While working his way through a 40-point, 21-rebound beatdown of the Celtics last night, Anthony Davis made a number of plays that would make anyone in the arena think they were watching the best big man in the NBA.
There were the times he took his man off the dribble and sent home odd, cockeyed floaters with the body control of a guard. There were the drives to the rim that the defense could do nothing to stop because nobody else's arms can reach to the places Anthony Davis's can. There were offensive rebounds—Davis leaping and reaching over the entire Celtics front line with a buzzing celerity—followed by put-back hammer dunks. But the most impressive play, the one most indicative of the kind of superstar Davis is on his way to becoming, was his shot at the end of regulation.
With just under five seconds to play and the game tied, the Pelicans drew up a play that put the ball in Davis's hands at the free-throw line. Davis made one jab step at his defender before rising up for a jumper just as a second defender rushed him from the left. Davis's body was calm, his form as pure as any seasoned jump shooter's, and the shot splashed home.
Try to think of another big man in the league who gets that play drawn up for him in that situation. This is what separates Davis from the other elite defenders and rebounders in the NBA: he's a weapon on the offensive end of the court, the kind you can give the ball with the game on the line and let go to work.
That shot wasn't a fluke, it's the kind of jumper that Davis has been hitting all year:
All that green space is made even more impressive by the fact that it was blood red last season. As NBA.com's John Schuhmann pointed out after the game, Davis has upped his mid-range field goal percentage by 12.9 percentage points from last season to this season. Davis shot just 29.4 percent from mid-range last year, now he's hitting 42.2 percent of those shots. That's the biggest improvement of anyone in the league.
And all that improvement came with Davis still managing to be one of the best defensive big men in the league. Opponents are basically too scared to shoot near him at this point—he only sees 6.6 field goal attempts at the rim per game, as opposed to Roy Hibbert's 9.1—but he's still managing to shut down most of the shots he does see. Opponents are shooting just 47.5 percent on shots at the rim that are defended by Davis. Oh yeah, he also leads the league in blocks per game with 2.9.
So what do we have in Anthony Davis? We have a guy who shuts down the paint on the defensive end, is quick enough to blow by his slow-footed counterparts off the dribble, and in just one season managed to turn his brick-laying jumper into a genuine shooter's stroke, the kind that can be called on when a game needs to be won. At 21 years old, he is basically vintage Kevin Garnett with a unibrow. Anthony Davis all over the damn court, affecting the game from every possible angle, and he's only going to get better.