When Will Anthony Davis Legitimately Enter the NBA MVP Debate?

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistNovember 10, 2014

NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 28: Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans dunks against the Orlando Magic on October 28, 2014 at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, LA. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
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It's not Anthony Davis' fault that, despite statistical dominance and highlights aplenty, an Most Valuable Player award still feels like it's a million miles away for him.

It's ours.

The Numbers

NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 16: Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans drives against the Oklahoma City Thunder during an NBA game on October 16, 2014 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges an
Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images

Davis leads the NBA in player efficiency rating, rebounds per game and blocks per game. He checks in at No. 5 in points per game while also ranking in the top 10 in steals per game.

Put simply, he's been posting numbers in the early part of the 2014-15 campaign that look like they come from some other extraterrestrial league.

If you'll indulge me a little cherry-picking, consider this: Nobody, ever, has averaged Davis' 24.4 points, 12.8 rebounds, 4.4 blocks and a PER over 30 in a single season in NBA history. Davis' PER is 34.9.

Sure, it's early, and statistical regression is a distinct possibility. But even if we drop out those outlandish block numbers, we still see that only Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O'Neal have ever matched Davis' scoring, rebounding and efficiency stats in a single season.

Maybe we're dealing with unsustainable production rates here. Maybe Davis' stats will tail off as the sample gets larger and as defenses bend over backward to make sure he's not the one who beats them.

Still, if Davis finishes with numbers anywhere close to the ones he's posted so far, it's going to take some serious mental gymnastics—a real three-ring circus of rationalization—to deny him the MVP.

Because this is about more than just numbers.

Something New

NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 28: Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans dunks against the Orlando Magic on October 28, 2014 at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, LA. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or us
Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

Stats tell us things about players we don't see often enough to form a complete picture.

Not sure what Davis' game is like? No worries, you can check out his 24-and-12 to get a good idea of how effective he is and where he ranks among his peers.

Relying on numbers misses the point with some players, though. You need to see them to really appreciate what the stats mean. Not all 24-and-12s are created equal, and Davis' figures in particular don't do his game justice.

For him, moving pictures are worth many, many thousands of words.

Davis does not move like other athletes of his size (6'10", 220 lbs). He possesses a fluidity that belongs in a smaller body and he punctuates the flowing quality of his motion with short, violent, utterly startling athletic bursts.

Sometimes he glides languidly across the floor, getting to spots with long, smooth strides. Sometimes, he's almost seven feet of fast-twitch muscle fiber fired from a cannon.

If you're not sure what to think when you watch Davis' unfathomable combination of size, speed and coordination, you're not alone.

There is no physical equal for Davis in today's NBA, and there may not be a historical comparison either. I guess if you put Kevin Garnett and Scottie Pippen into an atom smasher and let the particles collide, you'd have a start.

His game is so limitlessly frightening that his development has become top-secret.

"He has one thing that we're working on that I'm not going to say because I don't want anybody to know about it," New Orleans Pelicans head coach Monty Williams told Jordan Brenner of ESPN The Magazine.

Suffice it to say, Davis is a rare thing. Not just because we don't know what to make of the way he moves, but also because of his status as someone whose numbers and performance on the eye test reveal identical conclusions: He's a monster.

Like the ones produced by LeBron James and Kevin Durant, Davis' game generates eye-popping stats and audible gasps in equal quantity.

We can't believe what we're watching.

We don't understand how Davis does the things he does.

We throw our hands up and pretend this is all some hilarious experiment.

But it's real.

Obstacles in Play

Oct 28, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) blocks a shot by Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton (4) during the second quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

By one measure, Davis already has a real shot at the MVP. Sekou Smith of NBA.com ranked him atop his MVP ladder after the season's first week.

By another—objective logic—he should also be the front-runner.

His age works against him, though. At 21, there's this sense that Davis still has tons of time to develop and we don't need to honor him yet because he's an unfinished product. The terrifying truth that Davis is not yet what he'll become is worth pausing to consider.

But Davis' incomprehensible potential shouldn't obscure what he's doing now. It shouldn't get in the way of our appreciation for how good he already is. How great, actually, if we're being honest.

"He'll get it eventually," we subconsciously think. "So why rush to crown him with an MVP now?"

There's something else working against Davis' MVP chances, and it's even more frustrating than the idea of holding his youth against him: the notion that his New Orleans Pelicans have to make the playoffsat the very leastfor him to have a chance.

As outmoded ways of thinking go, this is one of professional sports' very worst.

If Davis were to average 50 points per game on 50 percent shooting, lead the league in rebounds and log 60 triple-doubles, we'd still give him the MVP if the Pellies fell short of the postseason, right?

Of course we would.

That's an extreme example, but it forces us to acknowledge the fact that, yes, there is a point at which we'd look past playoff exclusion in the MVP conversation.

Davis won't average 50, but if he continues to post stats like the ones he has so far—stats that make him the league's most objectively productive and valuable player—why should we approach the issue any differently?

MILWAUKEE, WI - 1976: Kareem Abdul Jabbar #33 of the Los Angeles Lakers grabs a rebound against the Milwaukee Bucks at the Mecca in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.     NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges  and agrees that, by downloading and or using this  pho
NBA Photos/Getty Images

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the only player to win an MVP award in a season when his team missed the playoffs. He did it by averaging 27.7 points, 16.9 rebounds, five assists and 4.1 blocks for a 1975-76 Los Angeles Lakers team that went just 40-42.

Look at those numbers. He led the league in rebounds, blocks and PER. Of course Kareem deserved that award.

If Davis winds up leading the 2014-15 campaign in rebounds, blocks and PER while scoring around 24 points per game, he'll deserve the award, too—playoffs or not.

Come On, People

NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 16: Jeremy Lamb #11 of the Oklahoma City Thunder handles the ball against Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans during an NBA game on October 16, 2014 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: U
Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images

We need to get this hammered out now because the Pelicans probably won't make the postseason. They lack depth, and no matter how great Davis plays, he can't make up for a thin team that has to compete in a brutally tough Western Conference.

Despite his heroics to this point, the Pellies are just 3-2, and it's ridiculous to say that record somehow reflects poorly on Davis.

He's already doing more for his team than anyone else is for theirs. He's doing more than anyone, period.

All the buzz Davis is getting now will fade if the Pelicans gradually slip from the playoff picture, and that's not fair. AD has done all he can to put himself in the MVP conversation this season. He belongs there—now, and as long as he continues to blow us away with stats and highlights.

It's up to voters to focus on the things that matter and ignore the nonsense that doesn't.

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

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