Don’t worry about Anthony Davis

Since he didn’t make an All-NBA team and won’t get that Derrick Rose rule money, people are a little bit down on Anthony Davis.

With his play and having a heavy influence on the success, or failure, of the New Orleans Pelicans, the trend of his play should be examined in light of his recent retrogression. Davis’s season should be looked at through a historical lens, put up against of other players who previously achieved similar productivity to Davis during his 2014-2015 season. I performed an analysis will try to see if there is a need for Pelicans fans to worry about their burgeoning superstar, or if it was a fluke season.

The group of players that I prop Davis up against is quite elite company: players who obtained a BPM of 7 or higher in a single season. There are only 33 other players who have managed this level of play. This group consists of many Hall-of-Fame players (David Robinson, Magic Johnson, etc.), current superstars (LeBron James, Kevin Durant, etc.) and players who maintained high success for brief periods in their careers (Mookie Blaylock, Andrei Kirilenko, etc.).

As FiveThirtyEight pointed out in this article, Davis’s drop was one that was highly unlikely to occur and nearly unprecedented. Fans may find solace in recognizing many of the names in that chart. In fact a few of the players were included amongst those who posted a BPM of 7 higher in a single season during their career (Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Blaylock). However, two of the three, Wade and Paul, were as a result of missing a fourth or more of the season due to injury. Blaylock on the other hand played nearly all of his team’s games that season seeing minutes in 73 of 82 games.

Davis also has some company when it comes to the timing of his drop in BPM. Of the 14 players who managed to have a BPM of 7 or higher in third year of their career nine out of fourteen saw a decrease in that number at the end of their fourth year. However Davis sits atop this list.

 

Player Season BPM BPM in Previous Season Difference
Davis 2015-16 2.2 7.1 -4.9
Robinson 1992-93 6.7 10 -3.3
Hill 1997-98 4.8 8 -3.2
Carter 2001-02 4.1 7 -2.9
Jones 1977-78 5.1 7.7 -2.6
Durant 2010-11 2.9 5.1 -2.2
O’Neal 1995-96 3.5 5.4 -1.9
James 2006-07 7.4 9.3 -1.9
Westbrook 2011-12 3.2 5 -1.8
Olajuwon 1987-88 5 6.6 -1.6
Ginobili 2005-06 6 7 -1
Johnson 1982-83 7.4 8.3 -0.9
Duncan 2000-01 5.4 6.1 -0.7
Barkley 1987-88 9 9.2 -0.2

 

So the question then becomes are the numbers in Anthony Davis’s four year career more indicative of a future career path of a talented role player who exceeded his talent for one season, or is it one of a hall of fame player who will go on to dominate an era? Is Anthony Davis Mookie or Hakeem?

To try to decide which is closer to the truth I plotted the BPMs of all 33 players (including Davis) through their first six seasons (if possible*) to find a trend amongst the data. The overall trend was upward and Davis’s individual trend line closely resembled the line but had a lower significance level as well as coefficient. With the chart below you can compare Davis’s trend lines to other individual players first six years. Play with it after you click the link.

 

BPM of Great Players Over Career Years

 

When you look at each player’s line of their first six years when plotted against time by actual year (rather than year of career), Davis’s line seems to coincide with a pattern seen in many other player’s first six year plots: a peak followed very quickly by a steep decline. Continue playing with my charts.

 

BPM of Great Players Over Time

 

It appears that many players who are destined for eventual Hall of Fame careers go through growing pains through the first few years of their careers. This is true of every nearly every player on the list, save that of Blaylock. Blaylock’s career was one of steady progression and then a steep decline according to his BPM numbers. In his first few year  This trend is seen in no other player’s first six seasons.

When you consider the fact that Davis has just now recently come clean about his nagging injuries that he has been playing through it makes his decline even more understandable. Davis seems to be headed for a career closer to that of CP3 than Blaylock (thank goodness).

*BPM data for Bob Lanier, Julius Erving, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is not possible to attain for the first few years of their careers because the statistic of steals was not kept at the time.

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