Comparing Anthony Davis to Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett's Rookie Seasons

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 12, 2013

New Orleans Hornets rookie Anthony Davis may have avoided serious injury, but his recent ailment was serious enough that it's brought his first year to a close.

The first overall pick in 2012 will not play in his club's final three games after an MRI revealed a sprained MCL and a bone bruise (via Kevin Spain of USA Today). He suffered the injury when an attempted charge resulted in Sacramento Kings guard Marcus Thornton falling on his leg during the teams' matchup on April 10.

Perhaps plagued by limited involvement, he averaged less than 29 minutes a night, he won't be bringing any hardware with him into the summer. But he showed enough to have Hornets (err...Pelicans) fans salivating before next season.

Of course scouts predicted that was exactly how Hornets fans would be spending their offseason, comparing the versatile big man with some of the league's premier post players.

Now that his season is officially over, though, just how close has Davis already come to meeting those lofty expectations?

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By the numbers, he didn't quite approach the tremendous rookie campaign of Tim Duncan. Then again the then-21-year-old Duncan was a seasoned product after spending four years at Wake Forest, three more than the raw Davis spent at Kentucky.

While Davis impressed in his rookie season (13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game), Duncan dazzled in his own (21.1 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks). Duncan was also afforded more than 10 extra minutes per game, logging better than 39 during his first of 14 All-Star seasons.

But Davis may already be ahead of Kevin Garnett's pace. Now Garnett was an even more unproven commodity when he made the preps-to-pros leap in 1995. But both Davis and Garnett were 19 years old for at least the majority of their respective debut seasons.

Davis benefited from being able to follow in the footsteps of these interior stars. When Garnett found his way to the NBA, teams had never seen anything like him. He spent the first two seasons of his career as an oversized small forward and finished his rookie campaign with a solid, yet unspectacular 10.4 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks.

Advanced analytics suggest Davis is even further along in his development than his best statistics suggest. Despite missing time this season with a concussion, an ankle injury and a shoulder sprain, he's still assembled the second-highest player efficiency rating of all rookies, 21.79 (via ESPN.com). 

Again it's not quite enough to match Duncan's first year (22.6), but clear ahead of Garnett's (15.8).

But Davis didn't finish outside of the top spot in all of the categories. He had the best block percentage of the group (5.1, via basketball-reference.com), but that was somewhat to be expected on the heels of his record-setting freshman season at Kentucky.

What's been a nice bonus for the Hornets, though, has been his efficient performance on the offensive end. In terms of offensive rating, or points per 100 possessions, Davis' 113 gave him a comfortable edge over both Duncan (108) and Garnett (107).

But despite what you may have heard coming out of the analytically inclined MIT Sloan Sports crowd, there's still a story to be told beyond the numbers.

Here's where Davis draws the most Garnett comparisons, and for good reason. Although he's filled the opposite forward spot from where Garnett used to line up, Davis is anything but a liability away from the basket.

He has the quickness and agility to defend smaller players on the perimeter, where his tremendous length has also became a factor. He'll need to bulk up over the coming years and has given ground on the defensive block, but his athleticism has helped negate his natural vulnerability to a degree.

Like the young KG, Davis' offensive post game is very much a work in progress. He's no liability on the block, but it's abundantly clear that he didn't have the same time to hone his craft as Duncan did.

But Davis has found a nice blend of both Hall of Famers' offensive skills.

His Duncan-esque midrange proficiency hasn't translated to the pro game as quickly as scouts hoped; he shot just 30 percent from beyond 10 feet, via NBA.com. But judging by his solid mechanics it's only a matter of time until they do.

And he's shown a Garnett-like understanding of how to fully exploit his length and athleticism on the offensive end. Whether cutting off of the baseline or exploding out of the pick-and-roll, he's bought himself a number of point-blank looks at the basket, as evidenced by his near 70-percent success rate within five feet without the lack of a strong post game.

Comparing a teenager to a pair of first-ballot Hall of Famers seems grossly unfair to that player.

But as Davis grew more comfortable throughout the season, he averaged better than 16 points and nine rebounds in March and April (via NBA.com), he kept those comparisons from being labelled impossibly high.

There's no guarantee that Davis will have a career anywhere close to that of Garnett and Duncan.

Then again, there's no guarantee that he won't, either.


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