O Captain My Captain! This week Clip Chat is graced with the commander of our ship, the broken faced boy wonder, Lucas Hann.
Lucas: Okay, Larson, here's the #HOTTAKE that I've been pondering for a few weeks:
Anthony Davis is overrated.
What I mean to say by that is that he's insanely good, but still not as good as people seem to think he is. In fact, I see more AD excitement from people who don't follow the Pelicans than people who do. Anthony Davis last year (3rd year pro), at 21 years old, averaged 24 points and 10 rebounds a game, which is absurdly good. Blake Griffin, at that age, but in his rookie year, averaged 22 points and 12 rebounds, also absurdly good. What followed for Griffin was a massive excitement and buzz across the country who marveled at the young power forward's highlights and stats. Then, when seasons two and three of his career started, fans across the country who only see Griffin once or twice a year were underwhelmed by average performances and raw skills, causing a backlash -- overrated, entitled, arrogant, lazy -- all while the young Griffin simply kept working hard at getting better. Now, as he reaches a further point in his development as a player, I think the national perception of Griffin is just starting to get to the point where he's cast in a fair light -- one that recognizes how great he is without imposing unfair expectations.
Right now, I think that's where Anthony Davis is. He's insanely good; he'll be one of the best players in the league for years to come, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if we saw him with one or more MVP awards or championships when it's all said and done. The same applies to Blake Griffin. But before he gets there, he's gonna go through the same process of being overrated, then underrated and disparaged, and then truly coming into his own. Either the Pelicans won't get another superstar, and they'll fail to win enough games for people to consider Davis a "winner", or they'll get another superstar and people will criticize Davis' stats for dropping. When he starts to take it a little easier during the season to save himself for the postseason, people will freak out when his block and rebound numbers dip.
Larson: Well, that may not quite be a "Skip Bayless #HOTTAKE", but it's definitely a #hottake. The weirdest thing is that I think I may agree with you.
As you touched on a little bit, I think people are enamored with Anthony Davis because of how young he still is. Being 21 and having the season he just had, it's hard to keep from looking at him and seeing only the almost unbounded potential. However, and I think this is what you're getting at, that potential can be slightly deceiving. NBA fans seem to talk about the Brow like he has already reached that potential, rather than adequately reflecting on what Davis did last year, which was still incredibly good, and what type of player he may be right now. It's a little bit like how NFL fans talk about Andrew Luck.
I think a good question to ask which helps to characterize this issue is: where do you rank Davis in the NBA's top players? I know that rankings can be a bit silly and splitting hairs at times, but it seems like Davis has been anointed already as the 2nd or 3rd best player right now; in CBS's NBA player rankings someone even had him #1. I hesitate to put him in there quite yet. I think I'd take LeBron, Durant, and Curry over him next year. And I think there's a strong argument to be made Chris Paul, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Blake, and Boogie are all if not as good, in the same stratosphere; I'm not ready to put him in the topmost echelon quite yet. He still has a of improvement to show me in his game (staying healthy for a full season couldn't hurt), but you're right, he is going into only his fourth season, and young, budding stars tend to have a "leap" season where they put it all together. Jimmy Butler had his last year, so did Blake, and you could argue John Wall is poised for his this coming year. Davis could very well have his next year, with a new coach in Alvin Gentry, and a hopefully healthier supporting cast, and I could be completely wrong by season's end. Where do you rank Davis in the among the NBA's best?
Lucas: I rank Anthony Davis right in that second tier of stars, but definitely not up in the top 3 where a lot of people are putting him right now. You say "what if Davis has his leap this year?", but my question is what if he's had it? Yeah, he'll get better of course, but enough to be a "leap"? Where do you leap to from 24/10? Is he gonna go 30/12? I don't think so. He'll probably have a pretty similar year, and there's nothing wrong with that, but why do we have to take a great player and make him into something he's not?
Larson: What if Davis has already made the leap is interesting. Maybe his numbers stay the same, but his game evolves over time and grows in different, more subtle ways. Maybe I've just bought into the Davis hype too much considering he's only 21, but I think he can be better than 24/10. After all, in the playoffs he averaged: 31.5 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 blocks. I think with all the injuries the Pelicans already have this year, to be competitive he'll have to be amazing. I guess another leap for Davis would be an MVP-type season where he puts up something close to 27 points, 12 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 2 steals while missing less than 10 games. That would be unbelievable, and I'm not sure how possible that is. Maybe we're underestimating him, and he really is THAT good.
Lucas: I'd still take Blake Griffin over Anthony Davis at the PF position, but it's close enough that I think fit matters. Blake has superior passing, Davis has better help-side defense. On a team like the Clippers where DeAndre Jordan is the resident shot blocker, I'll take the versatile passer all day. In another setting, maybe not.
Larson: Anthony Davis v. Blake Griffin is so interesting. I think it's pretty decisive they're the two best power forwards in the league right now, apologies to Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge. Even the annual GM survey agreed. I think you're right in that passing and help-side defense are their two biggest areas of contrast, though I think Blake may be a better post defender right now because he's much stronger; it always seems like Blake dominates Davis in their match ups because he just bullies him. Both have a mid range game now and some semblance of a three point shot, though that may become a more regular thing for the Brow, and both can be terrific scorers, rebounders, and ball-handlers. The similarities in their all around skills are likely due to both of their backgrounds as basketball players. In high school, Davis and Griffin were both guards to start with before experiencing huge growth spurts that changed their positions. If you're starting a team right now, Davis is the obvious choice, but for next season with the Clippers, it's much closer, especially after seeing Playoff Blake -- Destroyer of Worlds. I'm intrigued by what a Davis DeAndre front court could do defensively, and maybe the spacing is a little roomier even if the passing ability drops, but I'd still take Blake because he saved the Clipper franchise and may star in Space Jam 2.
Lucas: It's really nothing against Anthony Davis. He's tremendously good, and while I'm sure that if it was a marginal issue, my Blake Griffin bias or some sort of jealousy that my team's PF isn't getting as much attention would play a role, but some of this stuff is really out there. There's a difference between that little indignant feeling I get when someone says Davis is the best PF in the league, and the feeling I get when Michael McNamara, who covers the Pelicans for TrueHoop, says he'd be "shocked" if Davis didn't average 30 points per game in November. Even with tons of injuries that'll guarantee more touches for Davis, I don't think you can hold AD to that standard yet (he's never averaged 30 points a game in a month before). I think he's good enough to do it, but I think that if he did it, it would be a great freaking month, not run-of-the-mill. I think it's far more likely than not that he doesn't.
It's not to say I don't like him, it's not to say he's not good, it's not to say he's not a superstar.... it's just to say "come on, guys" to some of the expectations and assertions that are being thrown around. Instead of expecting the best-case scenario from young stars, let's acknowledge that that type of greatness is possible, but set more reasonable expectations, and then be surprised and proud when they achieve greatness instead of just expecting it.
Larson: Level-headedness and patience when describing budding superstars? I don't think NBA Twitter is quite ready for that. I'm excited to see how the Brow develops this year, and it would be awesome if we were wrong and he puts up like 29/13/4 as a stat line for the season. I guess I'm just not ready to say I think he'll take the brunt of disappointment from not living up to lofty expectations yet. It's certainly possible that Davis is going to be caught up in that storm this season. He has vaunted expectations being heaped upon him to be an MVP candidate, and after New Orleans made the playoffs last year, the assumption is they should make it again this year. It's not that hard to imagine a scenario where the Pelicans struggle. Their roster construction isn't the best fit, they have a new coach with presumably a new playing style to implement, they have health question marks everywhere (when does it become a big deal that Davis has never played 70 games in a season?), and they are facing a much better western conference. But if everything goes wrong, I don't think Brow ends up with the blame; the media and fans just love him too much and will point to all of the other factors. But, I probably also thought similar things about Blake Griffin before people turned on him, so maybe I'm just being naive.
Lucas: Be careful when you list excuses for AD. Narratives can become unforgiving, and a lot of times people default to blaming the star no matter what. "He should be good enough", and the truth is that maybe if he was the 2nd or 3rd best player in the NBA he would be good enough with the current set up. But he's not, they aren't contenders, and it's not his fault but he's also not a top-3 player in the league. There's nothing wrong with that. The narrative can dip either way, blaming him or granting him and exception, but it won't change the reality of the situation.
Larson: As far as the tumultuous journey most NBA stars take of being underrated, then overrated and disparaged, and then rightfully respected, I'm wondering what factors go into creating that narrative, and if we're just highly sensitive to it because the team we root for seems to have taken the biggest flip in script from fun-loving Lob City to probably the most hated team in the league. Do you think media attention has anything to do with it? Or is it the type of game a certain player has? LeBron has definitely gone through that journey, but Kevin Durant hasn't. Blake and Chris and probably now DeAndre have all gone through it, but LaMarcus Aldridge, Steph Curry, and Marc Gasol have not. Maybe Hegel was right in that the journey of history is thesis, antithesis, synthesis (dropping Hegel to keep up our rep as the thinking man's blog).
Lucas: Look at the stars you listed and tell me if you see the same correlation as I do: the ones who go through this process are more athletic, and the ones who don't are more skilled. Not to say those players are "unathletic" or the ones who I listed as athletes are "unskilled", but their play styles are certainly slanted one way or the other. Maybe it's a tendency to assume that as these hyperathletes evolve as players, they'll grow more skilled, and the skilled players won't grow more athletic, which is fair. However, growing more fundamentally skilled isn't going to necessarily translate into better stats, it just changes how Blake Griffin gets his 20 points. Now, he's hitting mid-range shots and scoring more easily in the post, and while it was gratifying to see him bust his ass for third-chance points around the rim, he's saving himself, missing less games due to wear-and-tear stuff, tiring less at the end of games, and most importantly, tiring less at the end of seasons. His growth towards better skills have certainly made him better, they just haven't necessarily made his stats better. To the normal NBA fan who watches him play 5 times a year and then looks at his career stats, it looks like his progression is flat. When Anthony Davis averages 22/9 this year instead of 24/10, all people will see is a slight regression, no matter how his game evolves.
Larson: As far as NBA player narrative, I think you hit the nail on the head regarding how freak athletes are treated. While it can be incredible to watch Blake dunk over Mozgov, or Perkins, or Gasol (twice), there's a long standing belief in the NBA that athleticism won't last and at some point you have to "learn how to play basketball," as Charles Barkley quips. Maybe it's jealousy? Maybe jealousy is at the root of the ill-will that comes toward these types of players. It's easy to assume that because of their unique athleticism that these players haven't worked hard and are just relying on natural born talent. With more skillful players it's easy to imagine how much time was spent polishing footwork and post moves and dribbling, and thus we like them more. Or maybe it goes to something more. Deeply embedded in the DNA of America is the idea that hard work = success. Thus, we champion people who toil and work their butts off to become great; look at how everyone adores Steph Curry. Players that we've crowned as stars with mostly athletic games don't fit into that mold, and are easy targets for criticism.
Tell us what you think: Is Anthony Davis overrated? And how does he compare to Blake Griffin?