Few journeys to basketball stardom have been expedited as quickly as Anthony Davis'. Before he would become the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, before he would lead Kentucky to a 38-2 record and national championship while sweeping college basketball's awards season as a freshman, Davis was an unknown 6'4 guard playing in the lower levels of Chicago high school basketball.
Davis' ascent to the pinnacle of the hoops world is unprecedented. This was a player who almost literally fell asleep one day as a nothing prospect and woke up the next as an evolutionary Kevin Garnett with every pro scout alive drooling over his potential.
To fully appreciate Davis' meteoric rise, you have to go back to the beginning. Perspective High, the charter school Davis had been enrolled at since the sixth grade, was such an afterthought in Chicago's burgeoning high school basketball scene that it couldn't even get local attention. I was working in the high school sports department for the Chicago Sun-Times during those days, for a newspaper that covered about 350 area schools. Davis' wasn't one of them.
For the first three years of his high school career, Davis was barely a blip on the radar. His best scholarship offer came from Cleveland State, of all places.
It only took was a seven-inch growth spurt that began at the end of his sophomore year to change everything. Davis then had a breakout performance at the NBA Top 100 camp going into his senior season. Suddenly, he was widely considered the top recruit in the country.
The high school growth spurt is perhaps the signature development in Davis' narrative arc. That type of rapid increase in height often results in a person awkwardly growing into their new body, but Davis took it all in stride. He retained every drip of athleticism, coordination and footwork he had as a guard, as well as a shooting stroke that now served as an intriguing weapon for the newfound big man.
Now, Davis is a 6'10 athletic freak with impossibly long arms, quick feet and the innate instincts to erase any ball unfortunate enough to be flung towards the basket while he's in the vicinity. He also might be the next great NBA player.
Even with all of the college accolades and an unquestioned status as the draft's No. 1 overall pick, Davis' rookie year was a whirlwind. That's to be expected for a 19-year old big man entering the NBA's land of agile giants for the first time. Davis fought off four different injuries, uneven play from teammates and a questionable defensive strategy in New Orleans and still made it out alive.
It will come as a surprise that New Orleans wasn't much better defensively in their first year with Davis, but the team did make a sizable jump offensively, from No. 26 in offensively efficiency in 2011-2012 to No. 15 a year ago. Davis' ability as a finisher in the pick-and-roll and his aptitude as a baseline cutter had plenty to do with it. He also made more than 70 percent of his free throws as a rookie and displayed more confidence in his outside shot as the season went along.
Portland's Damian Lillard might have ran away with the Rookie of the Year voting, but Davis' impact was arguably bigger when he was on the court. In 64 games, he posted a PER of 21.8, which puts him at the level of an All-Star performer.
Not bad for someone who can't legally drink until March.
What does Davis have to improve on in his second season? It starts at the defensive end, where New Orleans finished as the third worst-team in the league last season, giving up 107.6 points per 100 possessions. That's where Davis has all of the tools to be as versatile defensively as Kevin Durant is offensively. There simply aren't many humans with a 7'3 wingspan and nimble feet, and it's those physical abnormalities combined with Davis' instincts that make him a special player. Davis also needs to get stronger to handle the beating an NBA big man takes in the paint every night. Just 10-15 pounds if muscle would do the trick.
If it happens, look out. When Davis is able to slide to center next season, New Orleans could have terrify opposing defenses with athleticism and spacing. Offseason additions Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, as well as incumbents Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, form around Davis to make a really exciting five-best lineup.
New Orleans is now set to become the Pelicans after missing the playoffs badly the last three seasons. If there's one player who knows a thing about rapid improvement, it's Anthony Davis .