He’s known for the thick, black, caterpillar-looking monster that rides his forehead. But while he’s making a name for himself, we seem to have condemned him to a star-in-the-making label rather than a Superstar. Last year, he averaged 20.8 points per game to go with 10.8 rebounds and 2.8 blocks, all of this while shooting well above 50% from the field. However, his team, the New Orleans Pelicans, finished dead last in the Midwest division. So just how good is the 20-year-old former Kentucky Wildcat?
As is standard for these kinds of basketball arguments these days, I’ll start with PER. In 2013-2014, the young center posted a PER of 26.5, which tops Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and Dwight Howard in their respective second seasons as NBA players. To put this even further into perspective, it is six points higher than the Indiana Pacers’ Paul George, who garnered considerably more attention last season.
Kevin Durant didn’t record a PER that high until he turned 24, and even Lebron James himself, who was the same age in his second year, had a PER of just 25.7. In fact, 26.5 is the highest Player Efficiency Rating of any 20-year-old ever. Paying attention to only this stat, Anthony Davis is literally the most promising young player in the history of the NBA.
So now that I’ve made that observation, I certainly need to break this down further to paint a better picture of what we’re dealing with here. Let’s start with defense. Davis was certainly one of the premier defenders during his years at Kentucky, but some point to his Defensive Rating and question whether his 3 blocks per game really convert to elite NBA defense.
For those of you who don’t know, Defensive Rating calculates the amount of points allowed per 100 possessions, and most players today are averaging between 102-105. This puts Davis’s 104 right around average.
But when looking at Defensive Rating, it’s important to compare it with his teammates, because the better defenses always result in lower ratings for each of the individual players. Of the Pelicans five starters, the next best from Anthony Davis was Tyreke Evans, who came in at 110, which places him in the bottom tier of NBA defenders. Davis was the only player on the entire roster who maintained a Defensive Rating under 105, but despite this, he was able to keep the Pelicans at a respectable level, ranking 19th in points allowed as a team.
Also, the data collected from SportVu cameras, which track players on the court during every NBA game, ranks Davis third in Defensive Impact, which includes blocks along with opponent field goal percentage at the rim. All of this points to Davis being one of the best defensive players in the NBA.
I’ll use the same data to figure out where “The Brow” falls when it comes to rebounding. SportVu cameras track every rebound opportunity (ball has to be in a 3-5 feet vicinity of the player) for each player in the league. This allows us to see an actual percentage of rebounds that a player grabs out of the chances they had. Once again, Davis excels, but not to the extent that he does at defense.
Last year he came down with 63.9 percent of the boards in his area, good for 10th place among NBA starting big men. However, Fox Sports reports that Davis has added up to 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason, and one can assume the increase in physicality can only help him gather rebounds in the paint.
There are really three main factors we consistently discuss when talking about great big men: Defense, Rebounding, and Scoring. So that leaves just one. It’s pretty self-explanatory; the Brow’s 20.8 points per game ranks fifteenth in the league, and seventh among big men. But it should be taken into consideration that the Power Forward at the top of that list, Kevin Love, averaged over 18 attempts a game, considerably more than the Pelicans star.
There’s a common belief that a good player on a bad team will always have inflated scoring numbers, but for Davis this just isn’t the case; the Pelicans utilize several different offensive weapons.
So what is the problem? Obviously we can’t just go giving MVP candidacy to a guy who’s playing for a sub par team, but why are his numbers not equating to more wins? Well, it really goes back to the players around him, particularly what I mentioned earlier on the defensive side. The Pelicans did a decent job in the offseason before 2013-2014, acquiring Jrue Holliday and Tyreke Evans. But Holliday missed most of the season, as did sharpshooter Ryan Anderson who was expected to share the frontcourt with Davis.
Between the injuries and the lackluster defense, the Pelicans just weren’t good enough to compete with Western Conference teams. But if they stay healthy, and if Anthony Davis comes back improved as you would expect a 21-year-old to be, then they may be able to change that.
If they can, then Anthony Davis will be a dark horse for the MVP. And while it’s unlikely he’ll be making a legitimate run at that award this year, it certainly looks like there’s a few of them in the near future for Davis. His athleticism, his production, and his work ethic all point to a very successful career. As long as he doesn’t shave his apparently lucky unibrow.