There are many stages in which the typical NBA player progresses through on his path to superstardom.
Most start out as highly touted, but unproven draft picks. Organisations have spent their entire year amassing loss after loss in order to land enough ping pong balls to land such a valuable commodity. Top five NBA draft picks are gold – possibly the most valuable good to a team other than a bonafide superstar – and teams go through countless measures in order to first of all attain them, and secondly to ensure those picks turn into the aforementioned superstar.
In their Rookie seasons, these high draft picks often show flashes of what executives drooled over when evaluating the prospects but do so in an inefficient manner. Think Derrick Rose in his rookie season. Rose put up a nice stat line of a shade under 17 points per game and dished out over six assists per game, but did so on just 51% True Shooting. While he showed every bit of his athletic self, his effort was inconsistent defensively and his points were largely empty. Rose wound up winning rookie of the year that year.
After their promising rookie season, these prodigies often grind their way through their second season making moderate improvement, but not enough to garner national attention. “They won the rookie of the year last year, they should be All-NBA this year! ” Is often the general consensus among the uninformed. Rose is again another parallel here. The thought around the league was that he never really progressed from his rookie season like the expected jump. Rose’s scoring leaped as anticipated, but his assists declined along with an increase in turnovers. This is all on the surface however – as advanced numbers show that Rose’s assist percentage actually increased while his turnover percentage declined.
A superstar often comes out to show the world what he can do in the playoffs. Rose again gives an interesting comparison, as after his sophomore season in the NBA it was the playoffs where he really became a household name and foreshadowed what was to come. Rose gave the top seeded Cleveland Cavaliers all they could handle, averaging a shade under 27 points per game in a hard fought series loss. The raw numbers gave the media a narrative of a young hero rising to the occasion, whereas the informed minority knew that Rose’s game had certainly improved to the point where a performance like this was not beyond the realm of possibility.
Anthony Davis began his NBA career as a highly touted, but largely unproven NBA draft pick. Davis was the consensus number one overall pick in mock drafts, with a defensive ability believed to be transformative and an offensive skill set that mirrored that of a guard, all while being the best part of seven feet tall. Davis – like many of his fellow NBA superstars – flat out dominated the college ranks, however this is where the comparison with most NBA superstars ends.
In college, Davis did not put up gaudy points per game numbers like Kevin Durant however his overall impact on the college game was arguably just as great. Davis was a basketball minimalist in his one year at Kentucky – a phrase coined by fantastic NBA writer Brett Koremenos to describe Tyson Chandler’s impact on the Knicks. Chandler at the time of writing the article was playing with insane efficiency offensively, all while providing DPOY level defence. Davis was “Super-Tyson Chandler” at Kentucky, where he shot blocked and alley-ooped his way to the Wooden Award for National Player of the Year. Davis was the lowest scoring Wooden Award winner in basketball-reference’s database, however there was no doubting his overall impact on the floor.
Davis’ odd path to NBA superstardom didn’t just stop with his college performance. The man known as “The Brow” turned in a quietly efficient rookie season that didn’t generate a ton of fanfare. Had Davis had last year’s performance in another ten years time – with the advancement of statistics and the notion of raw stats quickly being made redundant – Davis likely would have won Rookie of the Year. Eventual Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard had a fantastic season when judged by raw stats, posting a line of 19 points and 6.5 assists per game. Lillard also however produced less Win Shares than Davis, had a significantly lower PER and played defence that more often resembled a chair than an NBA player.
Anthony Davis generated a ton of buzz this preseason among NBA bloggers after averaging over 23 points per game. Most were excited for the season to come, but with the usual superstar path involving this fanfare dissolving into nothing but shrouded improvement and many wary of the preseason caveat, the hype was cautious. Being cautious when projecting Anthony Davis for this season has backfired. In a huge way. Like as in a backfire that you see out of an old bus on a cartoon.
Davis has exploded in the early part of this season to the tune of 21 points, 11 boards, over 3.5 blocks and two steals per game. He is second in the NBA in PER and third in Win Shares per 48 minutes. That is freaking insane. Here is the list of players that have averaged 20 points, 10 boards and 3 blocks over an entire season. Hakeem, Shaq, Ewing, David Robinson and Alonzo Mourning, with the feat not having been achieved this millennium. That is some elite company.
If Davis can keep this up – and I think he can, there is nothing overly unsustainable about his game at the moment – he will be a legitimate MVP candidate this season and probably deserves to be considered a top ten player in the game. There aren’t many players that have deserved that honour this early in their careers, but there aren’t that many players that have taken the same path to superstardom as Davis has.
Davis is an unusual guy with an unusual game, but so far that seems to be working just fine.