NBA: How Good Can Anthony Davis Realistically Be?


Nov 14, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward

Anthony Davis

(23) dunks against the Minnesota Timberwolves during the first quarter of a game at the Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Davis is exhibiting a terrifying amount of dominance on both ends of the court, but how does his early success compare to the NBA all-time greats so far?

At just 21 years of age, in his third NBA season, Anthony Davis is exhibiting the kind of all-around, NBA MVP-caliber dominance that is starting to make the thought of how good he can be rather scary. He’s the type of athletic freak that’s rare at the power forward position, he’s already the best rim protector in the league, and he’s emerged as a 25-point-per-game scorer. It seems as though the sky is the limit for Davis, so let’s take a closer look into how good he can really become in comparison to the NBA’s best.

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To me, the best place to start is to see what the other great power forwards in NBA history were made of, and what they were capable of on both ends of the floor.

The names of some of the best power forwards to ever play the game that spring to mind are Charles Barkley, Elvin Hayes, Karl Malone, Kevin McHale, Dennis Rodman, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett. However, by looking at what they could all do at 21 years of age, Davis matches up very well, even compared to what some of them could do in their prime.

Here’s a quick look at this group.

Nov 1, 2014; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Brooklyn Nets center Kevin Garnett (2) shoots a free throw during the second quarter against the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Hayes was a remarkable player and had career averages of 21 points, 12.5 rebounds and two blocks per game. As most of his playing days were during the 1970’s though, it’s hard to make a comparison to the rest of the NBA’s top power forwards, as the game was different then, with more big men dominating and typically more rebounds being up for grabs.

Barkley was an incredible rebounder and scorer but, largely due to his lack of size, he’s in no means the interior defender that Davis is.

McHale was unstoppable in the post but was never the athlete, rebounder (he never averaged double-digit rebounds in his career) or defender Davis is.

Malone was obviously an amazing scorer (he’s ranked 2nd of all-time in scoring for a reason) but he was never really known for his defense, and only averaged over one block per game four times in his 19-year career.

Rodman is one of the best rebounders and defenders in the history of the NBA. He averaged at least 14 rebounds per game for seven straight years, from ’91 to ’98 (with five seasons over 16 per game), and could guard nearly anyone. The weakness of his game, though, was his lack of offensive ability and he only averaged 10+ points once in his 14-year career.

The two active players, Garnett and Dirk, are also not complete power forwards (at least not anymore).

Nowitzki has never been a dominant rebounder or defender, although he’s still the best shooting bigman in NBA history. On the other hand, Garnett was a ferocious player in his prime with the Minnesota Timberwolves, and had nine straight seasons averaging at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game. The slight downfall of Garnett’s career though, is that his production didn’t last. At age 30, once he moved to join the Boston Celtics, he began to decline every year when he joined other star players, like Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo.

Whilst all these legends were (or still are) incredible players, there is of course one man who has separated himself from everyone else who’s played this position: The Big Fundamental, Tim Duncan.

Nov 22, 2014; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan (21) walks onto the court prior to the game against the Brooklyn Nets at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Duncan has not only been the definition of an all-around power forward for the last two decades with never-ending quality play, but he’s also been a true champion. After leading the San Antonio Spurs to 50 wins every year of his career (except the shortened season of 1998-99) and five NBA championships, there’s no way to deny now that Duncan is the best power forward in history. Initially, it looks like a tall order to even begin to compare anyone to him, especially a 21-year-old from the Pelicans. Davis, however, is more up to the task than anyone.

There’s no way Davis can be proclaimed as a better player than Duncan yet, that should go without saying. The Spurs legend has just achieved far too much as a regular reason individual and a postseason leader to be challenged yet. However, the best way to project how good Davis can be is to compare him against the best, and examine their impact on both offense and defense.

Duncan has the advantage in terms of when he came into the league as a rookie. He was 21, meaning his body was just a little more developed than the 19-year-old physique of Davis.

Nov 22, 2014; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) tries to block the shot of Utah Jazz forward

Gordon Hayward

(20) during the first quarter at EnergySolutions Arena. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Davis may have some talent around him in New Orleans (mainly Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans), but Duncan came to a Gregg Popovich led San Antonio as the final piece to one of the most dominant frontcourts in NBA history: himself and David Robinson (if you’ve forgot, he’s one of only five players to score more than 70 points in a game).

During a rare second breakout year, it looks unlikely that Davis is going to slow down. He’s improving all the time and he’s leading his team to every victory they get, so here’s a breakdown of the per game numbers in their third seasons.

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Sometimes this is said too much, but these numbers don’t lie. Despite the fact that Duncan even played a couple more minutes per game than Davis in his third season, Davis still comes out on top in six of these eight categories. Most notably, Davis has twice as many steals, one more block, not even half as many turnovers per game, and shoots six percent better from the floor.

Nov 22, 2014; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis (23) shoots the ball over Utah Jazz forward

Trevor Booker

(33) during the third quarter at EnergySolutions Arena. The Pelicans won 106-94. Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a little startling to say the least, when we consider Duncan the best prototypical, all-around power forward of all time, and Davis is already proving he can do more on the floor at the respective stage of his career.

Davis obviously has to achieve a lot more and needs to get a few trophies on his shelf before being considered the best power forward of all-time, though. Longevity is possibly the most impressive element of Duncan’s career, as he’s still a walking double-double playing at an elite level just two years shy of turning 40.

However, in terms of what they can fundamentally do on a basketball court, I think it’s hard to ignore the fact that Davis can do more. He has a highly impressive midrange game from anywhere inside the three-point line, he has an ever developing postgame with a myriad of hook shots and up-and-unders, he can finish with authority, elevate to reach two feet above the rim, and on defense he simply has the intangibles and instincts to do everything that could be asked of him. Throw in the fact that he’s far more athletic than Duncan and it’s pretty clear to see that Anthony Davis is going to be a player for the ages.

We just have to sit back and watch how his career turns out now. As of this moment though, he’s not only on track to go down as one of the NBA’s best big men to ever play the game, but he has the potential to be one of the NBA’s most complete players full stop.

Just maybe, with a little help from his teammates, he can be the best power forward of all-time.

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