anthony davis

The Great Debate: How Good Will Anthony Davis Be?

Anthony Davis is the unanimous top player in tomorrow night’s NBA Draft – at least I thought it was unanimous, until a colleague of mine, E. Spencer Kyte – MMA writer extraordinaire and big-time hoops fan – had the following e-mail exchange.  Apparently Davis isn’t a slam dunk in everyone’s eyes.  And don’t question Spencer’s hoops knowledge – after all, he got to witness first hand the greatness that was my collegiate hoops career.

ESK: Wondering if you’re interested in an ESK guest appearance at Hoops? I think I’m the only person in the basketball-loving world who is doubtful of Anthony Davis, and I’d like to get it on the record somewhere… so I thought of your site.

JF: You’re doubtful for real?!

ESK: I’m not doubtful that he’ll have a solid pro career, but I don’t think he’s going to be the “build our team around this guy, super-impact player” other people believe he will become. He’s unquestionably the #1 pick in the draft for all the obvious reasons – size, experience, upside, “you can’t teach height,” plays defense willingly — but I worry about his development physically, and whether he’ll have the same impact in the pros as he did in college.

It’s one thing to look tremendous when you’re (1) the best player on the court almost every night, and (2) surrounded by a collection of other first-round picks, including the guy I think ends up being the star of this draft class, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (MKG from here on out). It’s totally different when Dwight Howard or Andrew Bynum are backing you into the blocks or Pau Gasol and Tim Duncan are drawing you outside the key to defend, and you’re surrounded by Eric Gordon and a collection of cast-offs in New Orleans.

Maybe it’s because I watched the Raptors pin their hopes on Marcus Camby, and then watched as Marcus Camby became a decent, but just solid pro throughout his career, but that’s where I see Davis heading right now, at least more than I see Hakeem Olajuwon or Patrick Ewing.

JF: Funny you mention Marcus Camby, because he’s pretty much the “bottom floor” I see for Anthony Davis.  Worse case scenario he has a career like Camby, which is pretty damn good (perennial DPOY contender).  But I expect much more out of Davis than that.

He has no injury concerns/history heading into his NBA career, which is the most important thing for big men.  As for his physical development, you have to remember he was only 6’3″ a couple of years ago and is still only 19-years-old, so he’s still getting used to his larger frame and still has plenty of time to grow into it/fill out.

Sure, Howard, Bynum, Gasol, Duncan and the like will be able to manhandle him in the early going, but who don’t they do that to?  And bigger/stronger college players tried to bully Davis around in college to no avail.

So you think he’ll be more of a Camby than a Garnett/Duncan like the “experts” are predicting?

ESK: I think comparing him or predicting he’ll be like Duncan or Garnett is completely unfair for this kid, and as you mentioned, he’s still just a kid.

Duncan is one of the most under-appreciated players in NBA history as far as I’m concerned, at least from a fan standpoint (pros and experts know how legit Mr. Fundamentals really is), and KG is a different type of player IMO. I don’t see Davis having the explosiveness/athleticism KG had during his early years or the raw, unapologetic fury that still spurs him on to this day even though he’s old and nearing the end.

I think you’re over-selling Camby’s career too because if I drafted Anthony Davis #1, I want a whole lot more than Marcus Camby-like production over the next 10 years. I don’t think he has the scoring upside of guys like Duncan and Garnett or even the mercurial Andrew Bynum. He’s not going to out-muscle dudes on the block for put-back dunks like Dwight Howard does right now either.

If he averaged 15 and 8 with a couple blocks this coming year, do you call that a success?

JF: I’m not totally buying the Duncan/KG comparisons at this point either.  I think Davis is more likely to fall somewhere in between Camby and Duncan/KG.

Davis has none of the off court issues than Camby did, and I think he’ll be a far harder worker so his game will progress farther along than Camby’s did.  Davis is basically still learning to play as a big man since he’s been a guard his whole career except for the past couple of years.  Add in his ever-improving post game with his guard skills, and he’s a slam dunk (ignore the pun).  Worse case scenario he’s a long-time defensive menace.

15-8-2 his rookie season?  That is a massive success.  You don’t agree?

ESK: I don’t know that I would qualify 15/8/2 as a massive success. Andrew Bynum could get 15/8/2 on a night where he’s only moderately interested in the game, and he plays with a guy who puts up 20+ shots a night (Bean) like Davis will in NOLA (Eric Gordon), and everyone rips Bynum for underachieving. Now, I think Davis is WAY more focused and dedicated than Bynum, so that will help him out, but he’s also not surrounded by as solid a supporting cast playing for the Hornets.

Gordon is going to be looking for his shot — and some of everyone else’s shots — from the opening tip, especially after missing all of last season. They don’t have a reliable point as of yet (sorry Jarrett Jack), and just traded away Emeka Okafor AND Trevor Ariza for one of the worst contracts in the league. I’m assuming they’re going to dump Rashard Lewis in two months when they’re allowed to move him again, but how much is anyone going to give you for him at this point, knowing you want to get rid of him?

Additionally — and this is the big kicker for me — the league is about 2s, 3s, and 4s now, or guys who can play the 2, 3, and 4, find their own shot, hit a triple, etc. This isn’t the come down the court, throw it into the post, and let your big do his thing NBA anymore, and even if it was, Davis doesn’t have the post game to dominate there yet. I also don’t think he’s going to be beating guys off the dribble should he face up or knocking down 15-footers consistently enough right away to worry people either.

Like I said off the top, he’s not going to be facing guys he’s significantly better than every night. As for your “he has a clean injury history” comment from earlier, that just means he has no red flags right now. Not being Greg Oden is great, but it doesn’t preclude you from getting beaten the hell up in your first year in the pros, and I think people will be out to make Davis work from Jump Street too. He’s in for a rough, physical year.

JF: 15/8/2 from a 19-year-old big man in his first year is a MASSIVE success.  Bynum averaged 1.6 ppg & 1.7 rpg his rookie year.  7.8 & 5.9 his second.

But Davis is really a 4, not a center.  He is very similar to Garnett.  He can face up and score and stretch the floor.  He’s not a “pound the ball into the post” type of guy.  Don’t forget how skinny Garnett was when he entered the league, too.  And I’d argue he is a far better defender heading into the NBA than Garnett was.

Davis also doesn’t need the ball to score.  He averaged 14.2 ppg at Kentucky on only 8 shots/game.  Let Gordon chuck – Davis will clean up the mess.

ESK: Comparing our projection for him to Bynum’s rookie year is way off since Bynum wasn’t drafted (1) first overall, (2) to be an immediate starter and contributor, and (3) didn’t have the expectations that Davis has on him right now. If you want to compare him to another first overall big, I’d rather have Dwight Howard‘s 12/10/1.7 with an assist and a steal, plus his “no doubt he’s going to grow into that frame” physical stature than what Davis brings to the table right now.

Davis should fill out some, but he’s not going to turn into a 7’3″ powerhouse. Again, he’ll be Marcus Camby physically, and that should be a concern, not a “Sweet — we’re getting a guy who could develop to have the same physical characteristics as Marcus Camby!”

If Davis is to be a four rather than a five, that doesn’t change much for me. I don’t think he’s knocking down 18-footers consistently, and I don’t think he’s stretching the floor that much, at least not until he proves he can reliably knock down that outside shot. And again, doing it in college is one thing; doing it in The Association is another. I’m very much willing to eat crow on this next year too. We’ll revisit it when the season is out, and perhaps throughout the season too.

The same “college vs. pros” thing I keep clinging to applies to his scoring for me too. Sure he averaged 14 on 8 at Kentucky, but that’s with a ton of support around him and being the best team on the floor every single night. I do love that he’s not a volume guy, and that he should be able to get some quality put-back points each night, but I will be surprised if he averages 15 on 8 or 9 shots in the pros next year. He’s not going to have over-matched college dudes guarding him.

michael kidd-gilchrist

JF: You mentioned how you think Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is going to be the star of this draft, and I’m high on MKG also.  But are you saying he’ll be a better pro than Davis?

ESK: Yes – I am saying MKG will be a better pro than Davis when it’s all said and done.

I think swings have a longer shelf life than bigs, and are more involved in the game than bigs,  at least talented swings like MKG. He’s a guy that can get his own shot, but doesn’t need the ball in his hands to make everyone else better, can defend two positions (maybe three), and has won at every stop along the way. I also think there were more times last year at Kentucky where MKG said, “OK, I’m gonna get this done” or “I’m gonna put an end to this right now” and took over for his team than Davis, and I think that will translate better to the pros where wings have more opportunity to directly impact the game.

You might think this is crazy, but I see him as a mini-LeBron; a guy who can score, pass, rebound, defense, and makes everyone else better. Obviously, he’s not the physical freak that LeBron is or on the same talent level (no one is), but I can see MKG giving you 17/5/5 with a couple steals and good D right out of the gate.

JF: It’s hard for me to argue with you on this, because I’m big on MKG, too.  He plays so hard – Mini-LeBron isn’t a stretch.  But I think Davis will make MKG’s 17/5/5 look puny.

JF: How about we wrap this up with our projections for Davis.

Best Case: Kevin Garnett

Worst Case: A rich man’s Marcus Camby

ESK: Best Case: 18/10 a night with a couple blocks, but few “I’m taking this shit over!” moments.

Worst Case: Marcus Camby


About Jeff Fox

Jeff Fox is Mr. Manifesto - the Supreme Leader and evil mind behind The Hoops Manifesto, The MMA Manifesto, & A Dry Heat.