Over the years the basketball world has been looking for the next Michael Jordan, the next special play-making anomaly of Magic Johnson, or the next dominant big man in the mold of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlin, or Shaquille O’Neal. Interestingly enough, there are more unique basketball specimens in the history of the game, like revolutionary power forward Kevin Garnett. The next evolution in the athletic power forward might have already been found.
Superior agility, athleticism, and overall basketball skill are rare traits for a 7-footer that is supposed to live in the paint.
Garnett, and now Anthony Davis, are the exceptions to that rule.
In the past five to six years very few players have come in with the same hype and expectations as Davis. The former No. 1 overall pick for the New Orleans Pelicans came in with the type of hype that could crush some players. Coming out of the University of Kentucky as a freshman, Davis was a household name for his defensive abilities, potential, growth spurt, championship swagger, and “facial hair.”
One major difference between Davis and Garnett over their basketball journeys: Garnett came straight from high school as a raw, 19-year-old, while Davis had a year of seasoning in college. While they were both 19 at the end of their amateur careers, there is no denying the value of a year of competing against the best collegiate athletes in the world.
Davis’ athletic prowess and skill-set is something that has not been seen on a basketball court since Kevin Garnett.
They each have a fluid ability to do things on a basketball court that 7-footers traditionally have never done. Neither plays much with their back to the basket while wearing down opponents in the paint. Rather, they use athleticism and versatility to their advantage, making their opponents come out to the perimeter before putting them on their heels with their explosive quickness.
Both players had quality rookie years for teams that did not win many games while they where eased along by coaches and management. They were limited in both minutes and opportunities on the offensive end, shooting an average of 10.6 (Davis) and 9.2 (Garnett) shots per game as rookies.
They each had more defined roles that limited them, but had veterans on the roster that eased the transition by shouldering more of the workload.
If the transition from year one to year two for Garnett spells out a positive future for Davis next season, then it could be a special one for the young forward. As a rookie, Garnett put up modest numbers as a young athlete for the Timberwolves. There wasn’t much pressure on Garnett to be a savior as a rookie, but the jump from his first season to his second was where the future 15-time All-Star came to life.
Comparing the first two years for Garnett appears to align with a realistic jump in the second year for Davis.
Each player made the NBA’s All-Rookie Team, but neither won Rookie of the Year. That distinction went to Damon Stoudemire (1995-1996) and Damian Lillard (2012-2013), respectively. Stoudemire did not have a career even close to Garnett’s, and Davis has the opportunity to have a superior career to Lillard when all things are said and done.
That will be determined with the leap Davis makes as he enters his second pro season.
The jump for Garnett was due to a more prominent role in the offense. He was able to create more offense for himself (14.3 FGA per game) which opened up the opportunity to create for others (3.1 APG) while also showing off the versatility in his game. It helped that Garnett played the most minutes of all front court players in his second year while starting each game for the ‘Wolves. The team invested in Garnett, which ultimately paid off for both parties.
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For Davis to make that type of a jump in his own second NBA season, he needs the opportunity like Garnett, but he also needs to deliver by playing with confidence on both ends of the floor.
Confidence has never been an issue for Garnett. He has been known as a smug, cocky, and intense player on the court. Adopting some of that tenacity will help Davis step out as the best player on both ends of the floor for the Pelicans.
Davis’ skill-set can be correlated to Garnett’s fluidity and natural ease on the perimeter because Davis is a former point guard that grew into a power forward. Davis honed his perimeter skills for 16 years before his growth spurt turned him into a front court behemoth, and over the past few years he has been adapting to the paint by developing more interior skills. Standing on skill and merit alone, Davis should make the leap as a player, and the historical connection to Garnett only bodes well for the future of the Pelicans.
Having the confidence and swagger of Garnett will help Davis become the best playerâ€”not only on his teamâ€”but also the best all-around player at his position in the NBA.
As a rookie, Davis was actually more impressive from an individual standpoint, outperforming Garnett head-to-head in most categories while playing on a similarly below average team. Individual success can also have a ripple affect on a players’ surroundings and to a large, unquantified respect, the surrounding players.
Davis has a timid, almost shy, nature on and off the court. Players do not need to be ruthless like Garnett, but with Davis’ skill-set and size, playing timid can lead to a lot of unfulfilled potential.
That floor-slapping intensity of Garnett’s can be intimidating and can get in the head of a bigger, more traditional big man that is attempting to barrel through the paint. The passionate glare and hard look in the eyes is a way intimidate an opponent sinceâ€”after allâ€”confidence is at times more important than just skill level.
Gaining Garnett’s level of confidence is interlaced with Davis’ upcoming second season, but the success of a big man is largely tied to the play of the lead guard he is bound to on the court. Pick-and-roll opportunities, and that sixth sense a good tandem develops, can be immeasurable for the development of a big man’s game. Oftentimes a big man is only as good as his facilitator.
Davis was very good as a rookie with some middling players around him, but the Pelicans did a good job of acquiring more talent this off-season to surround their young star. Most notably they upgraded the most integral position on the court for a big man’s success: the point guard.
Other than confidence and opportunity, the biggest change for Garnett in his own second season was an upgrade at the point guard position from a 32-year-old Terry Porter, to a dynamic rookie in Stephon Marbury. This new duo created a young team on the cusp of crashing the party in the Western Conference, improving from 26 wins to 40 after just one year.
Coming into this season, Davis welcomes 24-year-old All-Star Jrue Holiday.
Holiday is coming in off his first big season where he took the leap from good young point guard, to the next tier of athletic game-changing floor leaders that make a significant impact on the court. This move parallels the drafting of Marbury in Minnesota, formulating a young one-two-punch the same way Holiday has an opportunity with Davis moving forward.
Now Davis has the best perimeter player he has ever played with on any level, and Holiday has the best big man he’s ever had. The Pelicans have a fresh young duo that could be on the cusp of crashing the party in the Western Conference.
Davis is gaining some of that needed confidence after playing with the best players in the world at USA Team tryouts and practices. He has shown the potential to be a great, versatile forward, and now he has a partner in the young Holiday. The young Unibrow has the opportunity to become a star reminiscent of Garnett after Marbury came aboard.
If the jump that Garnett made back in 1996 is any indication of the type of player that Davis can be in 2013, then a truly special era in basketball is on the horizon.
There has not been a big man with this much upside and versatility to come into the league in nearly 20 years. Ever since then, general managers and scouts have been looking for the “next Garnett.”
The search is over. He is here.
Is Anthony Davis the second coming of Kevin Garnett?
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