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Anthony Davis Is Perfect Model for New Definition of NBA Franchise Cornerstone

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Anthony Davis Is Perfect Model for New Definition of NBA Franchise Cornerstone
Issac Baldizon/Getty Images

Walk proudly, NBA. Everything about you is changing. Adjusting. Evolving. 

Championing this latest evolution of yours is New Orleans Pelicans whiz kid Anthony Davis, the one-eyebrowed sensation sweeping the Association and redefining how we look at franchise cornerstones.

Big men aren't generating the hype they once were. Traditional power forwards and centers have fallen victim to a game and audience that prefer showboating point guards and point forwards over lumbering big men.

All one needs to do is look at this year's All-Star rosters to understand. Not a single center was voted in as a starter. There's a real chance LeBron James and Kevin Durant will be jumping center come tipoff on Feb. 16.

Somewhere in between this demand for versatile, perimeter-based players and neglected belfries is Davis, a do-it-all forward who is trailblazing a movement that will soon become standard practice. 

 

Unique Skill Set

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

When we say Davis can "do everything," we're not speaking in hyperbole; he actually does everything.

The 6'10" 20-year-old is a unique blend of size, length, athleticism, intelligence, grace, explosion and questionable grooming above the eyelids. Very few players in NBA history have done what he does (re: everything).

Slender towers don't typically have his handles, and few are able to move on and off the ball the way he can. Even fewer have his offensive and defensive range, which leaves him a hindrance whether he's under the basket or beyond the three-point line.

Shot-blocking and defensive rotations come easy to him. The way he protects the basket is an art form. Length and lateral quickness allow him to guard (almost) anyone and any set; the kid can send back three-pointers at will. Who does that?

Davis does.

Though often compared to Kevin Garnett and David Robinson, Davis is something more. He's both. And then some.

On the season, he's averaging 20.1 points, 10.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.6 steals and a league-leading 3.1 blocks per game. It's a stat line most NBA players would kill for, and one many of us have attempted to duplicate in NBA 2K14 when we shamelessly create a player who does everything Davis does, only not as good.

Two other players have matched Davis' per-game production in league history—Hakeem Olajuwon (nine times) and Robinson (six). Both are Hall of Famers and two-time NBA champions, and neither posted such an incredible stat line until they were at least 23, three years Davis' senior.

Davis is also the only player to ever register at least 1,500 points, 890 rebounds, 130 steals and 225 blocks through 100 games. And if his 26.2 PER holds, he'll have set the all-time PER record for players aged 20 or younger who appeared in at least 20 games, overtaking Hall of Fame-lock Shaquille O'Neal (22.9) and the two players who hold the active record, Chris Paul and LeBron (22.1).

In just his second season, Davis has put himself in the company of legends, NBA champions and future Hall of Famers...by doing absolutely everything.

 

Distinction Laced With Substance

Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Video game numbers are nice, but they mean little if they're not accompanied with substance.

Profound impacts are what make cornerstones, well, cornerstones. Superstars headline rosters because their individual production yields bigger collective results.

Like wins.

Davis doesn't play on a winning team. Injuries to Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson, paired with subpar performances from Tyreke Evans, have relegated New Orleans to the lottery. Again.

But even in losing, Davis has proved to be a winner.

Among all qualified players, Davis ranks seventh in win shares per 48 minutes (0.205). Seventh. On a team that's 18-25 and 6.5 games back of a playoff berth. Of the top 20, only two other players come from non-playoff teams—Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic. That's it.

Should his current mark hold, he'll set the record for win shares per 48 minutes, beating out James' current mark of .203 from 2004-05, when he was also a sophomore. 

Highest WS/48 minutes Averages for Players 20 & Under
Player Season Age WS/48
Anthony Davis 2013-14 20 .205
LeBron James 2004-05 20 .203
Magic Johnson 1979-80 20 .180
Chris Paul 2005-06 20 .178
Kawhi Leonard 2011-12 20 .171
Adrian Dantley 1976-77 20 .167
Andre Drummond 2013-14 20 .166
Andrei Kirilenko 2001-02 20 .164
Shaquille O'Neal 1992-93 20 .163
Chris Webber 1993-94 20 .154

Basketball-Reference.

Where would you rank James among players you want to build an NBA franchise around? Pretty high I'd imagine, being that he's the world's greatest player. And Davis is right there. Not in the discussion for world's greatest player, but in the conversation as one of the league's premier building blocks for sure.

Double-sided dominance has carried him here. When Davis—who is on track to become the second player in league history aged 20 or younger to post a defensive rating below 104 and an offensive rating above 116—is on the floor, New Orleans is a different team. A respectable team.

During a season marred by injury, muddled expectations and, let's face it, tragedy, Davis has left his mark in every facet of the game, both individually and collectively, the way winners always do.

 

A New Foundation Standard

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal previously posed an interesting question and provided his own, equally interesting answer:

If I were granted control of a new NBA franchise and allowed to pick any player in the Association as my centerpiece, Davis would be one of my preferred players. In fact, here's how the league's best would stack up:

  1. LeBron James
  2. Kevin Durant
  3. Anthony Davis
  4. Paul George

He's that good already.

I'd argue he's even better.

Give me James over Davis still. That much is clear. Give me Durant over Davis, too. But only for now.

And that's it.

Parts of Davis' game must still be rounded out. As his career progresses, improving upon his assist total and stretching the floor better than he already does with a more frequent and efficient touch from beyond the arc would make him the best two-way player in the game.

That's the kind of player teams should want to build around—the do-everything and anything talents

In just a short period of time, Davis has established himself as one of those. More than one of those, actually. He's already a triple-double threat without being a prolific passer. Again, who does that?

Not a point guard. Or point forward.

Davis does.

"I think if he hasn't done enough, I don't know what else you can do," Pelicans head coach Monty Williams said Sunday night after Davis went for 22 points, 19 rebounds and seven blocks in a win over the Orlando Magic, per The Times-Picayune's Jimmy Smith.

Which player not named LeBron James would you rather build your NBA franchise around?

Submit Vote vote to see results

It's Davis who is making an All-Star-worthy case for himself with each passing game. It's him who's posting record-setting stat lines and doing so efficiently (51.4 percent shooting).

It's him who's headlining a newfangled version of a promising future, rivaling the potency and impact of some of today's best and many of yesterday's legends.

"Every night he carries our team, even when he doesn't have a great offensive night, he's there on defense," Williams added, per Smith. "He's rebounding. Blocking shots. When the moment was there tonight, he took over. And that's what All-Stars do."

That's what Davis, the NBA's ultimate franchise cornerstone, does.

 

*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted. 

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