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2012 NBA Draft Scouting Analysis: Anthony Davis – A shotblocking savant, but does he have the offensive talent to be a star?

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Anthony Davis pick

Fear the Unibrow

Anthony Davis is the early frontrunner for the #1 pick in the June 2012 draft, according to the usually accurate mock draft sources on ESPN.com and Draftexpress.com. He’s in the middle of a spectacular shotblocking season (4.55 a game), is rebounding well (10.3 a game) and is scoring at a highly efficient rate (63% FG). This is enough to currently lead college players in PER, an impressive feat for a freshman. He also has a model character and attitude off the court and a tight focus and motor on it. The combination of youth, elite production this early, character points and the rarity of a big man who impacts the game defensively is enough for him to make him the likely pick.

My breakdown of Anthony Davis follows below. My philosophy is based on “NBA skills” – What is guaranteed from the player, what they might be able to develop, and what they won’t have. Physical tools like athleticism and length, and individual ball skills, only go as far as helping the player achieve these NBA skills – rather than act as their own, separate entities as often they are treated in the draft process. If this tools can’t lend themselves to a clear NBA skill, they are useless. What good is Al-Farouq Aminu’s athleticism and length when it doesn’t lend itself to any specific NBA skills? What good is Adam Morrison’s shooting skill if he doesn’t have the physical and mental make-up talent to use it effectively?

First, I will look at Anthony Davis’ guaranteed NBA skills:

– Shotblocking (X factor skill)

– Rebounding

– Hands around the basket

With his length, anticipation and ridiculous college numbers, Anthony Davis appears a lock to average over 2 blocks a game in the NBA and has a chance to go over 3 a game – and if he’s really a shotblocking savant, and after all why not with those freshman numbers, you can even think about a whopping 3.5 or 4 blocks per game. It’s also impressive that he does this while fouling at a relatively small rate (2.05 per game, in 30.55 MPG). When a player in college is getting a lot of blocks by being long and flinging his arms at defenders aimlessly, he’ll pick up those fouls in bunches. Anthony Davis’ block/foul ratio indicate strong defensive IQ and timing.

When looking at players, I will list “X factor skill” when a player’s brings something to the table is extremely rare for players at their position – that unique, special trait. To give an example of this, Tayshaun Prince in his younger would have gotten a nod for perimeter defence as an NBA skill, but Ron Artest’s perimeter defense was an X factor NBA skill. Davis has the potential to be a special, dominant shotblocker if anyone does. Therefore it is certainly an X factor NBA skill.

Davis also has strong rebounding numbers – Which is important because rebounding statistics have a great track record of translating from college. For the most part, what makes succesful NCAA rebounders does so at the NBA level as well. Finally, Davis is a very strong finisher around the basket and has soft, guard like hands. To go along with his height, this means he will at the least be a target for lobs, and will be able to score offensive rebound put-back points, and will be a threat to finish after the pass if his defender helps off of him or if a broken defensive play develops.

Secondly, I will list NBA skills that are not guarantees, but not out of reach for Davis:

– Midrange jumpshot

– Screen setting

– Pick and roll, pick and pop capability

Davis has midrange jumpshooting potential for a few reasons. For one, he already occasionally attempts a long range shot, which indicates he at least hits them enough in practice to feel it might go in. His Free Throw percentage at 70.7% isn’t a great sign for shooting touch, but it’s reasonable. With his work ethic and the height to get shots over defenders, it’s possible he develops a jumper at a useable level.

At the moment Davis is very weak at setting screens as he is anything involving using his physical body against an opponent, due to his thin frame. However, screen setting can often be as much about a commitment to do so and toughness as much as the physical frame for it – and since Davis has those things, one cannot rule that out long term for him. He has the chance to develop like Tyson Chandler and Joakim Noah physically and as a screen setter.

With improvements setting screens Davis would also have potential to be the roll man after setting a screen, setting himself up to finish at the basket. Davis isn’t particularly explosive but with good hands to catch the ball and a high basketball IQ he could learn the well used play reasonably well. If he develops a jumpshot a pick and pop game is also possible. I believe Davis’ highest offensive upside would be reached if he made the pick and pop 20 footer not only useable, but his go to staple.

Finally, NBA Skills Davis is unlikely to learn

– Post ability

– Isolation scoring

Davis has little post ability, having gone through a late growth spurt to reach his height and thus not having the experience using his body down low. Almost all post players are showing instincts there at this stage. Furthermore, it is unlikely he has special ballhandling or explosiveness enough to lend itself to “go to” isolation ability. Together, this means Davis will likely not be an offensive “creator” or someone offensive sets are centered around. He will likely be an offensive “finisher”, playing off the catch and finish shots teammate create for him inside or if his jumper develops, catch and shoot plays outside. Because of his hands and high basketball IQ, Davis can put up a very high, if not league best efficiency but will be hard pressed to do so at a great volume.

These categories are also useful to gauge upside, most likely scenario and downside. I assume the player reaches his upside if he claims all the skills in the “Able to develop” category, he reaches his most likely scenario if he claims some but not all, and his downside is he doesn’t claim any and is simply left with his guaranteed ones. Thus my projections:

Upside – 18-20 points a game on a mix of strong pick and pop shooting, pick and roll plays to the rim, and clean up baskets off broken plays and offensive rebounds. 11 rebounds a game. 3.5-4 blocks a game and Defensive Player of the Year winner. Great leadership and character. Considered a true franchise player. Statistical comparison: Alonzo Mourning

Most likely scenario – 13 points a game with an ability to finish at the rim off offensive rebounds and putbacks and occasional rolls to the rim. Can hit midrange shots if wide open but not a must guard option. 10 rebounds a game, 2.5-3 blocks a game. Defensive player of the year consideration. Considered all-star caliber. Statistical comparison: Andrew Bogut/Marcus Camby

Downside – Very limited offensively outside of wide open putbacks to the tune of 10 points a game on good efficiency. 9 rebounds a game. 1.5-2 blocks a game. Considered an above average starter and defender. Statistical comparison: Joakim Noah

Why did I list 3 centers for his statistical comparison? Because although I expect his position may be labelled PF depending on who drafts him, like Tim Duncan before him it may only in name. He’s a C at Kentucky and in the NBA he will have both the center’s defensive duties as the shotblocker/rim protector, and will occupy the spot closest to the basket offensively. Sounds like a center. With the increased speed of the league and the complete lack of centers who can take advantage of defenders in the post, a center on the skinnier side is not a huge issue and may even be preference over a less mobile plodder. Davis can certainly develop physically as much as centers like Noah, Marcus Camby, and Tyson Chandler as well.

Anthony Davis is certainly not a lock to be a all-star because of his offensive limitations. Where the upside is that as a shotblocker and defender he’s headed to somewhere between “great” and “savant” and if it’s the latter, he could be truly special.

Even if he lands at a level below truly special, if you can get 10 rebounds and 3 blocks a game from a PF/C with a league high FG%, that’s an extremely valuable asset. There’s a strong case for volume points per game to be hands down the most overrated statistic in basketball – and thus if Davis is simply missing that, it’s not a huge problem. There’s enough players in the league who can throw a high volume of shots and points. There aren’t many elite shotblockers and finishers.

Yet he still leaves you with some doubt. What if he *is* just an Andrew Bogut level franchise player as an average offensive option and strong, but not transcendant defender? The Milwaukee Bucks aren’t jumping for joy over drafting Bogut in 2005, having only made the playoffs twice since. They missed on drafting an MVP candidate in Chris Paul. Bogut is an extremely valuable player, perhaps the league’s most underrated star – and yet if Anthony Davis goes #1 and he’s the Bogut to a Paul level superstar drafted below him, the team may treat their draft as a failure.

But nobody said the draft didn’t have risk. The other players in this draft have more risk than Anthony Davis. Only concentrating on their absolute upsides against what Davis is most likely to be, is an inconsistent thought process.  The stretch to consider Davis a truly special, 3.5-4bpg defender and 15ppg+ scorer is no bigger than saying any of the prospects below him in this particular draft are superstars in the making. There is no Kevin Durant guaranteed star to go 2nd. The 2012’s draft quality is not about superstars packing the top of the list, but moreso the overall depth of possible all-stars throughout the top 10. So while not a sure thing, the lack of an alternative makes Anthony Davis the clearest choice.

On a final note, one more reason to like Anthony Davis 1st overall if you’re a franchise with a market like say, the Charlotte Bobcats, Toronto Raptors or New Orleans Hornets – is that all teams should now have an eye on 7 years down the road and the recent exodus of stars from the small market teams who drafted them. Almost all accounts of Davis paints him as one of the most humble would be stars in some time, built like a Tim Duncan or Kevin Durant upstairs and someone who would wouldn’t care how big his team’s market is. One shouldn’t make a draft decision over fear of a free agency exodus 7 years away, but it isn’t irrelevant either.

Is Anthony Davis a no brainer at #1? No, certainly not. Not in this draft. But he has a combination of all-star upside if he is a special shotblocker, and a extremely valuable floor due to the rarity of defensively significant big men, that makes him the smart choice to take.

Final statistical prediction: 13.5ppg, 10.5rpg, 58% FG, 3.2bpg, 2.5apg, 1.3spg. Multiple All-star Appearances

Draft ranking: #1

Written by jr.

January 23, 2012 at 10:06 pm

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