Sophomore Slump? Not for Anthony Davis
After posting one of the most dominant college basketball seasons in recent memory, ultimately culminating in a National Championship, Anthony Davis was the consensus number one overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft. When the then New Orleans Hornets won the NBA draft lottery, it was all but a formality that Davis and his unibrow would be their pick.
Davis was destined to be one of the safest number-one overall picks in a number of years. But after a slow start and some nagging injuries in his rookie season, Davis’ offensive prowess and durability came into question.
Although he did miss a few games due to injury during his initial campaign, Davis progressed spectacularly in the second half of the season, increasing his points per game average from 12.5 to 15.3 and his rebounds per game average from 7.5 to 9.3 after the All-Star break. More importantly, he seemed to find his stride on the defensive end, improving his plus/minus from -6.7 to -3.1 and his defensive rating by four points.
The Pelicans' forward has continued to ride his momentum from the end of last season into this season, showing tremendous improvement and playing like a true all-star in just his second season in the NBA. With a 10.7 nERD, Davis currently ranks eighth in our numberFire player power rankings, ahead of big name players such as Dirk Nowitzki, LaMarcus Aldridge, Roy Hibbert, and Dwight Howard - just to name a few. Here are some of the areas where Davis has improved and why he is playing at an all-star level in only his sophomore season.
Protecting the Rim
After setting the NCAA Freshman record for blocks in a season (ranking fourth all-time), one thing we knew about Davis coming into the NBA was that he would be a defensive force. Averaging an impressive 1.8 blocks per game as a rookie, Davis has established himself as the premiere shot blocker in the league in his sophomore season.
Currently, Davis is averaging a league-leading three blocks per game, nearly half a block a game more than Hibbert who is second in the league with 2.59 blocks per game. What is even more impressive is how efficiently Davis gets those rejections. At 0.94 blocks per foul, Davis only trails Tim Duncan (1.25) and John Henson (1.00) for the league lead among qualified players. He also leads the league in block percentage at a whopping 7.2%.
Shot blocking is not the only aspect of Davis’ defensive game that has improved. Already with 1.3 defensive win shares, the former Kentucky Wildcat has really come into his own as a defender this season. With a defensive rating of 104 so far, AD is averaging more defensive rebounds (6.4) and steals (1.5) than last season. While he is already one of the best defensive players in the league, he's continuing to grow as a complete defensive player and should be a frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year for many years to come.
Cleaning the Glass
Throughout his college career and into his rookie season, Davis was always a good rebounder. With a strong understanding of how to use his size and positioning to rebound the ball, Davis averaged 8.2 rebounds per game as a rookie.
This season, the Pelicans’ forward has taken his rebounding to the next level. He's played with significantly more confidence and he’s been more aggressive this season, which has translated into amplified production on the boards. Davis has increased his rebounding by a full two boards per game, currently averaging 10.2 rebounds per game, and already has 17 double doubles, both of which are good for 12th in the NBA.
Whereas AD has taken significant steps forward in defensive rebounding, it is his improvements on the offensive glass that have truly made a noticeable difference in his overall performance. The Brow currently ranks 13th in the league with a 12.1% offensive rebound percentage and fifth in the NBA with 3.9 offensive rebounds per game.
Davis’ dominance on the offensive glass has been a major factor in the Pelicans' offensive rebounding success as a team. With opposing teams having to pay so much attention to the Pelicans’ big man when boxing out, the rest of the team has also excelled on the offensive boards, averaging 12.8 offensive rebounds per game. Those 12.8 offensive boards rank fourth in the NBA behind only the Pistons, Timberwolves and Trailblazers.
Coming out of Kentucky, Davis was never known as an offensive powerhouse. With his elite size and athleticism most scouts thought that he could one day be a force to be reckoned with on offense, but many predicted that it could take several years for him to develop a strong offensive game.
During the offseason, Davis worked to improve both his mid-range jumper and post-moves, and the hard work has paid dividends. Averaging 19.8 points per game, the Brow has shown the confidence to make mid-range jump shots and the ability to score with his back to the basket. He's shown improvement in just about every aspect of his offensive game from last season, including points, offensive rebounds, assists, field goal percentage, and true shooting percentage.
|Points Per Game||Offensive Rebounds Per Game||Assists Per Game||Field Goal %||True Shooting %|
What really makes his offensive development unique is the fact that he's improved his offensive stat line while increasing his efficiency. Davis’ player efficiency rating has skyrocketed from 21.7 last season to 26.6 this season, which is sixth in the NBA behind only Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Chris Paul, and DeMarcus Cousins. The Brow’s efficiency is so impressive that his PER is currently better than MVP candidates such as LeMarcus Aldridge and Paul George.
Additionally, Davis ranks in the top 20 in a number of other categories which reflect his offensive efficiency, including field goal percentage (52.8%), offensive rating (119) and offensive win shares (3.4). The Pelicans’ forward is also one of only four players averaging at least 52.5% from the field and 74.5% from the free throw line — the other three being LeBron James, David Lee and Robin Lopez.
Avoiding the sophomore slump is just the beginning for Davis. As he continues to evolve as an offensive player, he could quickly become one of the truly elite players in the NBA. With his rare combination of size and athletic ability, if Davis continues to improve at the exponential clip we have seen from year one to year two, we could be talking about a player primed to make a run at the MVP award as soon as next season.