanier, Hakeem Olajuwon (10 times) and David Robinson (seven times) have been able to meet or exceed each one.
Making it even more amazing is Davis' age.
Olajuwon never joined the club until he was 23, and Robinson was 24 when he gained entry. No one was able to produce like this at 21, though Hakeem and The Admiral were admittedly in college and the Navy, respectively.
If Davis puts up numbers that resonate historically once more, even if they're just replicas of what he did in 2013-14, those will be good enough for him to gain serious MVP consideration, especially if he fulfills the other two parts of the criteria.
Improvement will help, of course, and it seems likely, as we'll get to later.
Team Success: Make the Playoffs
This is always a tricky issue, as the league's best and most valuable player doesn't always have to be someone who comes from a winning team. However, voters usually tend to reward players on squads who pile up the victories and avoid racking up too many losses.
Before diving into the success of the New Orleans Pelicans, let's first gather just how valuable Davis was to NOLA last season, even if the team flopped after the injuries piled up.
Davis was one of only 15 players to earn at least 10 win shares during the 2013-14 season, checking in with 10.4 and finishing at No. 14 on the leaderboard. Those ahead of him read like a who's who list in the NBA.
Remember, though, that win shares are inherently tied to the wins accumulated by the team rostering the player in question. There's some variation, due to the approximations and rounding necessary in the lengthy formula, but for the most part, the team's total win shares are quite consistent with the number of actual wins.
So, as valuable as win shares can be in a vacuum, it's even more telling to look at the win shares earned as a percentage of a team's total wins. Let's do exactly that for each of the top-15 finishers on last year's leaderboard:
|More In-Depth Win Share Stats|
|Win Shares||Team Wins||Win Share Percentage|
In terms of win share percentage, only Durant and Kevin Love managed to finish higher than Davis, which is undoubtedly impressive. And it's especially relevant here, as you can expect the big man's win share total to rise (even if the return of prominent players forces the percentage to dip) when the Pelicans start winning more games in 2014-15.
This isn't just about the offseason addition of Omer Asik but rather the returns to health of Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson.
Of that bunch, Evans missed the fewest games—10. Gordon played in 64 contests, while Holiday was only able to take the court in 34. Anderson was particularly unlucky, as freak injuries held him to only 22 outings during the 2013-14 campaign.
The timing of these blows was particularly devastating, as it prevented the Pelicans from putting together any sort of continuity and consistency. One piece would return, and another would go down, leading New Orleans to use, according to Basketball-Reference.com, a staggering 24 different starting fives throughout the season, none of which was on the court to open more than 14 games.
The Pelicans are poised for a bounce-back season, which should drastically increase Davis' chances at winning the MVP. Even if it belies the literal interpretation of the MVP abbreviation, players aren't going to find themselves at the top of ballots unless there's a playoff appearance in the works.
It's hard enough to earn strong consideration without working up toward the top of the standings, but Davis is talented enough—and important enough to his team—that he could be the exception, so long as the bayou experiences its fair share of postseason contests.
"A team coming off a 34-win season with a backcourt logjam and injury concerns galore? Competing for a championship? Have we lost our minds?" questioned Bleacher Report's Jim Cavan after calling the Pelicans one of five teams that vaulted into contention this offseason. And he answered, "No. But Anthony Davis might. And that's a problem for the rest of the league."
The Western Conference is loaded, but this team has enough talent to squeeze its way into the playoff festivities. If that happens, it'll be because of Davis' excellence, and that won't go unrewarded.
However, it's only part of the narrative.
Narrative: Keep Improving
"I'm up to 238 right now. It's all muscle, and that's what I need," Davis told radio broadcaster Sean Kelley during an interview on Pelicans.com, as relayed by NBA.com.
Well, that's terrifying.
But so too are these other quotes from the interview.
"I want to get stronger, so that when I post up, it's a lot easier for me. I think it's going to translate to the season, just my mentality, knowing that I'm a lot stronger and a lot better," explained the big man, who is taking this whole getting stronger thing quite seriously. "It's going to make me more aggressive."
"I hope not," he told Kelley about the potential that he could become a true 7-footer, a quote that came after revealing he was still growing. "I don't want to be seven feet. It just (sounds) weird, to be a 7-footer. I'd like to be 6'10", but if I grow, you can't really do anything about it. You can't help it."
Wait, so now we're looking at a dominant 21-year-old who is not only adding muscle and actively working to get much stronger but is also still growing? That's just not fair.
And Davis isn't done.
"I'm definitely working on the corner three-pointer. (Also) more post moves, a consistent mid-range jump shot, ball-handling. Those are the things I'm working on right now to get better. But at the same time, touching up on the things I'm pretty good at," he espoused during the interview.
Apparently, Davis isn't content just being a top-10 player with a case for the top five. He's putting in the type of work that may make him the third player in the NBA's true top tier, one comprised solely of Durant and LeBron.
The development showcased during the 2013-14 season was scary enough, especially when New Orleans began relying on his mid-range game during late-game situations. If he's stretching out his range further, honing that shot, adding post moves and continuing to work on his ability to function as a point-center, we could be looking at one of the Association's most standout players.
Not that he wasn't one already, of course.
MVP voters can reward the up-and-comers, so long as they're vitally important to their teams. It's one of the reasons that D-Rose was granted his trophy a few years back, though his came after a season that broke the 60-win barrier for the Chicago Bulls.
There's no doubt as to Davis' importance, and his statistical dominance is becoming increasingly obvious. If he continues to improve, there's no reason he can't win, so long as his team stays healthy and competitive against the Western gauntlet.
Last year, Davis wasn't one of the 17 players who received at least one vote on an MVP ballot, regardless of which of the five slots were occupied. This year, with a potential third-year jump looming, that's almost guaranteed to change, and the league's highly promising 21-year-old has the potential to rocket his way all the way up to the top.