NBA Draft Prospect of the Week: Anthony Davis

NBA Draft Prospect of the Week: Anthony Davis
Feb 16, 2012, 11:36 am
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Jonathan Givony

Anthony Davis has been everything that was expected of him and then some, leading Kentucky to a dominant 25-1 record (11-0 in the SEC) and a near unanimous #1 ranking in both national polls.

In the midst of the most productive freshman season in college basketball since Kevin Love and Michael Beasley in 2008, Davis has established himself as a legitimate player of the year candidate, as well as the clear-cut top prospect in the 2012 NBA draft.

Standing 6-10 in shoes, with a 7-4 wingspan, and arguably the most impressive blend of athletic tools we've seen in a big man prospect in our nine years evaluating the NBA draft, Davis is one of the most physically gifted players on this planet at the moment.

He runs the floor incredibly well, is outrageously quick and explosive off his feet, moves extremely smooth and fluidly, and perhaps best of all, is more than willing to use his gifts to his advantage on seemingly every possession.

Offensively, Davis is not an incredibly prolific scorer at this stage, only ranking 52nd in points per-40 minutes pace adjusted out of the 84 NCAA players currently in our top 100 prospects.

He's only fifth in usage rate on his own Kentucky team in fact, being mostly relegated to living off the scraps created for him by others. Davis gets the overwhelming majority of his touches playing off the ball—be it cutting to the rim, crashing the offensive glass, running the floor in transition, or as a pick and roll finisher. According to Synergy Sports Technology, only 20% of his offense comes off post-up, spot-up or isolation plays, which makes sense considering those are the areas he struggles in the most.

While Davis plays a simple role for Kentucky, he's arguably the most efficient offensive player in college basketball, converting an amazing 67% of his 2-point attempts (which ranks in the top 15 in our database in the past decade) and turning the ball over on just 9% of his possessions. He's one of the best finishers we've seen in recent years, making nearly 80% of his non-post-up attempts around the basket.

His tremendous length, outstanding hands, explosive leaping ability and terrific timing make him a ideal target for lobs. When Kentucky needs a high percentage shot, all they need to do is simply put Davis in position to jump over the defense and get him the ball in the general vicinity of the rim. He'll take care of the rest.

Davis doesn't usually even need to gather himself, as he can jump off two feet from a standstill and still get his hands above the square. What's scary about plays like this is how nonchalantly and effortlessly he executes them. While he's an extremely quick jumper, he gets up so high that he can seemingly hang in the air for a moment, reel in a poorly thrown pass, and still find a way to throw the ball in with two hands. All things considered, it's easy to see why he ranks #1 in the NCAA in dunks. As the season has moved on, his teammates have done a better and better job of looking for him.

Davis also shows good potential on the offensive glass, even if he's far from being the most productive prospect in this category at “just” 3.9 caroms per-40. Thanks again to his length, motor, timing, quickness and explosiveness, he's capable of going well out of his area for loose balls, often snatching away rebounds he seemingly has no business getting to.

What separates him from other prolific offensive rebounders is the rate in which he's able to convert these into scoring opportunities. The 87 points he's generated through the offensive glass in 26 games thus far is more than any other player in college basketball in fact after Kevin Jones (who, at 114 points, leads this category by a huge margin).

The reason for that lies beyond Davis' ability to simply catch the ball and explode immediately for a dunk before the defense recovers—which is impressive in its own right. He also has excellent timing and touch on his tip-ins and put-backs. If he can just get a couple of fingertips on the ball coming off the rim, he can usually find a way to guide it into the basket.

With that said, Davis is still a fairly raw prospect in many facets offensively, giving him a considerable amount of room for growth as he continues to develop. If an opposing defense can force him to take a jump-shot, put the ball on the floor, or attempt to score in a post up situation, they have a more than three times better chance of stopping him than if he simply catches the ball in the paint in position to finish.

That doesn't jive very well with the "he grew 8 inches in one year and used to be a point guard!" part of his narrative you often hear on national TV broadcasts, but the truth is he rarely dribbles or takes a shot outside five feet, and isn't overly successful at the moment when he does.

Davis attempts just over one jump shot per game on average, but has only made 27% of his attempts. His shooting mechanics are not bad, and the fact that he converts 71% of his free throws leaves room for optimism, but this is a part of his game he'll need to continue working on in time.

Due to his skinny frame, Davis also isn't a very effective post-up threat at this stage. He uses about one possession per game working with his back to the basket, but only scores or gets fouled around 25% of the time in these situations. As he continues to fill out physically and adds bulk to his upper and lower body, Davis will likely have more success establishing position in the paint. While he isn't lacking toughness, he simply doesn't have the strength to avoid being pushed around by older players. Considering how many other scoring options exist on this incredibly talented Kentucky team, it makes sense that they don't force the issue here.

To Davis' credit, he doesn't look content simply being a finisher around the rim, and has shown some small, but intriguing sparks in different facets offensively. He will try to use some crafty footwork in the post on occasion, spinning and making jump-hooks with either hand. At times he'll face up from the perimeter and put the ball on the floor with a quick first step, even pulling up for a little off the dribble jumper right inside the paint. While he's had some very bad misses this season, the handful of jump-shots Davis has hit looked intriguing enough to lead you to believe he may have some potential in this area as he continues to work on his game.

What we must remember is that Davis is still only 18 years old at this stage (19 in March) and was a complete unknown up until less than two years ago, when he was “discovered” in the summer of 2010. Growing eight inches in eighteen months is pretty much unprecedented, so it makes sense that Davis is still figuring things out offensively and learning how to be more physical. It also makes his upside that much higher, because even in his current "limited" state, he leads the NCAA in PER.

One place where Davis is anything but raw is on the defensive end. He's arguably the biggest game changer in college basketball, leading the nation in blocked shots, and ranking in the top-15 in the past decade in the same category.

Beyond the numbers, Davis possesses an ideal combination of physical tools, instincts and intensity, which completely changes the way opposing offenses are able to operate when he's on the floor. He can cover ground incredibly well, making him a threat to rotate from the weak-side instantaneously and offer help defense with terrific timing. Despite the aggressiveness he plays with, he rarely fouls, only doing so 2.6 times per-40 minutes.

Thanks to his length and quickness, Davis also has the ability to step away from the basket and contest shots. His excellent footwork gives him the ability to stay with opposing guards on the perimeter if forced to switch on the pick and roll, and he does a good job using his wingspan to make it difficult to shoot over him. Even if he gets beat or bites on a pump-fake, he's usually athletic enough to recover and make a play from behind, often in highlight reel fashion. When a driving opponent seemingly has him pinned on their opposite shoulder, Davis is often able to use his wingspan to reach all the way around and still contest the shot.

One area where Davis will need to improve in the NBA is in one on one situations in the post. He lacks the lower body strength to contain stronger big men from establishing deep post position on him, at times allowing them to catch the ball deep in the paint and back him down.

There aren't all that many physically developed players with an advanced back to the basket game in the NCAA, so this hasn't been a major issue in any of the games Kentucky played this year, with the exception of North Carolina and to a lesser extent Alabama and Vanderbilt, but it's something to keep an eye on as the competition stiffens. To Davis' credit, even when he's being backed down underneath the rim he can often still contest the shot thanks to his springiness off of two feet.

With all his many strengths, possibly the most encouraging thing about Davis' profile for a team holding the #1 overall pick is the way he approaches the game. Poised, mature and extremely even-keeled, he shows a terrific demeanor on the floor. He doesn't let his emotions get the best of him even in pressure-packed situations, which is amazing considering his background and how little experience he has in these settings. He also has a very good understanding of the game for such a “raw” big man, making smart passes, executing well on both ends of the floor, and usually playing within himself.

All this, combined with his reportedly excellent work ethic and character, should give teams a lot of confidence about his ability to improve on his weaknesses over time. He appears to be the type of player others enjoy playing with or coaching and looks to be the type of competitor that's willing to do whatever it takes to win games.

As unique a story as you'll find in a #1 overall caliber prospect, Davis has taken the guess work out of the top of the 2012 NBA draft. While he surely has plenty of things to work on, it's highly unlikely that he'll be anything less than a huge success in the NBA.

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