Soft-core stats: Anthony Davis’s Magnetism

The age of next is now and his name is Anthony Davis. There’s a good chance you’ve either been asked or have contemplated: “Is there anyone I’d trade Anthony Davis for?” and an equally strong chance you said “No man, now please leave me alone while I eat this amazing pizza/drink this beer/smoke this weed/sniff this glue/complete this concerto” – or whatever it is you have going on. A lot of basketball fans both sober and intoxicated to the high heavens off Davis’s abilities agree that they’d rather have a 21-year-old – who’s oddly as famous for his connected eyebrows, aka unibrow, as he is for his basketball exploits – than two-time titlist and all-world everything LeBron James or multi-time scoring champ and previously undisputed champion of Future NBA, Kevin Durant. They may be right, they may be crazy.

Before we go forward, let’s look back to get some context around the uniqueness of Davis’s still-extremely young career. This is something like the spring before he begins to really develop or maybe he’ll just have a super long and extended peak that lasts 8-10 years instead of the usual 2-4 years. We know Davis already rebounds well (6th in the league in RPG) and has a competent jumper anywhere inside the three-point line. We know his arms and hands stretch into the arena skies and block shots better than anyone else in the league (led the league in BPG at 2.8 last season and leads against this year at 3.5), but as he’s developing we’re seeing him become the focal point of the Pelicans’ offense – his usage rating and FGA have gone up in each of his three seasons likely much to the chagrin of fourth quarter shot chuckers Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday. And while New Orleans is leaning more heavily on the young giant, he hasn’t merely taken it in stride, but instead upped his shooting percentages while reducing his turnovers and even fouls per game. I’m unclear how this is possible, but when it comes to Davis, it’s easy to see why people have stopped grooming that little patch of hair that occasionally sprouts between their eyebrows and why tattoo artists are prepping for the next trend in the ink industry: unibrows.

Since James and Durant are the players whose names most frequently pop up alongside Davis’s, I took a look at their first three seasons as well and saw similar gains in efficiencies particularly along the lines of improved TS% while usage and minutes played rose. More conceivably though, James and Durant’s turnovers-per-game stayed flat while Davis’s has improbably gone. I’m not splicing this apart just to give the Brow some kind of advantage, but rather to call out how ridiculous his season-to-date has been.

Of all Davis’s stunning numbers and eye-test-passing, his ability to disrupt and lay waste to opponents’ offensive schemes is most impressive to me. Through 12 games (or, 6/41 of the way through the season, or just over 14%), Davis leads the league with 3.5 blocks/game and is third in steals with 2.2 per-game. Since 1985-86, only two other players in the league been able to terrorize offenses in the same way: David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon. When Robinson achieved the 2-stls/3-blks season, like Davis, he was in his third year, but unlike barely-legal Davis, Robinson was 26-years-old. Olajuwon first accomplished it at 25, then went on to do it three more times. And if we compare Davis’s third season (again, 14% of the way through so there’s plenty of time for him to get hurt, slow down, regress, normalize or somehow get better) to Robinson and Olajuwon’s first years in the 2-stls/3-blks club, we see a younger Davis stacking up favorably against these first-ballot Hall of Famers in nearly every measure – both traditional and advanced.

When I started writing this, the Pelicans had played just ten games. And as if Davis needed any further validation, on 11/22 he went bananas with a 43-point performance on 16-23 shooting against the Jazz in Salt Lake City. Whether watching Davis destroy all comers or just tracking his evolution via stats and box scores, one gets the impression that this is all a natural organic progression for the Chicago native. Which isn’t to say it’s happening without hard work, but to say that whether I wrote this piece two months from today or four months from today, chances are there would be numerous other performances that make eyes bulge and leave mouths agape. We can gleefully wonder if there’s anyone we’d trade him for, we can compare him to Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan, and lift the lids off of our imaginations as we dream about what Anthony Davis will be doing in 2020 when he’s an in-his-prime 27-year-old raining down fire and brimstone on unfortunate NBA challengers. And while we’re doing all that prognosticating and fantasizing, we can still sink into Pelicans games and bask in Davis’s nightly pursuits of greatness.

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