How does the NBA measure something it may have never seen before, the "something" being Anthony Davis' ceiling?
Fear not, friends. You're not in the presence of hyperbole. That's a fact.
The New Orleans Pelicans superstar—emphasis on "superstar"—is already a top-10 dignitary at only 20 years old. On March 11, he'll be able to (legally) purchase and slosh his first beer. Right now, he can't.
Think about that.
One of the league's greatest players is only now on the verge of being able to bring a sixer of brewskies to his weekly poker game or eyebrow-growing sessions. No wonder he, a sophomore, is so confident his future holds greatness.
"Just knowing everything I did [up to] now, I’ll just do more," the Kentucky product said on The Jim Rome Show in February. "The ceiling has no limits for me. I’ve just got to keep working hard, keep playing hard, and keep competing and who knows what’s more to come."
Slow your roll, Brow. You're good. Great, even. But are you that great?
When touting Davis, it's easy to forget he's only playing through his second season.
Some speak of him as if he's a past legend or silvery haired veteran on his last legs, staring down retirement and dreaming of his inevitable Hall of Fame induction.
But again, Davis, by NBA standards, is a neophyte. And yet Davis, by every standard imaginable, is already historically good.
The lanky man-child is averaging 20.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.4 steals and a league-leading 2.9 blocks per game. Current production puts him on pace to become just the 10th player in Association history to sustain benchmarks of 20.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.0 steal and 2.5 blocks for an entire season.
While that exclusive list boasts names like Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hakeem Olajuwon, among others, not one of them was younger than 22 for the majority of their statistically dominant season. Davis is, again, 20.
Having played in just 119 games through March 10, Davis is also the quickest player in NBA history to 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 250 blocks. The second-quickest player is Kevin Garnett, and it took him 157 games to reach the numbers Davis has already eclipsed.
Three-quarters of the way through 2013-14, Davis is also on course to set an all-time high in player efficiency rating for players aged 20 or younger. His 26.3 PER would catapult him past LeBron James, who set the current record in 2004-05 with a 25.7.
Fittingly enough, Davis is tracking toward the win shares per 48 minutes record for qualified players 20 or younger as well. His .209 usurps that of James, who holds the current record with .203.
History is being made by Davis. It has been made by Davis.
In less than two full seasons, he's already thrust himself into the record books, alongside or ahead of Hall of Famers and all-time greats.
To whom among active or recently retired NBA players could we compare Davis?
Garnett? Tim Duncan? A more athletic and offensively inclined Marcus Camby (so, not Marcus Camby)?
In one way or another, each of the aforementioned players does something Davis can already do. But none of them, and no one else in the league, can be adequately pitted against Davis' skill set.
"I don't know if there are many players in the NBA that you really even can compare him to," Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel told Bleacher Report's Jared Zwerling of Davis. "He defends, he can score the ball in the post, he can score on the perimeter, he's a lob threat, he gives (the Pelicans) vertical spacing, he runs the floor. He not only defends the rim, but he defends his own guy."
Because Davis can do so many things, he's difficult to classify.
Scratch that. He's impossible to categorize.
Realistically, we're all bearing witness to a player who could lead the league in points, rebounds, blocks and steals per game all in the same season. There isn't anyone else in the NBA who can or once could do that.
Davis is also still developing. What we see now isn't what we're going to wind up with.
What is Davis? Is he a center? A power forward? Positionally divine?
Last season, Davis spent a majority of his minutes at power forward, making a legitimate case for himself as Rookie of the Year. This year, most of his time has come at the 5. That makes him an All-Star center.
Concerns about him manning the 5 have dissipated into nothing. He can play there. He can play the 4. Don't rule him out as a point forward or the nonexistent point center, either.
By now, it's a well-known fact Davis started out as a guard. And while his transition to the frontcourt is complete, traces of his previous life remain.
You can see it in his handles and with some of the passes he drops, making it clear he won't be averaging 1.5 assists per game forever.
You can see it in his range, which will slowly, surely stretch beyond the three-point line as time goes on.
You can see it in his speed and footwork, and his perimeter defense.
You can just see it. Davis can do everything.
The Past Yields No Answers
Here's where examining Davis becomes especially difficult.
To which NBA legend would you compare Davis?
Once again, we're stumped, left to recite names of past Hall of Famers, none of whom really do Davis' skill set complete justice.
Robinson? Olajuwon? Kareem?
Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal tackled this same inquest and drew the following conclusion:
Davis hasn't even enjoyed his first legal adult beverage at this stage of his career. There's plenty of development left in his tank, and the sky remains the limit.
As his career continues to progress, we'll get a clearer indication of the direction he's headed. Even the subtlest shift in his path could result in a new comparison.
But regardless, it's already readily apparent that he only deserves to be compared to legends of the game.
Notice the absence of one legend.
There's wasn't one specific player to whom Fromal could narrow it down. This is the problem Davis poses.
In the past, like the crop of today's NBA talent, there lie no answers. There is no one player suitable to serve as a mirror image of what Davis' best-case scenario can be.
There is no existing unit of measurement or past or present NBA player capable of accurately gauging Davis' ceiling.
This isn't to suggest that Davis will go down as the greatest player ever, nor does it even imply he'll be the best at his position(s). But in terms of his ceiling, as in the most idealistic of standards, no one precedent has been set.
"I think he’s going to be his own type of player," Tim Duncan told MySanAntonio.com's Jeff McDonald in October 2012.
That's what we're effectively left to conclude. There's no sense calling Davis the most unique player in NBA history, but he sure as anything has the potential and ability to be.
We know what he's capable of statistically. We know how profound an impact he can have on his team; he ranks 12th in overall win shares this season, despite playing for the lottery-bound Pelicans. We know that one day, like James, he has the tools necessary to defend all five positions.
What we don't know is what this means, what this struggle to relate Davis' production and physical gifts to other players means.
That's his ceiling. It's an amalgamation of other ceilings. He could win championships like Robinson, score like Olajuwon, elude Father Time like Duncan and defend everyone like James. That could happen.
Is that what's going to happen? Like many things pertaining to Davis, we don't know.
But we know it could.
Davis' ceiling, like he himself said, knows no bounds. There are no limits to what he can do or how talented he will be. And when all is said and done, we could remember him as such: the standard to which all other great big men, past, present and future, are invariably held.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.