Anthony Davis just turned 21, and is already on his way to becoming the best player in the NBA. He is with certainty already the best player in 2014 fantasy basketball no matter what format. There is no indication that his numbers are going to level out, and he is at a level all by himself. Besides the impressive statistical output, he is simply one of the most entertaining players to watch.
There is no point in comparing him to anybody but the best to gain a perspective into how great Davis can truly become. He will be going number one in fantasy drafts for a decade to come, and projects to be the type of player that is untradable, no matter the haul.
Think about this. Hakeem Olajuwon, widely considered to be one of the best shot-blockers of all time, didn’t even finish his rookie season until he was already 22 years of age. At 21, Davis’ numbers thus far in his third NBA season with New Orleans are across the board equal to or greater than Olajuwon’s numbers across the board for his first four seasons with the Houston Rockets. During this four-year span, he averaged just under 23 points and 12 rebounds per game and slightly over 3 blocks per contest.
From a hypothetical fantasy perspective—with mainstream fantasy basketball just a burgeoning idea around the end of the Dream’s storied career—a 21-year-old Davis could essentially be drafted above a 25-year-old Olajuwon. Currently, Davis is averaging over 25 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 steals per game. Does this mean that Davis is on track to become the greatest center of all time? It’s too early to start making judgments of this magnitude, but the possibilities are obvious.
At the peak of Olajuwon’s career, we saw season averages of up to 14 rebounds, 4.6 blocked shots and 27 points per game. There is no reason that we can’t expect Anthony Davis to become this great, or even better, from a statistical perspective. Davis’s current 56 percent field-goal percentage also surpasses Olajuwon’s career best 52.9 percent and overall 51.2 percent. Based on where Davis is already at his age, it wouldn’t be surprising to see numbers like this on an annual basis as he continues to develop.
More recently, Shaquille O’Neal is regarded as one of the most dominant centers during the early fantasy basketball era. He was tough to stop on offense even in his later years with teams like the Heat and the Suns (it’s still difficult to even picture him in those jerseys), but while he was with the Magic and Lakers he was truly unstoppable. Shaq averaged over 29 points per game three times, and finished with a career 58.2 field-goal percentage.
It’s hard to picture Davis being the offensive load that Shaq was, but from a fantasy perspective, Davis will end up a better player. He’s already knocking down almost 80 percent of his free-throw attempts, and maybe he does end up averaging over 30 points per game a few times.
One concern about Davis is longevity, after Davis played 64 and 67 games during his rookie and second seasons, respectively. Hopefully this is not indicative of a career trend, but it’s impossible to predict. For all his greatness, Shaq did miss a lot of time over the course of his career, and averaged under 70 games with the Magic and Lakers.
A couple of all-time great fantasy era players are still playing in the NBA, with their careers coming to a close. Longevity was never a problem for Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, who consistently played around 80 games a season during the peak of their careers. For 13 straight years, Tim Duncan averaged between 10.1 and 12.9 rebounds per game, and the only reason that streak stopped was because coach Gregg Popovich stopped playing him over 30 minutes per game. Davis definitely needs to prove it long term to be regarded as the best fantasy player of his generation, but it’s hard not to see it happening.
While he is still developing into a dominant rebounder, Davis is currently on pace this season for a better statistical output than Duncan’s best year at age 25 (when he averaged 25.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 0.7 steals per game on 50.8 percent from the field and 79.9 percent from the line), and Garnett’s best line as a 27-year-old Timberwolf (when he put up 24.2 points, 13.9 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 1.5 steals per game on 50 percent from the field and 79.1 percent from the line). When you put in that perspective, it’s hard not to realize that Davis is the true epitome of “where amazing happens.”
He is a monster in every way, and at this point, there still remains a lot for Davis to learn about the game. While it can be hard to compare eras when making comparisons between players, and while this often leads to a lot of ruffled feathers, it is not difficult to gauge just how great Davis can become from a fantasy perspective. In fantasy sports, the numbers don’t lie. Players who never win Championships in real life lead their fans to championships in the realm of fantasies. That’s what Davis will do for thousands of teams for the next decade.
The thing is, Davis will continue to get better, and will ultimately be judged by how many NBA championship trophies he wins, not how many times he gets selected number one in fantasy drafts. The potential is there, and titles should follow. The next big thing is already here. And it’s going to be fun to watch.
Dan Hanna is SLAM’s weekly fantasy basketball columnist and a life-long Bulls fan. Follow him on Twitter @i_am_danhan. For advice on your fantasy team, post questions in the comments section.