Despite having vastly dissimilar play styles, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis have been stacked against one another for what feels like their entire careers thus far. The Giannis Antetokounmpo vs Anthony Davis comparison is not invalid.
One is an athletic powerhouse who’s a freight train in transition while the other is a more traditional interior force with all the makings of a polished perimeter game. The two are the best power forwards in the game today, and they burst onto the basketball scene at around the same time.
For players who are at the top of the league, the two have gone relatively under the radar this season. Davis last played on Valentine’s Day and has been nursing an Achilles injury since. Giannis for his part has been largely left out of the MVP conversation, likely due to voter fatigue, despite still putting up MVP-calibre numbers.
With both players returning to the court post-injury, now is as good a time as any to ask: who’s the better player really? Here’s a look at what the numbers tell us.
Giannis Antetokounmpo vs Anthony Davis: Scoring
Giannis is the most athletic basketball player in the world today, bar none. His unprecedented combination makes for a lethal scoring punch few players in the league are capable of stopping.
Through this season, Antetokounmpo is averaging 28.8 points on 56.5/30.2/68.7 shooting splits. That Giannis is putting up his scoring numbers—with 79.6% of his attempts coming from two-point range—despite his lack of consistency on the perimeter is a testament to the greatness of his inside game.
He also has an underrated post game, though not as polished as fans would like to see. His baseline turnaround seems to be falling with much consistency, and he’s caught defenders off guard every now and then with a hook shot in the low post. He’s shooting the latter on 45.2 effective field goal percentage, according to NBA.com stats.
Anthony Davis is one of the few power forwards of his size who can consistently make shots from the outside, making him a potent one-two punch as an offensive player. He’s closer to a traditional big than a slashing freight train, but his biggest strength lies in his versatility. He has a polished bag in the post, but his faceup game is just as lethal, making him a very potent scoring option at his position. Though his game is different, he doesn’t give up much size to Giannis, and is also an interior force in his own right.
Unsurprisingly, his perimeter game plays Antetokounmpo’s off the floor. Here’s a comparison of their shooting splits from the perimeter:
- Mid-range: AD 37.5%, Giannis 34.0%
- Jumpshots: AD 42.2%, Giannis 32.1%
- Shots 10-14 ft: AD 50.6%, Giannis 28.3%
Courtside view of AD's game-winner 🤯 pic.twitter.com/sJRTpJfnYD
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 21, 2020
Before he went down this season, Davis was posting averages of 22.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game on 53.3/29.3/71.5 efficiency. Surprisingly, his three-point split clearly jumps out for someone who always seemed to have the perimeter game over Antetokounmpo. It’s looking like for all the talk of Davis’ form and shooting ability, he hasn’t actually been as consistent as his Greek counterpart after all from distance.
Davis’ range makes him more dependable, especially in clutch situations where spacing matters more. Simply put, he doesn’t seem to have any weaknesses when it comes to scoring, and this allows him to score on pretty much every defender. Antetokounmpo’s athleticism makes him more dominant—and arguably, efficient—especially over an entire season and more so an entire career.
As he’s shown he’s capable of carrying a franchise as its first scoring option, Giannis will have to take this one, though only by the slimmest of margins. His perimeter game is a gaping hole in his argument as a scorer, and only until he makes progress in that area can he genuinely distance himself from Davis and the rest of the pack.
Giannis Antetokounmpo vs Anthony Davis: Defense
The accolades speak for themselves here. Giannis is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year and is still in the running for a repeat, while Anthony Davis has largely fallen off on that end of the floor this year owing to his limited playing time.
It would be disingenuous to compare the two based on this season’s statistics; Davis’ numbers took a significant drop-off in the 23 games he played pre-injury. However, it would be equally dishonest to compare career numbers between a first pick and a 15th pick experiment player.
That said, here’s a look at their matchup numbers by position the year they were both gunning for a DPOY plum, per NBA.com matchup data:
- Guards: Giannis 39.6 DFG%, Davis 33.2%
- Forwards: Giannis 34.7%, Davis 41.3%
- Centers: Giannis 42.0%, Davis 46.8%
If the difference isn’t clear in matchups, NBA.com’s tracking data also provides a similar perspective on who the better defender was that year:
- Overall: Giannis 36.2% DFG, AD 38.3%
- Three-pointers: Giannis 31.1%, AD 30.5%
- Two-pointers: Giannis 40.0%, AD 43.0%
The advanced statistics speak more flatteringly about Antetokounmpo’s defensive prowess as well. Per PBP Stats, opponents shot 47.2% effective field goal percentage when Giannis was on the floor versus 50.8% with him off. For Davis, opponents actually shot a better 52.1% with him on the floor than 50.5% with him off.
Giannis plays help defense and swats it away for the @Bucks!
MIL leads LAL early on TNT pic.twitter.com/ZBQhKWlICN
— NBA (@NBA) January 22, 2021
Davis is a fine defender, but his lack of athleticism compared to Giannis only means a slight drop-off when defending out on the perimeter.
Defense isn’t about winning; it’s about making sure the other player loses.
In this matchup, it’s Giannis who can genuinely defend all positions. We’re starting to see him put in that position more and more now with head coach Mike Budenholzer putting him on the opposing team’s best scorers more often. That versatility on defense is a rarity in the league and should put the Greek Freak on top as the better defender.
Giannis Antetokounmpo vs Anthony Davis: Leadership
While Giannis might be the easier choice as the franchise cornerstone in this matchup, it’s tougher to compare leadership at the power forward position. Playmaking is one factor, especially as the two have always been noted for their guard skills at their size.
Giannis’ playmaking comes as a result of his inward gravity. According to PBP Stats, the Bucks have assisted on 82.9% of their three-pointers with Giannis on the floor versus 78.2% when he is off the floor for the past three seasons. In that span, Giannis was fourth in the league in assists leading to three-pointers, ahead of players like Trae Young, James Harden, LeBron James, and Chris Paul.
It’s hard to make a case for Davis as a leader over Antetokounmpo. When it comes to carrying their respective teams, one only need look at Davis’ tenure with the New Orleans Pelicans to see who can lead better. It’s worth mentioning that both big men have now played alongside two-way superstar Jrue Holiday in their careers, and only one has been able to turn that duo into a legitimate contender. Giannis has also been able to bring relatively average Bucks teams to the playoffs, while Davis spends most of his time playing next to LeBron James.
To be sure, it’s not all bad for Davis, as the one argument for him may be that he makes his teammates better. Let’s compare their team numbers when the two are on and off the floor.
When Giannis is on the court, the Bucks have the best offensive rating in the NBA. When he is off, they have the tenth-best. On the other hand, the Lakers’ 116.7 points per 100 possessions are good for 6th in the league when Davis plays versus their 25th-ranked 108.9 ORtg when he’s on the bench.
— The Ringer (@ringer) June 15, 2020
Giannis vs AD: The verdict
With both their teams contending for a championship, the two are bound to be compared for years to come.
At the end of the day, though, Davis’ ring and the dominance of the LeBron James-led Lakers make the matchup seem closer than it actually is. The numbers don’t lie, and there should be no argument for this at this point. It’s not up for debate: Giannis Antetokounmpo is a better basketball player than Anthony Davis.
This is not to say the latter is not a fine player. He follows closely behind the Greek Freak and would most definitely make a fine addition to any team contending for a title, as his tenure in Los Angeles has shown so far. He is not the better player, but he is the second-best power forward in the league today. Although he may not be the focal point of an offense, Davis might also be the best second option in the league today.
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