Anthony Davis is something new. Something never seen before, something that represents—and may as well be from—the future.
That is why the search for comparable players from the past never seems to yield any results.
Fruitless as it feels, we have to look in those bygone eras because Davis' numbers this season put him so far beyond his contemporaries. He's miles ahead of his peers with a 33.2 player efficiency rating and is the only guy in the league who ranks in the top 10 in points, rebounds, blocks and steals per game, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
He is also shooting 57.7 percent from the floor and unofficially has lapped the field in "Holy crap, what did I just see?!" highlights.
Davis is statistically peerless.
|Anthony Davis vs. Elite Peers|
|Kevin Durant (3 games)||21.7||45.8||21.5||0.3|
What's frustrating (if you're in search of historical precedent) or invigorating (if you like the idea of basketball evolution) is that it's equally difficult to find players from the past who've matched Davis' current production.
Even exploring a limited number of AD's basic stats to keep the potential field of comparison broad, we get nothing. No player in league history has ever matched Davis' 25.2 points, 57.7 percent shooting and 33.2 PER in a single season, per Basketball-Reference.com.
If we loosen the standards a bit (to 24 points, 55 percent shooting and a PER of 32) just for fun, we still get nobody in Davis' company. Letting out more slack (23 points, 53 percent shooting and a PER of 30) gives us Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and LeBron James—arguably the three most dominant players of their respective eras.
Those guys show up in a lot of cartoonish stat clubs, but none of them has ever come close to matching Davis' 2014-15 production. And besides, loosening the statistical parameters in search of comparable players cheapens what the Brow is doing this year.
He's all alone based on scoring average, field-goal percentage and PER. Imagine how wide the gap between Davis, his peers and his historical competition becomes if we include his rankings in blocked shots (first), field goals made (first), value over replacement player (third) and win shares (second).
It sounds crazy to say, and we should keep in mind that we're only a quarter of the way through the 2014-15 season, but we may never see anybody put up numbers like this again.
One thing we know for sure: We've never seen anyone do it before.
A Sight to See
In fact, seeing Davis play actually makes it even harder to find comparisons. It's not just his production that stands out as unique; it's how his game actually looks.
Kevin Garnett comes up often as a predecessor, and there's something to that idea. Like KG, Davis is a long, rangy big man who moves around with the coordination of a wing player. But the similarities break down upon closer scrutiny.
Garnett, even in his younger days, was more mechanical than Davis is. And KG never had the same smooth form on his jumper or startling ball-handling repertoire Davis does. In terms of temperament, these two aren't close, either.
Garnett's attitude and intensity were all his own, huge parts of who he was (and is) as a player.
It's almost like the hoops gods saw KG, smoothed out the edges and polished up the personality to create Davis. Still, even that comparison feels forced.
Sure, the length and slithery quickness seem similar—even if Davis exemplifies those traits in a far larger frame. Like Pip, AD seems to get his hands on everything. He tips passes, he bothers dribblers, he even hounds smaller players into mistakes on the perimeter.
But when Davis closes out to swat jumpers or elevates way above the rim to slap shots away inside, we realize he's not like Pippen at all.
He's not Tim Duncan, either. The refinement isn't there. Though his fundamental base is sound, Davis' footwork isn't the stuff of instructional videos. He compensates for his lack of a Duncan-esque post-up game and passing skills with raw athleticism Timmy could only dream of.
The hands and ball skills call Chris Webber to mind, but AD is longer, bouncier and a better defender than C-Webb ever was.
We could keep going, but you get the idea: Davis isn't the next anybody.
He's the first him.
Who Is He?
We can't be sure what Davis will become. We can only look at his unique stats and aesthetics and wonder about the potential growth ahead. His development to this point begs for hyperbole.
You could make the case that most players are done developing after three or four years in the league. True enough: Davis' production is already so outlandish that expecting it to increase feels irrational. However, based on everything we've seen so far, I think we can agree that Davis is not most players.
And that rational expectations are pretty much out the window.
He's still growing, still expanding his game. And even if his rate of improvement slows, it's worth pointing out that Davis doesn't even need to get any better to be the best player of his generation. Arguably, he's already the best right now.
Because we've never seen anyone like him, it's impossible to know what he'll become.
Really, that's how it's supposed to be.
The true greats always put us in this position—this equally exciting and terrifying spot where the future is totally inscrutable because there's no preexisting template.
Those true greats shared something critical in common with Davis: They pulled together bits and pieces of their predecessors and added new, never-before-seen skills, too.
Kevin Durant is a lot like George Gervin in body type and shooting knack, but he's bigger, more complete and even better at the one thing—scoring—that made the Ice Man so great.
LeBron has plenty of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in him, but he's entirely different from those two because of his unprecedented combination of size, strength and speed.
Even Michael Jordan combined elements of the past with something new. No one had ever seen a player with the raw physical gifts, competitive fire and relentless work ethic he had. Put another way, he was the first built-in-a-lab prototype of basketball perfection complete with every possible element necessary for greatness. Some elements we'd seen before; some were totally unexpected. As a total package, he, too, was unlike anyone who'd come before.
In defying comparison, Davis actually shares something with all of the game's transcendent superstars of yesteryear: Nobody knew who to compare them to, either.
So it's time to give up. To let go. To enjoy the ride.
It's time to let Davis turn into whatever it is he's going to become.
"It makes you smile to see yourself becoming the player you want to be,” Davis told Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated. “When people talk about the greatest ever, I want to be in that conversation. I’m nowhere close to it. No...where...close. But it’s where I want to go.”
If the previously unparalleled are any guide, this process is going to be a whole lot of fun.