For decades, NBA executives have been more enamored by "athleticism" and "potential" than a player's ability to play the game of basketball. And, for decades, executives have lost their jobs because they bet the house on how effective a player might be "down the line."
In 2012, the same fate awaits whichever unlucky GM has his team's ping pong ball pulled out of the golden draft wheel on June 28.
There is little doubt that, regardless of which team wins this year's draft lottery, Anthony Davis will be the number one overall pick. He has held tight to that position all year, and his performances during March Madness have done little to deter people from believing the hype.
I mean, c'mon, what's not to like, right? A 6'10" former guard who obliterated the single-season blocks record at one of the most storied programs in college basketball history and can put the ball in the hoop when needed?
But do these talents warrant a No. 1 overall selection?
In this article, I will present five scenarios which should deter GMs from submitting, a la Chris Jericho, to the notion that Anthony Davis should top the draft board.
People love using that "tweener" phrase when it comes to guards making the jump to the NBA, but the same can be said for someone even when they're 6'10".
Is Anthony Davis truly a post-player? I mean, sure, he showed glimpses of post presence against overmatched kids on underwhelming teams, but what is it on offense that Davis does really well?
How often do you see Davis stretch a defense and step out to distance, knocking down shots with efficiency? His points come in the paint, on lobs, and in transition. Will his offensive efficiency, which ranks as one of the best in college basketball, be sustainable in the pros without developing an 18-to-20-foot game?
Does Davis really present mismatches once he reaches the next level? I'm not so sure that he does.
Another 6'10" college prospect who provided a true mismatch problem for every team in the NBA was Kevin Durant. Here, we have a player who out-sizes every opponent who steps in front of him like a pterodactyl does a hummingbird; Durant had this luxury because he is a small forward in a power forward's body.
This is not the case with Davis. A lanky, 6'10" post player is not far from the norm in the NBA.
Safer Pick: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
They still may go 1-2, as predicted, but just the other way around. Kidd-Gilchrist is 6'7" and well-quipped to operate on the wing with great efficiency. He has an endless motor, and has evolved into the emotional leader on the nation's best team, not Davis.
If you need any proof as to his importance within the Kentucky offense look no further than the 10-car pileup that ensued every possession during the first half against Louisville while he was on the bench with foul trouble.
MKG does more than score, as was evident in his 24-point and 19-rebound outburst the first time around against Louisville. He doesn't shoot the three-ball as efficiently as you'd hope for a wing player, but he gets to the line and defends well on the ball.
If Davis translates as a 4, can he bang with the big boys? Will he be able to score on Serge Ibaka? Will he be able to defend Gasol, Griffin or Paul Millsap, all players capable of manhandling him physically? Will his length be a big enough difference maker to maintain his current value?
Davis thrives right now because there isn't another player in college basketball like him. Once he reaches the NBA, his distinctive qualities will be diluted by others like him.
What will be interesting to see is whether he can dominate Thomas Robinson tonight, or if the versatility and power of the Kansas forward will be a bit overwhelming for him. If he is able to corral Robinson and force him into contested shots, without allow him to draw fouls using his broad body, my opinion of Davis will change slightly.
Personally, I think we may see Davis in foul trouble tonight if Bill Self is savvy enough to go right at him.
The biggest advantage of having an NBA body is that it allows you to play both ends. What's great about Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and others is their ability to always guard the other teams best players.
Not only will Davis not be in this position, but he plays a position which rarely houses a team's best player. This, in itself, subtracts a bit of Davis' allure as a defensive prodigy.
Smarter Picks: Thomas Robinson, Harrison Barnes
The jury is still out on Harrison Barnes after he failed to live up to the meteoric hype surrounding him before, during and after his Skype commitment to Carolina. Fortunately for Barnes, he is still only 19, and those traits everyone drooled over two years ago are still there today.
Barnes is as close to a dominant 2-guard as we've seen in a long time. He has the ability to be a lock-down defender on one end, and a player capable of scoring in every way imaginable on the other.
Like Kobe (the inevitable comparison following Barnes around everywhere), Barnes can post-up, has a silky-smooth jumper, is quite capable from the arc, and is unnerving with the ball in his hands. Once he becomes more consistent he will be able to dominate at the next level, and looking at recent draft boards, someone will be getting him at a discount.
As for Robinson, what's there not to like?—he has a strong head on his shoulders, maturity at age 21, a body befitting an Old Spice commercial and a polished, NBA-ready post game.
The only knock on Robinson, that which is keeping him from the No. 1 pick conversation, is his size. But, at 6'9", his inch or two in height deficiency is more than compensated by his broad shoulders and their ability to create space.
As with Davis, tonight will be a proving ground of sorts for Robinson. If he is able to approach 20 points with double-digit rebounding against a vastly more talented team, he may get some more recognition on draft day.
The NBA is no different than the NFL when it comes to the draft. Draft position plays an important role and should not be overlooked in this case.
In the NFL, a team rarely, if ever, drafts a linebacker, cornerback, safety, tight end, center or fullback with the No. 1 overall pick. Why is this the standard? Because the player taken first overall needs to be a franchise-altering player.
With respect to Tony Richardson, I've never seen a fullback pack his bags for Disney World. You want quarterbacks, or you want to draft a position that protects quarterbacks, or a position that pressures quarterbacks.
That's how you win in football: protecting your quarterback and pressuring theirs. So, you draft accordingly.
What wins in basketball? Historically, a great inside-outside duo is what you need. Kobe and Shaq may have epitomized that synergy most effectively in their heyday. You need an anchor in the middle, and a wing capable of dropping 40+ on any given night.
Where does Davis fit into this?
Please, do not morph my criticisms into a denigration on Anthony Davis as a player. I think he will be a very good player in the NBA, but at the top of the draft, there are other variables to consider.
Davis is neither, nor will he be, a great post player, or a great wing player. He may be a good combination of both once he reaches his potential, and there will be a spot for him on a championship team (if he is so lucky to be sought after by one), but the top pick needs to be the player you build around, not a piece you put around someone else.
Smarter Pick: Andre Drummond
Andre Drummond is the best true center on the draft board. He plays great defense (averaging nearly three blocks a game), is a chiseled 6'11" and can play with his back to the basket.
Biggest criticism? Motor.
He needs to get after it more. With his talent, he should have averaged well above the 7.7 rebounds mark he posted this year. Also, he needs to turn that motor into more free throw attempts. He only attempted more than five FTs in three games this season. That has to change.
But, he plays a premier position. And he plays it well.
He has the body, he has the skills and he has the size. At the top of the draft you need to find someone who could potentially anchor your paint for 10 years, and Drummond may be the best option in that regard.
There is a shift in offensive philosophy taking place—almost every team runs the pick 'n' roll right now. The best at that game? Those names I've listed above. These guards are the most valuable players in the league. Why? The ball is always in their hands, and they create constant matchup problems.
The NBA is all about creating matchup problems.
A 6'4", 6'6" guard coming off a screen with momentum, destroying the rim, is a matchup problem. Dare I cite Return of the Jedi and the epic battle of Luke Skywalker vs. the Sarlacc? Well, Anthony Davis...is the Sarlacc (for one of many reasons; take note of the ratio between arm length and body length).
Nine times out of 10, Russell Westbrook is going to converge on you with the weight of a crushing metallic door, and a sea of toady onlookers will laugh while you lie there in a heap, wondering why you didn't just close the giant door behind you upon entering like a well-mannered Sarlacc.
The pick 'n' roll can't work with out an athletic big man, you say? The problem is that the big man is dependent upon the wing to feed him the ball. And, at the end of a game, Anthony Davis will not have the ball in his hands. The wing will always be more important.
Don't believe me? Ask the Thunder how happy they are that the Clippers didn't take James Harden with the first overall pick three years ago. And while you're at it, ask yourself who you would rather have on your team: Blake Griffin or James Harden? Before you answer, remember that ticket sales and highlight reel fanatics need not apply.
Smarter pick: Bradley Beal
Beal is the best combo guard on the board...by a long shot. A fellow freshman, this Gator has a pretty enviable toolkit: distance shooting, explosiveness and ability to play the point. Don't forget that Florida ran a number of three- and sometimes four-guard sets that took away from a lot of what Beal can do.
In a pro-style offense, this kid will flat-out thrive.
He was pegged as a "new Eric Gordon with a higher ceiling" out of high school. Listed as tall as 6'5" on some draft sites, Beal has the frame to be a physical power coming off of those screen and rolls for a long time.
Too often, GMs become overly enamored with raw athleticism and forget that the most important thing is a player's ability to play the game.
As a Detroit native, I can't help but remember the infamous Darko over Melo/Wade/Bosh move.
Poor Joe Dumars fell in love with an "athletic, big man who could shoot and post-up," instead of realizing that Carmelo Anthony had just single-handedly won a National Championship for Jim Boeheim.
On the other side of the bracket, a young Dwyane Wade had just carried Marquette on his back all the way to the Final Four.
Potential outweighed production, and Detroit fans have smoked cigars in jest ever since.
Flash-forward a few years and you have the equally puzzling case of Greg Oden being drafted ahead of Kevin Durant. For those of you who don't remember, Durant scored 20+ points in 30 contests during his freshman year. If you haven't seen the Durantula in person, he is built in an almost identical fashion to Anthony Davis, except he handles the ball like LeBron and shoots like Kobe.
Instead, Portland fell in love with a big man who had a raw offensive game, but a booming defensive presence.
Career points comparison, you say? I shall appease...773 for Oden to Durant's 9,566. I hear prescription orders being filled all throughout the Greater Portland area.
Flash-forward a couple more years, and we have our present situation. Someone will remain bewitched by Davis' body type and record-setting season, and fail to take notice of the sure things around the league.
Better for us Pistons fans, though. We won't have to be the ones eating our foot for the next ten years. Enjoy, Charlotte, the taste grows on you.
Smarter picks: Thomas Robinson, Harrison Barnes, Bradley Beal, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Davis will be good in the NBA, and he warrants a top-five, and most-likely, a top-three pick this year. But, with the way the NBA is played now, and what is takes to win at that level, Anthony Davis is not what a struggling team needs to build anew.
What will be most interesting to see, is if a long-shot winds up with the No. 1 pick. Davis will likely be a perfect fit for a team that already has a franchise player, and just needs a few more personalities to put them over the top. Milwaukee comes to mind.
But, in all fairness, what Davis lacks is what should keep him from being the No. 1 pick this June. He is a talented player, but he's one without a true position, who lacks strength at the next level and doesn't possess the offensive skill set to become a franchise player.
Will GMs be heady enough to give longer looks to the likes of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Thomas Robinson, Harrison Barnes or Bradley Beal? Probably not.
But Jabba the Hutt chose poorly, too, and that turned out all right for him. Oh, wait...