Since going first overall in the 2012 NBA Draft, Anthony Davis became one of the league’s top players. He entered as a defensive-minded rookie and blossomed into an all-around superstar, showcasing guard-like skills to go along with his long 6-foot-10 frame.
Davis is now in his eighth NBA season and preparing for a playoff run with the Lakers, but in his seven years in New Orleans he didn’t find much team success despite stellar individual play. His Pelicans made the playoffs just twice, leading many fans and media members to deem Davis incapable of leading a great team as its No. 1 option. That adage was reinforced this year as Davis found both personal and team success in Los Angeles with LeBron James manning the helm.
Statistically, Davis is on pace to be a top-five power forward ever, but he doesn’t garner the respect of those having this discussion. His chances of surpassing players like Tim Duncan, Charles Barkley and Karl Malone are slim, but if he continues to find success in L.A., eclipsing someone even as legendary as Dirk Nowitzki is doable.
The greatest power forward Davis could realistically pass on the all-time rankings is Kevin Garnett. The two had similarly minimal playoff success in their first seven seasons and are great on both ends, so if Davis can win more in a new situation as Garnett did in Boston, then the two could have strikingly similar careers. At just 27 years old, Davis has plenty of basketball left to play, so here’s what he must do to trump Garnett as one of the best power forwards in NBA history.
Win Regular Season And Finals MVP
By their eighth seasons in the league, Garnett and Davis accumulated similar accolades. Both won an All-Star Game MVP and made four All-NBA teams (Davis is a lock for another All-NBA selection this season), but the separating factor is Garnett’s team success.
Garnett’s Timberwolves made the playoffs seven times in that span, none of which resulted in a series win but did include three 50-win seasons, according to basketball-reference. Davis won one round but made the postseason only twice, with his best team winning 48 games in 2017-2018. Garnett’s intensity and leadership elevated his lackluster supporting cast into winners — at least in the regular season, while Davis’ teams suffered from a lack of talent and continuity because of his fragility.
Garnett took his game to another level in his ninth season, becoming MVP, winning 58 games and taking the Timberwolves to the Western Conference Finals in 2003-2004. Davis is currently playing on the best team of his career in his eighth year, although James’ play draws most of the attention. Davis must take the torch from James in the coming seasons and prove he can be a winning team’s go-to player. If he does, a regular-season MVP should follow.
A Finals MVP award would set Davis apart from Garnett. Garnett never got to the Finals in Minnesota and was Boston’s second-best player when Boston won the title in 2008, so if Davis proves he’s the best player on the floor on the game’s biggest stage, he will elevate his legacy further than any other individual accomplishment could.
Based on how the Lakers are positioned this season and for the future, Davis has a great opportunity to accomplish these feats.
Win Defensive Player Of The Year Twice And Make At Least Six More All-Defensive Teams
Davis is one of the game’s top interior defenders and led the league in blocks three times. He’s made three All-Defensive teams already and is sure to earn another this year, which would match Garnett’s total in his first eight seasons. By the age of 27, Garnett and Davis both averaged 1.4 steals per game for their careers, with Davis swatting 0.7 more blocks per game. Davis even has 3.9 more Defensive Win Shares despite playing 90 fewer games in that span. Garnett, however, made a staggering 12 All-Defensive teams in his entire career, so Davis has his work cut out for him.
Each a top-tier interior presence, Garnett and Davis are differentiated by their perimeter defense. Davis might have the edge in rim protection, but Garnett in his prime was capable of switching onto guards with ease. He was much quicker laterally than Davis and employed superior intensity, which eventually earned Garnett the reputation of a defensive leader. Davis isn’t that kind of player, yet his own unique defensive skill set is good enough to win at least one DPOY.
Davis probably could have made more All-Defensive teams if he stayed healthy and also didn’t sit out the finals two months of last season. He’s in the perfect high-profile situation in L.A. to be rewarded for his defensive efforts, so there are no excuses if he can’t earn the respect of the voting media members.
Maintain His Current Statistical Production For At Least Five More Seasons
Davis and Garnett have remarkably similar statistical trajectories. Each put together solid rookie campaigns, dramatically improved in the next couple seasons and became superstars by age 23. Garnett didn’t decline until he turned 31, so Davis should sustain his current production for a while if he stays healthy.
Davis is the better scorer between the two, scoring 7.8 more points per 100 possessions than Garnett on 3% better shooting efficiency. Both good midrange and post-fadeaway shooters, Davis also developed the serviceable 3-pointer Garnett never had. Still, Garnett was the superior passer, averaging about 2.8 more assists per 100 possessions, so they both accounted for about the same amount of points per outing.
The advanced metrics generally elevate Davis, as he leads Garnett in PER by 5.4 and in WS/48 by 0.057, albeit on about a 4% higher usage rate. Davis isn’t quite the rebounder Garnett was on a per-game basis, but he grabs 0.9% more available rebounds than Garnett, so they’re comparable.
The most significant difference is their net plus/minus, which favors Garnett by a significant 7.1 points per 100 possessions. This means Garnett’s teams were worse without him than Davis’ teams were based on the lineups without him on the floor.
Garnett’s statistics dropped dramatically once he joined the Celtics, so if Davis continues his current pace and perhaps increases his long-range efficiency, he’ll have a more statistically impressive resume than Garnett.
Reinvent His Reputation
If Davis can accomplish some or all of the aforementioned tasks, his reputation should naturally improve. As of now, Davis is generally viewed as an elite second-option and top-end interior defender who can’t stay completely healthy and somewhat lacks intensity and killer-instinct. He’s extremely talented but hasn’t exactly made the most of his gifts when it comes to winning. It’s not all his fault, but people hold it against him.
Whether you think Garnett was better than Davis or not, no one can say he had a shortage of fervor and desire to compete and win. Garnett is so respected amongst his peers because he truly gave his all on the court, and once he joined Boston, he cemented his legacy as the defensive and emotional leader of a championship team.
Davis hasn’t proven anything close to that yet. This Orlando postseason is the time Davis needs to show he can bring that championship mentality. If he does, he’ll be on his way to a top-5 power forward career.