Why Big Men Could Dominate the NBA's Next Decade
It seems like it’s been ages since the “Best (Basketball) Player in the World” debate has even been a question. LeBron James came into the league in 2003 and averaged 20.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game in his very first season at 19 years old. In just his third season at 21, he was averaging 31.4 points per game and accumulating 16.3 win shares.
Now that LeBron is going to be 30 before the start of 2015, for the first time in forever, we might start to look at who is going to hold the BPITW championship belt for the next 10 to 15 years.
The obvious answer is Kevin Durant, who's already solidly at number two, and will only be 26 at the beginning of the season. I linked an aging curve in an article last week, and it shows that 27 years is the peak for basketball players. These next five years should be the best of Durant we’ve ever seen.
But are there any other players that could challenge Durant over the next couple years? I was messing around with basketball-reference.com's Player Season Finder the other day and wanted to see how many players in the history of the NBA had a 9.0 win share season by the age of 20. The results really surprised me.
We have two Hall of Famers in Magic and Adrian Dantley, the current BPITW belt holder in LeBron, one of most dominant big men ever in Shaq, the current best point guard in the world in Chris Paul….and then Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond?
I think most basketball analysts hold Davis and Drummond in high regard, but I’m not sure many people realize just how highly they project at their young age.
Davis is being quickly elevated to discussions as one of the league’s best players and is currently paired with Kevin Durant as the cornerstone of USA Basketball.
And man, was he impressive in just his second year in the league.
He only played 67 games last year, but still managed to accumulate 10.4 win shares. Our nERD statistic rates him highly as well. If he was surrounded by league average players, he would lead a team to 12 games over .500, just by himself.
He can really do it all. He averaged a ridiculous 20 and 10 along with 2.8 blocks, and has a good shot at taking home several Defensive Player of the Year awards in the future. He's also a great shooter, posting a TS% of 58.2% and shooting almost 80% from the free throw line. Word is that he is working to develop a three-point shot, and if that happens, watch out.
I wasn’t really surprised with Davis’ inclusion on the list, but Drummond’s definitely made me do a double-take. His numbers aren’t quite as fantasy-friendly as Davis’ – he averaged 13.5 points, 13.2 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game this season.
However, he still managed to rack up 9.9 win shares on the season. His 3.5 defensive win shares was actually more than what Davis had this year. Drummond played more minutes this year, but his 3.5 number is still impressive and projects well for the future. For reference, Kevin Garnett was around that range when he was Drummond’s age.
An interesting aside – a list of players who had a 3.9 defensive win share season by 20 years old equates to Shaq, LeBron, Dwight Howard, Magic, Garnett, and Brandon Jennings. Weird, huh? (His 0.9 defensive win shares in almost 2,800 minutes this year is quite the fall from defensive grace.)
But back to Drummond. What will make or break his potentially great career is his work on the offensive end. His 6.4 offensive win shares ranked 15th in the entire NBA this year, ahead of other centers like DeAndre Jordan, DeMarcus Cousins, and Joakim Noah. However, Drummond hasn’t yet proved that he can score consistently without dunks and offensive rebounds.
A very high 81.4% of Drummond’s shots this year came from within three feet of the basket, where he completed them 68.2% of the time. However, only 17.2% of his shots came from the 3 to 10 foot post-up range, and he only completed 37.9% of them. He will definitely need to continue to work on his post game and at least get defenders to respect him beyond three feet.
The NBA seemingly goes in trends. We had elite shooting guards in Michael and Kobe. Now we’re in the wing renaissance with LeBron, Durant, Melo, and Paul George. Will the future decade be dominated by centers like the days of Wilt and Russell? Will Nerlens Noel or Joel Embiid join Davis and Drummond as the best big men in the future? Will one of them grab the BPITW belt sooner than we thought? We do know one thing - the NBA’s future certainly looks to be in good (and big) hands.