Anthony Davis: A Statistical Anomaly

Something weird happened at the end of the Pelicans game earlier this week against the Trailblazers. It wasn’t that the Pelicans blew a 12-point lead or that they were outscored by 21 points in the 4th quarter or that Anthony Davis blocked a fadeaway jump shot from a guy that is nearly 7 feet tall. It was the weird feeling I got when the game was over. It felt like a gut punch mixed with an intense desire to turn off all of lights in the house and sit quietly in the corner of the room and cry.  What was that? Am I really becoming that much of an Anthony Davis fan that I get upset when the Pelicans lose? It’s one game in November and I don’t even like the Pelicans! Why do I feel like I just lost my dog?

In the history of my adult life — which officially began in August of 2002 — I have felt this intensely about exactly two players: Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.  That’s not to say that they are the two greatest players I have ever watched or that I haven’t enjoyed other players immensely along the way.  Those two players stand out to me for reasons that are beyond my control. Kobe entered the height of his powers at a time when I was working out in the gym every day trying to reach my own potential as a basketball player. I spent hours working on moves I’d watch Kobe use in games – his reverse pivot jumper is my favorite move of all time and one that I still use to this day, albeit against 40 and 50 year old men in my local rec center league.

LeBron played in the same AAU tournaments that I did growing up. Like most teenagers, I spent days daydreaming about playing college and pro basketball. LeBron became my proxy for these things. He is by my account, the greatest basketball player that I have ever witnessed. And above all else, I guess I just tend to root for greatness.

Anthony Davis can be great. This isn’t a news flash but Davis has a chance to be great enough that we really can’t put a number on it. Top 20? Top 10? Top 5? Higher? Davis is at a point in his career where nothing seems out of the realm of possibility. A fair number of players have that potential as 16-year-olds. Fewer still have it as 20-year-olds. And even fewer are able to reach it by their prime.  In my adult lifetime, only James has gone from potentially great, to developing-into-great to all time great the way that made me feel there was (and is) no limit. Davis is officially the second.

Anthony Davis' progress through 3 seasons (per 100 possessions)

Anthony Davis’ progress through 3 seasons (per 100 possessions)

His greatness is even more fun to analyze when thumbing through advanced statistics. He is currently leading the league in both blocks per game and steals per game. He is also leading the league in contested rebounds per game and is sixth in rebounds per chance of players that grab at least 6 boards per game. He leads the league in points in the paint and is shooting 80% on “close shots,” nearly 10% better than Dwight Howard and 15% better than DeMarcus Cousins. He is also second in the league in second chance points, behind only Russell Westbrook — who has only played 1.5 games. He has nearly the same True Shooting percentage as Dirk Nowitzki, despite not making a 3-pointer all year! And lastly, he is 12th in points off of turnovers, a stat that is dominated by perimeter players. In short, Davis is a 6″10 power forward that dominates both guard statistics and center statistics.

A list of Anthony Davis' rankings for the 2014-15 season

A list of Anthony Davis’ rankings for the 2014-15 season

Davis’ numbers and his all around impact on the game will continue to improve. He has managed to dominate games despite ranking 26th in USG%, behind players like Chris Bosh and Brook Lopez. And perhaps that is a good thing. Rather than being thrown the ball and forced to figure things out in an inefficient way, Davis has been forced to play off of the ball a lot in his young career, often with ball dominant, shoot-first point guards like Tyreke Evans. Inadvertently, this has taught Davis to perfect the art of scoring off of the ball. What will happen once he is given an offense and a roster designed around him? He’s already shown an improved post game, a catch and shoot confidence and efficiency that should make the entire league shudder. He has an impressive 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio, an ingredient of equal importance for dominant post players as post up field goal percentage. And to top it all off, he has the learning curve of Lawnmower Man. Every game it seems like he figures out something new.

FGM and FG% through 3 seasons (Per 100 Possessions)

FGM and FG% through 3 seasons (Per 100 Possessions)

Watching Davis has reached pure basketball bliss. At the moment, his greatness transcends wining or losing. He is doing things that I never imagined a player doing and every game I get to watch is a whole new experience. I’m excited that I will likely get to watch him play for well over a decade. To this point, his career is like the opening scene in Pulp Fiction or the opening track on Nevermind.  You know he’s going to be special. You know he’s going to be new unique. You know he is going to change the game. And you know he is going to be an all time great.

About @Adam_Mares

Adam Mares is a Colorado native and an NBA mega fan.