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Please NBA GMs, Don't Ruin Anthony Davis

Anthony Davis is ahead of his time as an NBA prospect. Let's hope general managers can catch up.


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.

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.

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.
Of those players, only one -- Jefferson -- gets over 40 percent of his offense from post-ups, according to Five of those players -- Duncan, Udoh, Dalembert, Camby and Jefferson -- shoot jumpers 70 percent of the time, according to All 10 of those players at least shoot jumpers more than 25 percent of the time (yes, even Jordan).

Essentially, all 10 of those centers spend much of their time on the perimeter in some capacity for their teams. Sure, some play inside a lot, too, but they don't only play inside. Their teams need them to start on the perimeter and display some sort of skill to operate out there, whether it's passing, shooting, screen-setting, rolling to the rim or a combination of all four.

Yes, it's true that Anthony Davis is not a great post-up player, as Jeff Withey and Kansas displayed on Monday night. But given the state of NBA centers in 2012, does that really matter? In fact, Davis' superior ball-handling skills give his team an incredible advantage over every other center. He's a better ball-handler and passer than everyone on the above list except for maybe Noah, and that gives his team the ability to run so many different offensive sets that can confuse the opposition. Imagine Davis in the high post executing a dribble hand-off or a pick and roll with an elite point guard. You can't trap the point guard, because Davis can get the pass and show off his playmaking skills. You can't give Davis a lane to roll to the rim because he's so explosive around the rim. You can't let your guard down and let Davis slip into open space on the perimeter because he can hit the open shot. What can you do, really?

Again -- do you want to waste all that by playing Davis on the same level with better perimeter players? That'll only make his skills look more ordinary.

3. Oh yeah, the shot-blocking

Perhaps I've been overthinking with the first two arguments. Perhaps it's as simple as looking at Davis' shot-blocking numbers. Since 1998-99, only three other players have averaged at least 4.5 blocks per game and double-digit rebounds per game: Emeka Okafor in 2002-03, Justin Williams in 2005-06 and Jarvis Varnado in 2009-10. Most shot-blockers commit a lot of fouls going for blocks, get out of position going for highlight plays or are limited players. Davis averaged just two fouls a game this year, affected far more shots than he blocked and is clearly not a limited player. His presence around the rim is clearly his biggest strength.

You don't have to be an expert to look at Davis and think that he should probably play closer to the basket than further away. So I ask again: why waste all that talent playing Davis on the perimeter?


I see very little chance that Davis fails on the next level, because he is just that talented. As our own Andrew Sharp wrote on Tuesday, Davis is "everything you'd expect basketball superstars to look like 75 years from now." With all that talent, it's very hard to see a way where things go astray.

And yet, I still worry just a little bit that he'll be misused. The flip side of Davis' otherwordly skills is that they could be too unique for even the best basketball minds to understand. What happens if Davis ends up with an organization that is behind the times? What happens if he ends up with a coach that can't figure out a unique way to take advantage of all his strengths? What happens if he lands on one of those teams that thinks he's a small forward?

At that point, Davis being ahead of his time could potentially be a bad thing.