Why Anthony Davis Will Prove He's Worth the Massive Hype at Age 21

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Why Anthony Davis Will Prove He's Worth the Massive Hype at Age 21
USA TODAY Sports

Have you heard of Anthony Davis? 

If you've paid even the slightest amount of attention to the NBA world over the last year, you probably have. The 21-year-old star for the New Orleans Pelicans has already lived up to being the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NBA draft, exploding onto the scene during his sophomore season and creating quite a bit of hype for himself. 

Too much hype?

Not at all, even though you can't escape the excitement surrounding his potential during the hottest months of the year. Whether his role with Team USA or his possible MVP candidacy, something about Davis has almost always been a hot topic of conversation. 

He's earned it. 

 

Already Putting Up Historic Numbers

Ned Dishman/Getty Images

It's impossible to overstate just how impressive Davis' numbers have been at this early stage in his career. 

During the 2013-14 season, he averaged a mind-boggling 20.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.3 steals and 2.8 blocks per game while shooting 51.9 percent from the field and 79.1 percent at the charity stripe.

According to Basketball-Reference.com, he had a player efficiency rating of 26.5 (fourth among qualified players), earned 10.4 win shares (14th) and accumulated 0.212 per 48 minutes (seventh). 

Given his defensive excellence, which often fails to show up in those catch-all stats, there's a serious case to be made that he was a top-five player in the NBA last year, even when he wasn't able to consume alcohol legally. 

In my NBA 200 series, Davis ranked No. 5, trailing only Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. And if he'd stayed healthy enough to avoid being docked two points in the intangibles category, he would've graded out as the No. 3 player in the Association. 

If you have a mind for basketball numbers, it's impossible to avoid marveling at what he's done, whether we're looking at him in a current context or a historical one. 

How many players recorded at least a single point, rebound, assist, block and steal per game last season? Only sevenDeMarcus Cousins, Davis, Derrick Favors, Marc Gasol, Paul Millsap, Joakim Noah and Josh Smith

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Davis was the best scorer of the bunch, though, as his efficiency trumps the extra points per game recorded by Cousins. Additionally, he led the league in blocks during the average contest and trailed only Cousins and Noah on the boards among that aforementioned group. 

Basically, he was in a league of his own this past season.

But how about if we look to the past? How many players have managed to go 20 and 10 while averaging at least one steal, two blocks and an assist per game?

Now that Davis has, there are 14 players—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elton Brand, Davis, Patrick Ewing, Kevin Garnett, Elvin Hayes, Dwight Howard, Bob Lanier, Moses Malone, Bob McAdoo, Antonio McDyess, Alonzo Mourning, Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson.

Of the 14, only Brand and McDyess are both out of the Hall of Fame and unlikely to ever gain entry. 

Together, they've combined for 41 qualified seasons, but let's sort those by youthfulness, as determined by the player's age on February 1 of the year in question. 

Only nine such years have been recorded in which the player wasn't yet 25 on the relevant start of February. Only five—McAdoo (twice), Olajuwon (twice) and Davis—weren't 24 at the time of their statistical prowess. 

Brian Drake/Getty Images

Olajuwon was the second-youngest to join the club, recording the necessary numbers in 1984-85 when he was 22 years old. 

Davis qualified as a 20-year-old. 

Now, you're more than welcome to argue that he wouldn't have been able to produce such stellar stats while playing for a more competitive team than the New Orleans Pelicans in 2013-14. But to that, I'll simply respond with a question: Why haven't many others done that throughout NBA history? 

Of course, these numbers only resonate if he can continue to produce similar ones or build upon them. If he takes a massive step backward, he won't be able to live up to even a tiny portion of the hype. 

Fortunately for the fans down by the bayou, though, there's been little reason to expect any regression. Davis actually improved as the year went on, and as we'll discuss later, he's continuing to add pieces to his game for his third go-round in the NBA. 

Just look at his numbers before and after the All-Star break: 

Keeping in mind that his minutes per game actually declined, Davis got even more potent during the second half of the season. His mid-range jumper became a reliable weapon, his passing chops clearly improved and he became increasingly comfortable serving as a high-usage option for the Pelicans. 

That's one of the huge reasons expecting a decline is either foolish or wishful thinking, assuming you're a fan of a rival team or another fringe playoff contender in the Western Conference. 

 

Two-Way Play

Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

Numbers alone don't make Davis special. They do a fantastic job getting the conversation started, but that discussion can't possibly end until his two-way excellence is noted. 

The NBA doesn't have that many players who are true game-changers on both ends of the floor. James certainly qualifies as such, as did Paul George before a compound leg fracture knocked him out of action for the entire 2014-15 campaign. Durant is a dominant offensive player, but he's still not a true shut-down defender at this stage of his career. 

So, who else qualifies? 

Chris Paul does. Marc Gasol and Dwight Howard might gain entry to the club on good days. John Wall is getting there, while age is forcing Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade out of the picture. 

But Davis certainly belongs in the group of two-way studs. 

First, there's the sheer impact he had on NOLA throughout the 2013-14 season, per Basketball-Reference.com

The Pelicans were better on both ends of the court when he played, and that's not just a fluke, especially with a constant stream of injuries knocking key players out of the lineup and preventing the team from enjoying any semblance of continuity. 

To be clear, Davis was not exactly a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year last season. There's a massive difference between being a good shot-blocker and becoming an excellent defender, as discipline and strength are far more necessary for the latter. 

The 21-year-old did finish tied for eighth in the DPOY voting, but that was probably giving him a bit too much credit. He's still developing on that end of the court, and he was susceptible to being abused in post-up situations, given his lack of strength.

Closing out on shooters also gave him trouble. 

Davis' Defensive Impact
Play Type PPP NBA Rank
Overall 0.84 108
Isolation 0.73 70
Post-Up 0.81 98
Roll Man 0.79 25
Spot-Up 0.97 184

Synergy Sports

Point being, Davis was a game-changing defense player, but he wasn't quite elite yet. He has all the tools necessary to be a DPOY favorite down the road, possibly as soon as this year given his added muscle and ever-growing frame, but it's still a process. 

Still, the impact he made as a sophomore was immense. 

His team was better defensively when he was on the court. He led the league in rejections, and he did so while staying disciplined enough to put up some fairly solid per-possession numbers. 82games.com also shows that he held opposing 4s to a 16.0 PER in 2013-14, though he struggled when he was playing center. 

And it's not like that will be as much of a concern going forward, as Omer Asik is set to team up with Davis and create a defensively dominant frontcourt where both players can suit up at their natural positions. 

The former Kentucky Wildcat was already a great defender—still not uber-elite—and there's no denying his offensive impact. After all, Davis was one of just six qualified players—Durant, James, Goran Dragic, Blake Griffin and Al Jefferson being the others—who averaged at least 20 points per game while making more than half of their shots from the field. 

It's not Davis' offense that makes him special nor is it his defense. 

It's the combination, especially when his age and expected improvement are factored into the equation. 

 

Constant Improvement 

Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

"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," Davis told radio broadcaster Sean Kelley while conducting an interview for Pelicans.com, as relayed by NBA.com. "But at the same time, touching up on the things I’m pretty good at."

During that spot, he also told the world he was getting taller, even if he didn't want to be called a 7-footer. He's also gaining muscle. Davis checked in at 220 pounds last year, but now he claims he's up to 238. He looks even bigger than that during Team USA action. 

The Pelicans will confirm that: 

No longer is the unibrowed big man a string bean; he's filled out his frame, much as Kevin Garnett did in the early stages of his career with the Minnesota Timberwolves

And that's a scary prospect for the rest of the league, especially if those jumpers and post-moves begin to click. After all, he's already gotten better on both ends of the court by a rather significant margin. 

First, defense.

Below you can see the points per possession he allowed in certain situations during his rookie and sophomore seasons, per Synergy Sports (subscription required): 

That's improvement right there, of the across-the-board variety. 

And how about offense? 

According to Vorped.com, Davis made 39.6 percent of his two-point attempts from outside the paint during the 2013-14 season. As a rookie, that number was only 30.4 percent.

However, it wasn't just the conversion rate that was so impressive; it was also how much faith the Pelicans had in him throughout the year. Toward the end of the season, he became the go-to player in crunch-time situations, and Monty Williams even drew up plays for him that would result in mid-range looks for crucial buckets. 

This summer, he's getting even better, becoming a true leader for Team USA during the portion of the offseason leading up to the 2014 FIBA World Cup.

He scored 20 points against Brazil in a friendly match, highlighted by the alley-oop slam you can see up above, and he drew nothing but rave reviews.

Here's one from Bleacher Report's Sean Highkin

There was no facet of the game that Davis didn’t dominate on Saturday. In 25 minutes, he finished with 20 points on 9-of-15 shooting, along with eight rebounds and five blocks. He threw down a couple of highlight dunks and consistently knocked down mid-range jumpers. He was the best player on the floor for either team, and it wasn’t particularly close—no light praise for a man sharing the floor with Rose, Stephen Curry, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.

In short, he looked like a star. 

Everything is setting up perfectly for Davis to continue improving during the 2014-15 season, possibly even making an MVP push that could allow him to become the youngest player ever to hold up the Maurice Podoloff trophy, dethroning Derrick Rose in the process. 

Not only will the Team USA experience be highly beneficial for him, but he's also entering that third NBA season, which so often produces the proverbial leap. And coming off a sophomore campaign that saw him submit massive improvements, historically excellent numbers and terrific two-way play, that's cause for a lot of excitement. 

Will Anthony Davis be a top-five player in 2014-15?

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Additionally, Asik's presence will take a load off him on the interior, and the returns to health of Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson will only aid him as he attempts to carry the dark-horse Pelicans into the playoffs, despite the difficult nature of the Western Conference. 

There's a lot of hype surrounding this particular burgeoning superstar, but it exists for a good reason. 

Overhyped?

That's about the last word you want to use when describing Davis. Try properly hyped instead, no matter how much attention he draws going forward.

 

What do you expect from Davis next season? Let me know on Twitter and Facebook.

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