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Davis' shot blocking even more impactful than impending record suggests

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Anthony Davis is one shy of tying the school record of 83 blocks in a season. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Anthony Davis is one shy of tying the school record of 83 blocks in a season. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Anthony Davis is on the cusp of breaking the single-season Kentucky record for blocks in a season. With a game on Tuesday at 9 p.m. against Arkansas looming and Davis sitting just one block shy of the school record of 83, the record will, in all likelihood, fall in a matter of hours.

Davis' pursuit of the record is impressive and all, but I'm much more interested in quantifying what his defensive presence actually means to this second-ranked Kentucky team. We've heard opposing coaches rave about Davis being the key to everything UK does defensively, and that certainly seems to be the case from watching the Wildcats on a game-by-game basis, but I was interested in taking a more in-depth look.

So, I broke down play-by-play data for each of Davis' NCAA-leading 82 blocks in an effort to identify any relevant trends. Here is what I discovered:

Davis' blocks equal UK possessions

In a box score, every block is created equally. In reality, that couldn't be further from the truth.

A volleyball-style spike three rows deep into the crowd might make it on SportsCenter and strike fear into opponents' hearts, but it's actually among the least valuable blocks a player can make. Of course, it's always a plus to prevent a shot from going in, but the ultimate goal on defense is to gain possession, whether through a rebound or turnover. A block that goes directly out of bounds allows the offensive team another opportunity to score. The ideal block is one that results in a defensive rebound and therefore a possession.

With that in mind, here's a breakdown on Davis' 82 blocks:

  • 34 (41.5%) stayed in play and resulted in a defensive rebound by another UK player
  • 18 (22.0%) landed out of bounds with possession staying with the opponent
  • 17 (20.7%) stayed in play but resulted in an offensive rebound
  • 12 (14.6%) were rebounded by Davis himself
  • 1 (1.2%) landed out of bounds with possession going to UK

Based on those numbers, UK immediately gained possession on 47 of Davis 82 blocks (57.3 percent) while the opponent kept possession 35 times (42.7 percent). Even more impressively, 63 of Davis' 82 blocks (76.83 percent) stayed in bounds.

Comparing Davis' statistics to NBA shot blockers according to this study, he is well above average in terms of keeping the ball in bounds, but only slightly above average in possessions gained for his team.  In other words, Davis and his teammates could actually be doing a better job of chasing down his blocks.

Blocks save, lead to points

Of Davis' 82 blocks, 75 have come on 2-pointers and seven on 3-pointers. Removing missed shots due to Davis' blocks, UK's opponents are shooting 382-for-999 (38.2 percent) on the season inside the arc and 98-for-318 (30.8 percent).

Using those percentages, Davis has personally saved 57.4 points the opposing team would have scored on 2-pointers and 6.5 on 3's for a total of 63.9 points or 3.6 per game. That doesn't even account for shots Davis alters but doesn't block and for his psychological effect, which I'll address later.

Additionally, the impact of Davis' swats isn't limited to the defensive end. John Calipari talked on Monday's Southeastern Conference coaches' teleconference about how he prefers blocked shots to taking charges because of the way those blocks can directly lead to points.

"We lead the nation in blocked shots so instead of taking charges, we're blocking," Calipari said. "I'd rather have that too because those lead to fast breaks."

So, do Davis' blocks really lead to easy opportunities for UK in the open floor? The data I uncovered is very interesting in that department.

From the previous section, we know UK has had 47 offensive possessions from Davis' blocks. However, we'll take away the game-ending block against North Carolina since UK intentionally dribbled out the clock.

On the remaining 46 possessions, the Wildcats have scored 36 points or 2.0 per game. Together with the 3.6 per game he saves with his blocks, Davis' shot blocking is responsible for 5.6 points on top of the 13.1 per game he scores offensively.

Strangely, UK has actually been less efficient on offensive possessions following Davis' blocks than on normal possessions. The Wildcats have scored 1.15 points per possession on average this season, but only 0.78 on possessions following Davis' blocks. Admittedly, these numbers are skewed slightly because I excluded second-chance points.

Even so, UK is significantly less efficient on possessions after his blocked shots. Why is that?

Well, much of it stems from the fact that the Wildcats have committed 11 turnovers on those 46 possessions for a turnover rate of 23.9 percent, which is well above UK's average of 19.1 on the season.

UK has scored points on 19 of the 46 possessions following Davis' blocks (41.3 percent) with the average possession lasting about 8.5 seconds. In other words, when UK scores after he blocks a shot, they do it quickly.

Based on statistics alone, it seems UK likes to run off of Davis' blocks as Calipari suggests, but it also seems they are at times too aggressive in doing so, which helps explain the deficit in offensive efficiency.

Nonetheless, Davis has created 47 possessions and 36 points for the Wildcats that they would not have had, which is particularly meaningful when you consider UK has played two games decided by one point and another by three.

Swats set the tone

Opponents can watch all the tape they want on Davis, but it's impossible to appreciate his length and athleticism until actually taking the floor with him. It takes time to adjust to facing Davis, which makes for lots of early blocked shots.

Looking at the play-by-play data, this is unquestionably true.

Davis has blocked the opponent's very first field goal attempt of the game four times in 18 games. He has a rejection on one of the opponent's first three field goal attempts in 11 of 18 outings this season. He also has blocked at least one in the first eight minutes 16 times.

Once opposing players see just how difficult it is to shoot over Davis, they inevitably begin to alter their shots or refrain from shooting near him altogether. It's difficult to use statistics to prove this, but it's worth pointing out that the Wildcats have already forced 12 shot-clock violations this season after forcing just 10 in all of the 2010-11 season.

If I were playing against Davis, I think I might prefer a shot-clock violation to having the ball swatted back in my face, too.

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