After being picked first overall by the New Orleans Hornets in the 2012 draft, Anthony Davis failed to wow the NBA world in his first year as a pro. Entering his rookie season at age 19, the athletic big man posted respectable numbers across the board of 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. His numbers were definitely solid, but they weren’t enough to put Davis in the conversation with the league’s elite big men, either.
With Davis, it’s important to remember that he wasn’t a big man until his later years in high school. After undergoing a massive growth spurt, the Chicago native became one of the hottest high school recruits, eventually deciding on Kentucky. In Kentucky, his freakish athleticism and length made him a must-see prospect, but his offensive game was the definition of raw. Davis was the brightest star on the national championship-winning Wildcat team in 2012, but his deficiencies were less apparent because his supporting cast of current NBA players Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Terrance Jones and Doron Lamb were downright dominant together (honestly, it wasn’t even fair for everyone else in the country that year).
In his first year in the NBA, Davis’ frail build and lack of offensive polish held him back from being the impact player that fans and scouts know he has the ability to become, However, like many other talented prospects who struggle adjusting to the NBA in their rookie years, I’m expecting Davis to make serious strides towards becoming an All-NBA performer this year.
I think Davis has the ability to become a Tyson Chandler and LaMarcus Aldridge hybrid. As a defender, the sky is the limit for Davis, who like Chandler, will beef up his upper and lower body as time goes on. He has great instincts as a shot-blocker, quick feet and a nose for the ball coming off the glass, which leads me to believe he can become a transcendent defender in the coming years.
Offensively, Davis is still extremely raw, but as his body develops, so will his offensive game. As of right now, Davis is pretty much a face-up jumper guy and a throw-it-high-and-watch-him-go-get-it guy, with most of his points coming off of broken plays or open jumpers. Rarely did coach Monty Williams run plays for the big man, but that will certainly change over time.
To Davis’ credit, he did nothing last year that was flat-out disappointing. Let’s look at Davis’ numbers compared to players with similar skill sets in their respective first years (age in parenthesis):
Anthony Davis (19): 13.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.8 bpg
Dwight Howard (19): 12.0 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 1.7 bpg
LaMarcus Aldridge (21): 9.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.2 bpg
Tyson Chandler (19): 6.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.3 bpg
Marc Gasol (24): 11.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.1 bpg
Roy Hibbert (22): 7.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.1 bpg
As you can see, none of these big men shocked the world in their first seasons, either. It’s pretty jarring that Davis was able to put up better scoring numbers than guys like LaMarcus Aldridge and Marc Gasol, but that’s how much raw talent this guy has.
As a team, the New Orleans Pelicans have done their part to put a winner on the court and now it’s time for Davis to prove his worth. With Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans now calling New Orleans home and Eric Gordon hopefully healthy, Davis’ supporting cast has vastly improved. Luckily for the Pelicans, they have a coach in Monty Williams who tends to concentrate more on defense than on offense, as scoring will no longer be New Orleans’ problem . Last year, the Hornets ranked 25th in points scored and 14th in points allowed, with little offensive talent on the floor due to Gordon’s injury-plagued season. In the 2011-12 season, with a group of outcasts left over from the Chris Paul-era, New Orleans ranked 29th in points per game and eighth in points allowed as Williams proved his capabilities as an NBA head coach.
When the Hornets took Anthony Davis with the first pick back in the 2012 draft, the future of the franchise was up in the air. Many experts figured that Davis and Gordon would provide the foundation for the team (after David Stern made sure that the Hornets got a young stud in return for CP3), but with the additions of Holiday and Evans, Davis’ role has changed. If he can make that next step in his progression as a top-flight big man, all of a sudden the Pelicans may be looking at a playoff berth.
There’s no doubt that New Orleans will be a guard-oriented offense next season. Their offense will be predicated on the ability of Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans to get into the lane and the ability of Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson to stretch the floor, but the team’s success will hinge greatly on Davis’ improvement on both ends of the court. If the Pelicans are able to throw the ball down to Davis in the post and get some production out of him, that will be a major plus. If Davis is able to develop a decent pick-and-roll game with one or more of the slashers, that’ll pay big dividends as well.
On defense, Davis is going to need to anchor the Pelicans defense; the question is whether he’s ready to do that or not and to what extent. Davis has the ability to become the best shot-blocker in the game, but he may not be able to take that step at just 20 years old. If Davis can become a better back-to-the-basket defender, while also improving himself to a 10-rebound per game guy and putting himself into the elite shot-blocker conversation, then the New Orleans brass will be extremely happy with him. That may sound like a lot to ask for, but with the kind of talent this kid has, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
On the other hand, if Davis struggles living up to expectations next season, Pelicans fans need to keep in mind that he still is just 20 years old. There’s no doubt that the expectations for Davis are extremely high, but his improvement will come in increments. Davis isn’t going to jump onto the floor next year with a new name on his jersey (not changing Davis, just changing Hornets), and all of a sudden look like Wes Unseld, Hakeem Olajuwon and Kevin Garnett all wrapped up into one; that’s just not realistic.
With all that being said, here are my statistical predictions for Davis’ second season in the league (which are just as hollow as the “projections” you read from your fantasy basketball website).
17.3 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, 1.4 steals, 34.3 minutes, in 72 games
I believe that Davis will make big strides next year and the league with take notice. With an improved supporting cast and a likely increase in their offensive pace, Davis will reap the benefits of better guard play and relish the role of basket defender. Expect big things for the newest birds in the league and expect a beefed-up Davis to start turning some heads this fall.