First off, let’s get the required unibrow reference out of the way, though if the President of the United States gets in on a joke, that probably means it’s OK to continue making the joke for, oh, say, at least through that presidential term.
As for Anthony Davis the basketball player, well, he’s pretty good, perhaps even the greatest 21-year-old ever? Sure, you can probably go through the annals of the NBA and find some guys who were better, but just know this: The 26.5 PER that Davis posted as a 20-year-old last season, it’s the highest number from any 20-year-old in the history of the statistic. It was also fourth in the League last year, not too far behind Kevin Durant’s NBA-leading 29.8 number.
This isn’t to say that PER means everything, or that you should blindly swallow whatever results the data feed you. The point is just to add some context, to use a nice round number to help explain why having a third-year player with no playoff experience and who barely cracked 20 points a game last season at No. 4 on this list isn’t crazy, but, rather, a conservative projection. If you want, the case could be made that Davis deserves to be one spot higher.
Davis’ 2013-14 point total was already mentioned, but we’ll put a breakdown of his offensive game on hold for a second to touch on Davis’ freakish ability on the defensive side of the court, where Davis uses is his 6-11 height and 7-4 wingspan to wreak havoc (his 2.8 block per game last year was tops in the NBA). He can jump and run and slide and cover anyone on the floor. It’s really just an unfair blend of physical tools, and certainly a blend that no other player in the league possesses. Serge Ibaka might be close, but he doesn’t have the lateral quickness that Davis does. Neither doe Joakim Noah, maybe the only big man who comes close, but who also doesn’t have nearly as much explosiveness as Davis.
In an NBA where pick-and-rolls are ran more than any other play, and on nearly every possession, having a player like Davis on the court gives a team—in this case, the Pelicans—an advantage over everyone else. If you were to go into a lab and construct some sort of ultimate pick-and-roll stopping machine, Davis is what you’d come up with. Oh, and he just spent the summer learning from and playing for Tom Thibodeau. Also he gets to play with Omer Asik this year, which is going to give him, and the Pelicans, more options and flexibility on defense. Last year Davis spent most of his minutes sharing the frontcourt with the likes of Jason Smith and/or Al Farouq-Aminu, and sometimes some guy named Alexi Ajinca would show up, too. Some of those lineups featured Davis playing with multiple non-shoots. Not exactly a top-of-the-line supporting cast, and not exactly the ideal players to spread around Davis.
This year (which is what these rankings are projecting), Davis will get to have Asik, an excellent rim-protector, either behind him or next to him. He’ll (hopefully) get to have the sharp-shooting Ryan Anderson roaming the perimeter. He (hopefully) won’t be spending a ton of time playing with two other bigs, though with Monty Williams, you never know. But if Williams does catch on to the times, and allows Davis to play the majority of his minutes with only one other big man on the court, there’s no reason to think that Davis’ scoring, which he increased by eight points-per-game last year, won’t continue to rise, to the point where Davis becomes the household name that he already should be.
His jump shot is a bit awkward, but also effective; Davis shot 40 percent last year on mid-range shots, a sizeable increase over the 29 percent he shot the year before, and it’s safe to assume that he’ll continue to improve in this area. Same goes for his handle, which is already better than anyone else’s his size, because if you’re a 6-2, 17-year-old (which Davis was before his late eight-inch growth spurt), and you want to play basketball, you better know how to dribble. Davis was also a monster in the paint last year; his 11.3 points in the paint per game was ninth in the League.
Have I mentioned yet that Davis is only 21 years old? OK, maybe I did, but still, it bears repeating. Davis is the NBA’s next superstar, doing things right now that we haven’t seen a 21-year-old do since LeBron and Durant. He might not be the scorer either of those two players are, but that doesn’t mean that he won’t someday—perhaps this year, as this ranking suggest—be close to as valuable.
|#SLAMTop50 Players 2014|
Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’14-15—to players’ team, the NBA and the game.