Kevin Garnett was the 2004 NBA MVP. He was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. He has been an All-Star 15 times.
Garnett is an NBA champion, a surefire Hall of Famer and will probably go down as one of the top 25 players in NBA history.
It would be unfair to place those sorts of career expectations on a 21-year-old, right?
Not necessarily. If the 21-year-old in question is Anthony Davis, anything is fair game.
If Davis’ first two seasons suggest anything statistically, it is that The Brow should someday surpass The Big Ticket as a bigger legend in basketball folklore.
Through two years in New Orleans, Davis hasn’t just been better than Garnett was in his first two years in Minnesota. He has been significantly better.
Here are the side by side comparisons:
While the totals look similar stacked next to each other, these actually do Davis a disservice.
The truth is, when analyzing their first two seasons, Davis has compiled more points, rebounds, blocks and free throws than Garnett despite logging 1,000 fewer minutes.
When you compare the two based on per-36 minute projections in their first two seasons, Davis clearly outclasses Garnett in nearly every category:
While Davis appreciates Garnett’s legacy as a first ballot Hall of Famer, he never dreamed of outpacing Garnett as a kid. Fifteen years after Garnett won the crown as the best Chicago high school baller, Anthony Davis came along for the same title.
“To be honest, I didn’t watch basketball like that growing up,” Davis told Sheridan Hoops. “I wasn’t that good so my focus wasn’t on basketball. I’ve learned a lot from him watching film on him. I definitely try to imitate his game.”
Davis has not only produced more effectively than Garnett did, he is also producing more efficiently. He has committed fewer turnovers and is getting to the line at a much higher rate.
Davis’ ability to draw fouls differentiates him from most big men in the NBA. He attempted 5.7 free throws per 36 minutes (4.4 points) in his first two seasons. Garnett only averaged 2.9 free throws per 36 minutes (2.1 points) from 1995-1997.
Considering Davis witnessed a 95.5 percent increase in free throws from his rookie campaign to his sophomore season, it is reasonable to think he will exponentially increase his free throws again this season.
Through the season’s first four games, Davis is averaging nine free throws per game, a rate that may be unsustainable. Still, if Davis gets to the line eight times a night, he’s essentially providing six free points for the Pelicans in every game.
As for his Pelicans teammates, they’re well aware of how good Davis has already become.
“My job is just to get [Davis] the ball,” said point guard Jrue Holiday. “I have to get him the ball where he wants it and make the game easier for him. He makes the game a lot easier for me defensively and offensively.”
While Davis is undoubtedly a superstar already, I found something strange in his split stats that is worth keeping an eye on: His disproportionate production at home vs. on the road.
While the numbers look fairly similar, they actually illuminate a significant disparity.
Considering Davis has started the exact same number of games at home as on the road and has logged just 71 more minutes at home over that span, it’s striking to see how dominant he has been in the Big Easy.
In those 71 extra minutes, Davis has made 70 more baskets (on just 72 more shots!). He’s also gotten to the line 72 more times. But that’s not where the contrast is most stark.
Davis has scored 178 more points, grabbed 88 more rebounds and swatted 79 more blocks at home than on the road. Again, that’s in only 71 additional minutes.
With Davis’ increased production at home, it’s no surprise the Pelicans have been 15 games better at home over the past two seasons than they have been on the road:
New Orleans is 2-1 at home and 0-1 on the road this season. In case you were wondering, Davis scored just 14 points in the road game.
Interestingly, New Orleans has only scored 0.4 more points per game at home over those two years despite Davis’ increased offensive production.
The Pelicans’ improved block and rebounding rates along with their reduced turnovers at home appear to be the three most tangible factors in determining their home success. Davis certainly contributes toward the increase blocks and rebounds. His turnovers rise at home, as you would expect with increased usage.
The disparity is so severe that some pundits believe the official scorers in New Orleans have been juking the stats for Davis:
When you watch Anthony Davis’ ninth “block” you begin to realize how he has 78 more career blocks at home than away.
— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) October 29, 2014
Davis “blocked” Aaron Gordon’s jump shot, which hit the front of the rim.
— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) October 29, 2014
I’ve linked the block in question. (It’s the last clip on the video playlist.) While Davis visibly altered Gordon’s form, it is also visibly not a block.
Are the scorers actually affecting Davis’ home numbers so drastically that the splits are artificial? It’s hard to say, as it’s still too small a sample size. Based on his shot attempts and free throws, I would err on the side of saying Davis is simply a more confident and aggressive player at home. But it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on going forward.
This is the next step in Davis’ development. Part of Garnett’s evolution into a superstar was that he became unaffected by the environment. He became a metronomic, unstoppable force, regardless of where he played.
In the meantime, let’s just appreciate Davis for what he’s becoming: a 21-year-old whose analytics compare favorably to one of the top 25 players in NBA history.
Jacob Eisenberg is a senior at Emory University in Atlanta and covers analytics within the NBA for Sheridan Hoops. Give him a follow on twitter @eisenberg43 and check out his website as well.