Given how much we've seen and discussed Anthony Davis over the past few months — what with his No. 1 overall selection in the 2012 NBA draft, his call-up to the U.S. men's national basketball team for the 2012 Summer Olympics and all that talk about his unibrow — it seems like he's been around for ages already. But while he's quickly carved out a place in NBA fans' consciousness, the fact remains, of course, that he's a rookie who has yet to play a single second of NBA basketball.
As such, Davis remains, to some extent, an unknown quantity — we know about the size, wingspan, athleticism and defensive prowess that earned him all kinds of awards during his lone year at the University of Kentucky, but we don't yet know precisely what we can expect from him when he takes the floor for the New Orleans Hornets this fall. To hear Davis tell it, what we should expect is nothing less than all-time excellence.
During a recent interview with Joe Brescia at the New York Times' Off the Dribble blog, New Orleans' new 6-foot-10-inch centerpiece briefly touched upon the goals he's laid out for his rookie season, and they're pretty ambitious:
Q: What do you want to accomplish in your first season in the N.B.A.?
A. Win rookie of the year. Make first-team all-rookie, first-team all-defense and defensive player of the year.
Well, then. It appears that young Mr. Davis does not believe in subjecting himself to the soft tyranny of low expectations. Clearly, as a lad, someone told Anthony to shoot for the MVP moon, because even if you fall short, you will land among the first-team all-defense stars. (Or however that saying goes.)
This sort of out-of-the-gate swagger isn't too surprising — if you'll remember, less than 24 hours after the Hornets won the lottery and a month before they chose him, Davis was already talking about how he's looking forward to shutting down five-time NBA champion Kobe Bryant. Not exactly lacking for confidence, this one.
And the first two parts stand to reason. As the top overall pick, it makes sense that Davis has his sights set on the Rookie of the Year award, and the oddsmakers think him a sound bet to take it home, with Bovada listing him as nearly four times more likely to win ROY than the next best bet, former Kentucky Wildcats teammate Michael Kidd-Gilchrist of the Charlotte Bobcats. Plus, history confirms a very reasonable suspicion — every All-Rookie first team since the squad's 1962-63 inception has featured the player who won Rookie of the Year. (That said, we shouldn't start carving Davis' name into the trophy just yet — in the 60 years that the NBA's given out top-rookie honors, the No. 1 pick has only received them 19 times.)
The other two parts, though? History says they'll be an awful tall order for the awful tall Davis. To wit:
• Since the NBA began handing out Defensive Player of the Year hardware after the 1982-83 season, no rookie has ever taken the award. The closest any rookie has come was in 1985-86, when Washington Bullets giant and league-leading shot-blocker Manute Bol placed second in voting behind sophomore Alvin Robertson, who averaged a league-leading 3.7 steals per game for the San Antonio Spurs.
• In the 44 years since the NBA started naming an annual All-Defensive Team following the 1968-69 season, no rookie has ever been chosen as part of the first team. In fact, only five rookies have even made the second team, and they were pretty fair players themselves — new statue recipient Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor (1969-70); modern-day low-post guru Hakeem Olajuwon, then H-less in Houston (1984-85); rim protector Bol (1985-86); and the Spurs' twin-towers duo of David Robinson (1989-90) and Tim Duncan (1997-98).
Four of those five guys played in all 82 games as rookies; Bol played 80. Four finished among the league's top-five shot-blockers; blocks weren't tracked during Alcindor's first four seasons (and he still ranks third all time in NBA/ABA history. Four finished top-five in the league in total rebounds; Bol, always too thin to do much on the boards, averaged just six rips per game as a rook.
So, basically, for Davis to accomplish his goals, he just needs to, in each and every one of the Hornets' 82 games, be more defensively dominant than four of the greatest centers of all time and one of the best shot-blockers of all time, and hope that voters forget who Dwight Howard and Tyson Chandler are. No biggie.
On one hand, I'm sure Hornets fans are giddy at the kind of confidence their new franchise player exudes. On the other, I'd bet they'd be pretty satisfied with him just helping coach Monty Williams bump New Orleans' defense from middle-of-the-league in defensive efficiency up near the top 10 while also doing a better job finishing around the rim than any big man they've had in recent memory, even if it doesn't result in a historic postseason trophy haul just yet.
Me? I'd just be happy if he remembers his jersey every game. That'd show some growth, I think.
Many, many thanks to Basketball-Reference.com, which has an absolute treasure trove of award-voting, player-statistic and other archives.
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