Anthony Davis is a special talent that has the potential to affect NBA games like few prospects can. Monday's stat line (six points, 16 rebounds, six blocks, five assists, three steals) was ridiculous, but we can expect more nutty stat lines to follow in the NBA. As one NBA personnel director told Sports Illustrated's Luke Winn, Davis can't be contextualized because he's so "unique."
And that's potentially a problem.
Maybe I'm overreacting to one thing I saw immediately following Kentucky's 67-59 win over Kansas in the National Championship Game, but I can't help but worry that Davis' development could be stunted by misuse. Consider what ESPN's Chad Ford tweeted about how NBA teams view Davis as a prospect.
BTW, most GMs think Anthony Davis is a 4 not a 5 in the NBA.A few think he could be a 3.— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) April 3, 2012
That's two positions that Davis didn't play while leading Kentucky to the national championship. Worse, it seems that Davis' own college coach is saying similar things.
John Calipari told ESPN's "Mike & Mike" that Anthony Davis will be a 3 or 4 in the NBA. "He’s not a 5 in any way, shape or form." Hmm.— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) April 3, 2012
All this illustrates a disconnect between college and the NBA that exists, but is misconstrued. The implication here is that the NBA game is more physical than the college game, so Davis would be overmatched against the taller centers in the NBA that don't exist in college. That assumption, combined with Davis' own superior perimeter skills offensively, has some people salivating at the thought of having a tall small forward.
It's hard to say what's most ridiculous about this line of thinking, so let's pick it apart gradually.
1. The NBA game isn't about size; it's about speed
This isn't your father's NBA, with behemoths like Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing and David Robinson banging each other on the block. This is a speed game, with centers now being required to move laterally with point guards in covering pick and roll. Mobility and length are the key characteristics of centers, not size and strength. There's a reason a team with Tyson Chandler won the NBA title last year. There's a reason the centers on the top five defensive teams in the NBA right now are Spencer Hawes, Kevin Garnett, Joakim Noah, Chandler and Joel Anthony. With the possible exception of Hawes, all of those guys are more adept at stopping pick and roll than defending the post.
In this way, Davis is one of a kind. There hasn't been a prospect that tall with as much speed and intelligence defensively to come out of college since ... well, ever? Marcus Camby was laterally quick and intimidating around the rim, but he fouled way more often in college. Greg Oden was just as intimidating a presence around the rim, but he didn't have Davis' lateral quickness or intelligence in guarding pick and roll. These skills are perfect to occupy the same role those five centers occupy for their NBA teams.
Are NBA general managers that dense to waste all of those skills on the perimeter just because he's not a classic center?
2. Perimeter skills for a big man are a strength, not a liability
Much has been made of Davis' perimeter skills, with everyone noting that he was a point guard in high school until a growth spurt turned him into a big man. Evidently, that fact is enough for some people to think that he belongs back on the perimeter in the NBA. But this assumption rests on the faulty idea of a big man that plays big. Fact is, that's not always a good thing in the NBA in 2012.
John Krolik pointed this out on Twitter, but it bears repeating: look at the centers on the top 10 teams in offensive efficiency:
- Oklahoma City: Kendrick Perkins.
- San Antonio: Tim Duncan.
- Miami: Joel Anthony.
- Chicago: Joakim Noah.
- Denver: Nene for most of the year before being traded.
- LA Clippers: DeAndre Jordan.
- Golden State: Ekpe Udoh for most of the year before being traded.
- Houston: Samuel Dalembert.
- Portland: Marcus Camby for most of the year before being traded.
- Utah: Al Jefferson.