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NBA Finals 2020

NBA Finals 2020: Is Bam Adebayo already better than Anthony Davis?

If you read our player rankings for the Finals, you may have noticed that not all of us agreed that Anthony Davis is a better player than Bam Adebayo.

Davis finished in second place, whereas Adebayo finished in fourth, but Davis received some third place votes while Adebayo received some second place votes. (Neither of them received first place votes. There's a pretty clear reason for that).

Is there actually a case to be made that Adebayo is the better player right now? Our NBA.com Staff debates.

Alex Novick (@anov_SN): Let me make clear that I think Anthony Davis is a phenomenal player, and clearly more freakishly talented than Bam Adebeyo. But it's Adebayo's intangible qualities, combined with his talent, that make him a better all-around player.

When you consider the short list of the NBA's elite - guys like LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, Damian Lillard, Nikola Jokic, Luka Doncic, Chris Paul, even Jimmy Butler - they all come equipped with a mental edge to their game that pairs with their supreme talent to set them apart. That type of elevated approach can manifest in characterstics like leadership, toughness, unrelenting tenacity, seeing the floor at a higher level, creativity and craftiness, unflappable confidence, extraordinary discipline or an intangible knack to rise to the occasion. Those superstars personify these qualities, and those qualities are top of mind when analyzing their game.

So, quick reaction: which intangible strength personifies Anthony Davis? You may need some time to think. It's not to say he's a mentally weak player - he's not - but none of those aforementioned qualities would be at the forefront of your brain if you were asked to describe him. Past arguments have been made that the lack of some of these traits was a primary reason Davis only had one career playoff series victory before joining the Lakers.

Adebayo, on the other hand, embodies a number of these winning qualities to a high degree. His vocal leadership and toughness are on full display as he shoulders the huge load of being the primary anchor of the Heat defense. His floor-vision as a creator is not Jokic-level, but still premium for a centre who averaged 5.2 assists in the Eastern Conference Finals. When the Heat were stagnant in the fourth quarter of Game 6 against Boston, Adebayo tapped into a previously unseen takeover-mode that led to career-high 32 points in the biggest game of his life.

Oh, and this is the 23-year-old's first postseason as a starter.

MORE: Biggest X Factors in the Finals

AD has had strong moments in this year's playoffs. But as a guy often lauded for his rebounding and defense, it's a bit head-scratching that he totaled just 12 rebounds and one blocked shot over the final three games of the Western Conference Finals. That was lowlighted by the Lakers' lone loss in the series, when a lifeless-looking AD didn't haul in a single rebound in the first-half, finishing with just two for the game and without a rejection. In fact, AD's shot blocking has curiously disappeared in the postseason, recording just seven over his previous eight games (0.8 per game) after averaging 2.3 during the regular season.

While Bam has clearly raised his game in this year's playoffs, the case can be made that Davis has dipped in multiple ways.

Let's take a minute to reconsider another popular narrative, that of "Anthony Davis is a point guard in a centre's body." Sure, he was once point-guard sized and suddenly grew eight inches, but not much about his game actually resembles a point guard. For a guy whose usage percentage consistently hovers around 30 - handling the ball at a rate near the top of the league - the 27-year-old has never averaged four assists per game in a season. Of the top 20 players in usage percentage for the 2019-20 season, only true centre Joel Embiid averaged less assists per game than Davis' 3.2.

And if you want to talk about another valued guard skill - his buzzer-beater in Game 2 against Denver aside - Davis is not a good long-range shooter. He's shot 31.9 percent from deep in his career, including 33 percent this season. Miami's vaunted zone defense would be well-served to let Davis launch 3s all night.

But there's no denying how great a scorer Davis is, exemplified by his 28.8 points per game this postseason on 57.1 percent shooting - which happens to be the exact same postseason field goal percentage of Adebayo, who's averaging 18.5 points on almost six less shot attempts per game.

So taking into account everything just discussed at length, and acknowledging that both guys are prime defenders and rebounders, the difference comes down to this question: Does AD's higher-volume scoring outweigh Bam's superior floor-vision and advantage in most intangible aspects of the game?

With the stakes raised, I'm rolling with the latter qualities from my All-Star big man.

Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): Wow. That's ... a lot to unpack, Alex.

First and foremost, I hate doing this because it's hard to answer this question without it feeling like you're ripping the other person apart. I'm a huge fan of Adebayo. Have been since he was drafted. I didn't see him becoming this player this soon - I don't think anyone did, to be honest - but I was pretty confident that he'd be a perfect fit in the modern NBA.

In saying that, we're comparing him to Anthony Davis here.

I'll give you this: Adebayo is a far superior passer. He showed some of that passing ability as a rookie, but he's grown into one of the best passing big men we've seen in a long time. Other than that, though, Davis has the edge across the board. He might not be a lights-out shooter, but Davis is far more capable of spacing the floor than Adebayo, whether it's from midrange or the perimeter. Adebayo is an All-NBA calibre defender, someone who could very well win Defensive Player of the Year at some point of his career, but Davis is the better defender right now. Davis is also far better at creating his own offence.

The whole "Anthony Davis is a point guard in a centre's body" thing has more to do with him being able to things like this than it is about him being able set up his teammates for easy buckets:

(Also, the Lakers don't really need Davis to be a passer. That's where LeBron shines. Davis' job on this team is to score, which he's doing at a ridiculous rate).

Again, Adebayo is awesome. He's already one of the best big men in the league. He's just quite at the level that Davis is, and that's OK.

Yash Matange (@yashmatange2694): Who's better? It's Anthony Davis, no debate. But this becomes a conversation when you discuss their "value to the team."

In that respect, I'm picking Bam Adebayo.

For the 2019-20 season, AD finished sixth in MVP voting and second in DPOY voting, whereas Bam wasn't even on the MVP ballot and finished fifth on DPOY. This emphasizes my point that on a 1-on-1 basis, this isn't a discussion, but this can be a debate if other aspects of their games are considered with respect to the roster surrounding them.

Here's a look at few numbers for some perspective:

Player Team Net Rating (on the floor) - Playoffs Team Net Rating (off the floor) - Playoffs Team Net Rating (on the floor) - Season Team Net Rating (off the floor) - Season
Anthony Davis +12.3 -6.6 +5.0 +6.1
Bam Adebayo +8.2 -3.9 +5.0 -1.2

This counts for something right?

AD's numbers quite comfortably beat out those of Adebayo, but here's a couple of points to consider. First, this is just the Heat big man's second postseason and third season overall, and yet his value to his team is along the same lines like that of AD's. Second, Miami played a more competitive opponent in the Boston Celtics in the Conference Finals compared to the Lakers' opponents, the Denver Nuggets. That could play a huge role in the difference in the numbers.

If Davis' 3-point shooting opens up driving lanes for the Lakers, Adebayo does damage with his vision. Both their post plays are valuable to their respective teams. On defence, Davis is more of a shot-blocking threat, whereas Bam's major defensive impact comes on the backside of the Heat's effective zone defence.

I'm simply saying that this becomes a very real discussion if we debate their value to their organisation and their team's playing styles. And I'm going with Adebayo because I believe he's more valuable to the Heat than AD is to the Lakers.

Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): I'll preface this by saying that Bam is great!

The 23-year-old is wrapping up his first All-Star campaign and in the seven months since he made his debut on the All-Star stage, I'd argue that he's made even more great strides in his game. There's a reason that Jimmy Butler constantly reminds us that Adebayo is the heart and soul of the Heat franchise.

That being said, what are we doing here?

AD is a generational talent. And while that word shouldn't be tossed around lightly, Davis fits the bill of the type of player that we won't ever see again.

Where Davis excels is that he is one of the most athletic big men that this game has ever seen. Factor in his unique skill set and extraordinary skill level, and you quickly realize what sets him apart from the rest of the league, as well as plenty of the dominant bigs we've seen in years past.

At times, though, I think the problem is that Davis sometimes doesn't realize how special he is.

Following a TNT broadcast during the Western Conference Finals, Davis acknowledged that in some games, he's not as aggressive as he should be. Now, if Davis tapped into that aggressive mentality every time he laced them up, we probably wouldn't even be having this discussion.

Games like these:

Granted, in both of the above games, Davis had the added motivation of facing his former team but these performances serve as a reminder of just how special AD is as a player. It's slightly unreasonable to expect this every game but as LeBron hands off the "blueprint" to Davis in the coming years, I'd expect these questions surrounding his mentality and aggression to subside.

In the history of the league, there haven't been many players capable of these things, and that alone gives him the edge.

The views on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the NBA or its clubs

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