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March 29, 2012
Even Better Than His Stats
Anthony Davis

by John Gasaway

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On November 11, 2011, Anthony Davis made his debut at Kentucky, recording 23 points, ten rebounds, and five blocks in just 23 minutes in the Wildcats' 108-58 win over Marist. The game marked just the third time in UK's storied history a player had put up at least 20 points and ten rebounds in his first outing, putting Davis in the company of Sam Bowie (1979) and Terrence Jones (2010). "For me to be in that category is just awesome," Davis said afterward. "Terrence and Sam, they're great players and I'm just glad to be in that category with them."

It turns out Davis was just getting started. On Saturday the 6-10 freshman will take the floor against Louisville in the Final Four as a first-team All-American. His team is the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and rated as the overwhelming favorite to win the national championship. It is a foregone conclusion that, assuming Davis chooses to avail himself of the opportunity, he will be the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming 2012 NBA Draft.

I would venture to say that's a fairly impressive resume for a 19-year-old. What else can there possibly be to add to a profile as golden as this when we take a closer look at the freshman's actual performance on a possession-by-possession basis?

Would you believe: plenty?

The scary thing about Davis is that Calipari's only scratched the surface
When considering the record of actual basketball happenings authored by Davis this season, we quickly run into an evaluative problem -- albeit a fantastic problem if you're John Calipari. Kentucky's rotation is comprised of Davis, Jones, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Doron Lamb, Marquis Teague, and Darius Miller. That six-player phalanx is so potent offensively and so varied in their skills that no one of them, including Davis, has been called upon to "carry" the Wildcats for any considerable stretch of time.

As a result, the numbers for Davis on offense look pretty much like your typical outstanding NBA-track big man. The freshman has drained 67 percent of his twos while accounting for just 19 percent of the team's shot attempts during his minutes. Nor has Davis increased his prominence in the offense during UK's seven-game postseason. (I'm including the three games the Wildcats played in the SEC tournament in my definition of "postseason.") Rather eerily, Davis' share of Kentucky shot attempts has stayed exactly the same in the postseason as it was during the regular season. (Why mess with something that works?) That share is small -- very small, even -- compared to what we see from stars like Jared Sullinger of Ohio State or Thomas Robinson of Kansas. It gives Davis the appearance of a supporting player on offense.

I don't believe that for a second. No one does. Kentucky on offense is nothing but supporting players, and that's a large part of what makes them so difficult to defend. The ball is shared and so are the shots. But the salient point as regards Davis is that he gives every indication of being able to handle a much larger workload should the occasion arise.

The Wildcats ended their perfect 16-0 conference season with a win on the road against perhaps the league's second-best team, Florida. In that game, which the Gators slowed down to just 59 possessions, Davis led all scorers with 22 points on 13 shots. Or consider this: Davis has personally been on the floor for 401 possessions in the SEC and NCAA tournaments, and in that time he's committed just seven turnovers.

Granted, Davis might want to negotiate a cease-fire with his own three-point shooting (he's 3-of-20 for the season), and he's merely good not great at the free throw line (71 percent). But otherwise he's displayed potential on offense that is far beyond what his raw numbers may suggest.

You may have heard he's pretty good on D, too
To me the really impressive thing about Davis' shot-blocking is not the sum total (175 and counting) but rather the manner in which he records all those swats and, most of all, the effect he's had on opposing offenses.

For the season Davis' block percentage stands at an incredible 14 percent. (Which, I realize, is less incredible than Jeff Withey's 15 percent. Duly noted, Kansas fans. No need to email me.) That number is falling, however. In the postseason Davis' block percentage is "just" (ha) 11 percent. At the risk of oversimplifying things, I think this is a case where the word simply got out. Opponents watch games just like you and I do, and they know better than to attempt a shot when Davis is in their vicinity. And the athletic Davis is able to get to a lot of vicinities. His combination of mobility and wingspan is one the likes of which we may not soon see again.

As his numbers for blocks have ticked downward very slightly in March, Davis has improved his performance on the defensive glass. In Kentucky's last seven games the freshman has personally hauled down 26 percent of opponents' missed shots during his minutes. If you have a player with this kind of block rate who also crashes the defensive glass with that degree of success, you have a one-player starter kit for dominant defense. The Wildcats on defense are more than just Davis, but he increases his teammates' margin for error on that side of the ball. Greatly.

Davis is a handy one-player summary of this Kentucky team
At the moment Calipari's team is in the midst of an astonishing run on offense, one in which they've scored 1.29 points per possession over their last three games. When a team's putting points on the board at that rate, they're next to impossible to beat, and this season the 36-2 Wildcats have specialized at almost always doing something -- offense, defense, or both -- that makes them extremely difficult to outscore over 40 minutes.

I can imagine Kentucky getting to the Final Four without Anthony Davis, but I can't imagine this UK team being anywhere near as dominant and as versatile without him. He makes as many 2s and blocks as many opponent shots and gets as many rebounds as his team needs on a given night. Davis started his career happy merely to be in the same category as other UK stars past and present, but future Wildcat standouts will have a very hard time equaling what we saw from the 6-10 freshman this season.

A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

John Gasaway is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact John by clicking here or click here to see John's other articles.

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