Anthony Davis: Best defensive prospect since the 80s

Kentucky’s Anthony Davis will probably be the number one pick, but he is far from a national phenomenon. Think back to Kevin Durant’s NCAA hype, John Wall’s aura, even Jimmer warrants a mention here. Certain players capture the country with fluttering jumpers or swiveling drives. They usually handle the ball, a wonder orb that serves as the orange laser pointer for a fan’s attention.

The orange beamer is rarely on Davis. He does not run an offense, rarely creates his own shot. His usage rate is 14.6, meaning he’s as offensively involved for Kentucky as Jonas Jerebko is for Detroit. Davis makes good on his few opportunities though, well enough to shoot 66%, well enough to lead the NCAA in player efficiency.

The offensive efficiency is nice but it’s not why I care about Anthony Davis. I care because Davis plays a caliber of defense I have never seen before and am not entirely sure if I’ll ever see again. I mean what I say, there is no hyperbole in my intent. Any reluctance to tell you this would merely be me, protecting my own ego from looking laughably wrong in the future.

I’m just struggling to find an NCAA player who had so many blocks and steals while fouling so rarely. Check his latest stat line. The 27 points on 12 shots is impressive, as is 14 boards. To me, the most staggering aspect is, “seven blocks, no fouls.”

Who does that? What college freshman averages 4.6 blocks, 1.5 steals, while fouling only 2.1 times per game? I looked back at some formerly hyped defensive prospects to see if anyone had similar stats. I am using the quick and dirty measure of blocks + steals (“stocks”) – fouls. Our result is the “Stock Spread,” which is a bit like the Ted Spread, if the Ted Spread measured controlled defensive awesomeness as opposed to international credit insecurity. The Stock Spread is far from a fine-tuned predictive metric, but I like how it represents destruction rendered vs. destruction punished.

Anthony Davis
11-12: 4.6 blocks + 1.5 steals – 2.1 PFs = 4.0 Stock Spread

Just wholly staggering. Anthony Davis is so adept at blocking from the shot release point. When timed up right, the sight is comical. Davis can uppercut the rock from an opposing player’s grasp, like a kid whipping a T-ball from its rubbery perch. He also has incredible range, swatting three point attempts with his body shooting forward in such a lean as to be far away from making accidental contact with a shooter. His reach allows this vast distance between hand and mission control, making it appear as though Anthony’s Addams Family hand is divorced from corpus.

Hakeem Olajuwon
83-84: 5.6 blocks + 1.6 steals – 3.2 PFs = 4.0 Stock Spread

Olajuwon equaled current Davis, but not until his final junior season. Not bad company, considering that Hakeem may well be the best defensive player in NBA history.

Patrick Ewing
84-85: 3.6 blocks + 1.1 steals – 2.9 PFs = 1.8 Stock Spread

Ewing had his best SS in his senior year. Despite having fewer stocks, I actually believe Ewing to have been a better defender than Mutombo or Mourning–till knee injuries robbed Patrick of his Georgetown hops.

Alonzo Mourning
88-89: 5 blocks + .4 steals – 3 PFs = 2.4 Stock Spread

Zo’s freshman season was his best Stock Spread year. Between Ewing, Mourning and Mutombo, Zo recorded the most swats.

Dikembe Mutombo
90-91: 4.7 blocks + .6 steals – 2.8 PFs = 2.5 Stock Spread

Our last Hoya had his best SS in a senior season. Sit back and marvel at Georgetown’s run of centers in this era.

Tim Duncan
94-95: 4.2 blocks + .4 steals – 2.4 fouls = 2.2 Stock Spread

This was Timmy’s sophmore year. It’s hard to imagine Duncan playing big time ball in flat top times, but it happened. The man has had a long, magnificent career.

Emeka Okafor
02-03: 4.7 blocks + .9 steals – 2.97 = 2.63 Stock Spread

Perhaps some of AD’s underhyping can be attributed to how Okafor’s career was a bit of a disappointment. Still, he’s far from the current Stock Spread of one Anthony Davis.

The Wings

I would love to parse Scottie Pippen’s numbers, but I cannot find recorded evidence of his blocks. He averaged roughly three steals and three fouls in his senior year. Ron Artest had a spread of 1.0 in his sophmore season, which is actually quite impressive for a wing defender. So you know, Michael Jordan averaged a negative Stock Spread over his college career.

Anthony Davis projects to be a power forward in the NBA, a position replete with scorers trading baskets with one another. The current leaders in power forward offensive efficiency are Paul Millsap, Kevin Love, Ryan Anderson, and Blake Griffin, none of whom will be confused with a stopper.The PF position has much opportunity for defensive impact though, as evidenced by KG’s animation of Boston’s defense. A transformative defensive presence at this spot can shut down all those aforementioned impact scorers, obliterate copious pick and rolls, all while covering more range than a center would. Here, there is so much potential for a man of Anthony Davis’s potential.

And yet, the skinny kid does not excite the masses like a similarly-framed Kevin Durant once did at Texas. Chad Ford has plenty of praise for AD, but notes that many basketball evaluators believe him to be less than a franchise changer. There could be an underlying logic to this. There is a greater variance in offensive production than in defensive production, possibly because defense is a total collective act while offense can be run through fewer than four guys. The holy grail quest is to nab that transcendent offensive talent, that guy who creates points out of habit and will.

The goal of this draft should be different, according to the rare talent it will hold. Anthony Davis could be, should be a transformative defensive player in the way Chris Paul and LeBron James were initially transformative on offense. The Stock Spread is a somewhat arbitrary metric, but it is a simple way of conveying just how much chaos this guy wreaks while being in complete control. He can be the one to take over at the end of a game, just not in the tradition way. It is not crazy to think him a better defensive prospect than Hakeem Olajuwon was at the same age. If that is the case, then are we looking at the best NCAA defensive prospect in three decades and merely shrugging?

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  1. [...] gonna love Anthony Davis. What’s not to like? He may be the best defensive prospect since the 1980s. And Benson has to be happy–the return on his investment just jumped. If he re-signs Eric [...]

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