Why we should all be very afraid of The Brow.
As I write this, I’m watching Anthony Davis roast the over-matched frontcourt of the Dominican Republic national team alive. The scene is a Team USA scrimmage, a tune-up against the small Caribbean nation before the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup. Davis is all of 21 years old, but in the aftermath of the devastating injury to Paul George and the unexpected withdrawal from the team of Kevin Durant, he has been asked to take on a significant leadership role on a team where anything other than a first place finish will be an utter embarrassment. The New Orleans Pelicans forward is the only player on the Team USA roster to have tasted international glory, having been a member of the 2012 US team that won gold in London, so a lot is expected of him, especially given the thin frontcourt depth of the team. Well, Davis has certainly answered the call. And then some. Moving like a tremendous machine that might evoke memories of Secretariat, Davis is ripping through a hopelessly inferior Dominican back-line.
On one play, Davis dupes a Dominican center with a jab step and gets fouled on a pull-up jumper. The next play, he runs a flawless two-man game with Kyrie Irving, setting a perfectly positioned pick to allow the Cleveland guard to generate a head of steam and take it all the way to the hole. Then on the defensive end, Davis turns away a Dominican shot at the rim and immediately starts running back the other way, the first one down the floor for Team USA. There, Irving returns the favor, hitting the big man on the left block as Davis seals the deal with a nifty jump hook. Davis will only finish with seven points tonight, a far cry from the breakout performance he had against Brazil the last week with 20 points and seven rebounds. Davis’ early dominance, however, helped turn this out into a blowout (the US will go on to win by a whopping 105-62 margin), negating the need for Davis to play unnecessary minutes down the stretch. The call has definitely been answered.
Frankly, watching Davis play in these exhibitions is downright scary. From his swatting shot after shot into the New York night to his throwing down alley-oops like the deranged lovechild of Shaq and Dominique Wilkins, it’s clear that Davis is one of the brightest young stars the game has to offer. Many have already labeled these 2014 FIBA World Cup games as his coming out party, and it’s a party that’s just getting started. He has drawn high praise from Coach Mike Krzyzewski, a man that has seen some of the finest talent to ever take foot on a basketball court. Fellow Team USA stud James Harden has raved about Davis’ development and skillset and Kevin Durant has even gone so far as to publicly christen Davis as “next in line” to win MVP. All this hype and praise for the former Kentucky Wildcat, hype and praise that is 100% justified mind you, begs the question: Just how good can Anthony Davis be?
You look at the stats that Davis put up in his first two years in the NBA and they are already mind-numbing. After a stellar rookie campaign where he averaged 13.5 points per game and 8.2 rebounds on 52% shooting with 1.8 blocks, Davis smashed those numbers in his second year, putting up 20.8 points and 10.0 rebounds on 52% shooting with 2.8 blocks. I personally don’t read too much into rookie years for NBA players, as it takes a good deal of time to get acclimated into the NBA environment. So if we’re to compare Davis’ Year 2 to the Year 2 campaigns of some of the most legendary power forwards to ever play the game, the results are almost unbelievable.
Anthony Davis Year 2- 20.8 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.3 spg, 2.8 bpg, 52% FGs, 10.4 win shares
Tim Duncan Year 2- 21.7 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 2.4 apg, 0.9 spg, 2.5 bpg, 50% FGs, 8.7 win shares (DISCLAIMER: Lockout shortened season)
Kevin Garnett Year 2- 17.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.4 spg, 2.1 bpg, 50% FGs, 7.3 win shares
Karl Malone Year 2- 21.7 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.3 apg, 0.7 bpg, 51% FGs, 6.9 win shares
Charles Barkley Year 2- 20.0 ppg, 12.8 rpg, 3.9 apg, 2.2 spg, 1.6 bpg, 57% FGs, 10.8 win shares
Chris Webber Year 2- 20.1 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 4.7 apg, 1.5 spg, 1.6 bpg, 50% FGs, 4.0 win shares
Blake Griffin Year 2- 20.7 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 3.2 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.7 bpg, 55% FGs, 9.2 win shares
Wow. The Brow’s numbers are on par with, if not in excess of, the Year 2 numbers put up by some of the greatest power forwards to ever play the game. And the scary thing is that Davis managed to put up all those numbers despite playing with four other ball-dominant players in Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson (all of whom missed various time due to injury but still shared the floor with Davis for a significant portion of the season). And Davis is blessed with a combination of physical gifts that none of those aforementioned greats were quite able to boast. Listed at 6‘10” and still growing, Davis’ past history as a guard who benefited from a massive growth spurt is well-documented. Such a history morphed Davis into a true physical freak with the size of a true power forward but a ball-handling and floor-running ability of a guard. Even scarier is the fact that Davis is focused on adding to that already impressive frame in the offseason. His relative lack of bulk is probably one of the only weaknesses in his game. Well, after playing most season at a weight of 220 pounds, Davis has reportedly added another 15+ pounds of pure muscle to his frame in the offseason, skyrocketing him to a chiseled 237. Now, he is much better equipped to bang with opposing NBA bigs on both ends of the floor. A physical freak just got that much freakier.
And we haven’t even gotten to his arsenal yet. A downright menace in the pick and roll, Davis has already mastered the art of positioning his body perfectly to allow his point guard the ability to penetrate (as Kyrie Irving might attest to against the Dominican Republic). The Brow can do it himself too, barreling down the lane after setting the pick and able to catch anything thrown his way with his great hands. He can pick and pop as well with a very underrated mid-range jumper and, while he hasn’t fully explored that aspect of his game yet, he has shown the occasional ability to face up and beat his man off the dribble. A velvety touch around the rim ties up his toolbox with a nice bow and he’s still adding more. There’s been talk of him adding a pull-up J, more post moves and even a corner three. How terrifying that would be.
His defense should go without saying. Arguably the best rim protector in the game already, he also is one of the best in the league at containing pick and rolls and while he sometimes gets beat more often than you’d like, he’s incredible at recovering and getting the chasedown block. Davis is the undisputed anchor of the Pelicans defense and his length alone is enough to deter ball-handlers from shooting or alter/send away their shots if they do make the foolish decision to challenge him. His instincts and his timing will only get better as he gains more experience and when Davis’ defense all comes together, we could be talking multiple Defensive Player of the Year awards.
At the end of the day, the only thing that stands between Davis and true greatness is his ability to stay on the floor. While he has never had anything long-term to worry about in terms of injuries, he seems to have the most rotten luck when it comes to getting hurt. It’s almost as if he suffered a minor injury every few games in his first two seasons, whether it be getting concussed thanks to an inadvertent elbow to the head, battling with annoying back spasms, or being afflicted with the seemingly-inevitable ankle sprain. Davis’ style of play seems to lend itself a bit to a few bumps and bruises here and there (as one could see by the way he chased a loose ball into the stands with no regard for his well-being against Brazil) but if anything, the increased bulk will help him better withstand the harshness of an 82-game season. If Davis can turn his injury luck around and start playing 75-80 games consistently (so far his career high is 66), the sky will truly be the limit. So let’s enjoy watching Davis victimize an entire wave of unsuspecting nations at these FIBA games this summer. And if these games turn out to be Davis’ defining moment, an experience where he finally learns what it means to truly be great, what it means to take The Leap like international competition has done for so many NBA legends, the rest of the NBA should start getting absolutely terrified. Fear the Brow. Fear the Brow, indeed.
Edited by Emily Berman.
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