Is Anthony Davis the Best Franchise Building Block in the NBA?

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistApril 3, 2014

NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 31:  Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans handles the ball against the Sacramento Kings on March 31, 2014 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)
Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images

Name five players you would trade Anthony Davis for if you were starting a new NBA team.

Too difficult? 

Name three. 

Still searching? 

Name one.

Not even two years into his career, Davis is already one of the game's best players. No, he's not the best. LeBron James still exists. Kevin Durant's ropy arms are still wreaking havoc nightly too. Naming five or seven players better than Davis right now is still tough, but it's possible.

Building blocks are different. Right now doesn't matter as much. It counts for something, sure, but it's not everything. 

Building something is a process. Nothing truly happens overnight. Even free-agency powerhouses aren't instantaneous. Months, sometimes years of financial planning and jockeying are required before offseason coups go from theory to actuality.

If the goal is to assemble an instant contender, or rather, pluck one player from any team, put him on a new one and try to win as much as possible now, James or Durant better be the first players popping into heads.

"Now" is overrated when rebuilding, though. "Later" lords over all other priorities when starting from scratch.

Two, three or five years from now, general managers and owners—and in this case, you—want to look at the team and see greatness. Davis can give you future greatness. So can James and Durant, and plenty of other players.

But two, three, even five years from now, will it be Davis emitting more greatness than everyone, James and Durant included?

The Now Factor

NEW ORLEANS, LA - MARCH 22:  Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans handles the ball against the Miami Heat on March 22, 2014 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downl
Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images

While weighted differently in this conversation, what's happening now isn't irrelevant.

It's incredible.

Brow only just turned 21. For most of this season, he hasn't been able to buy his own beer or order his own Sourtoe cocktail. He still isn't old enough to rent a car in some states. There's a chance he needs permission slips signed before traveling to away games too.

Point being, he's young. But his game, his production belie his age.

Davis is already the quickest player in NBA history to reach 2,200 points, 1,100 rebounds and 250 blocks. If his current per-game numbers hold, he'll be the youngest player to ever average at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and one steal for an entire season, and just the sixth player to do it overall since 1984.

The New Orleans Pelicans superstar also ranks fourth in player efficiency rating (26.9), behind only Kevin Love (27.5), James (29.1) and Durant (30.8). His 26.9 PER will also go down as the highest in league history of any player who spent most of his season under the age of 21. James held the previous record, closing out 2004-05 with a 25.7 PER.

As a sophomore, Davis is forcing himself into the company of superstars and legends. And he's doing it as a rapidly maturing two-way force.

This season alone, he's won games for the lottery-bound Pellies in a number of different fashions on both ends of the floor.

If the Pellies need crunch-time offense, he gives them crunch-time offense, as he did here with a go-ahead jumper against the Boston Celtics:

If the Pellies need a crucial stop, well, he can give them one. It doesn't matter who he needs to defend either, as Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin described in New Orleans' recent victory over the Los Angeles Clippers:

Power forward, center, point guard—it truly doesn't matter what position he must guard. The Davis of today is unfathomably versatile, a true matchup nightmare.

The Davis of today is unquestionably great.

Boundless Ceiling

SACRAMENTO, CA - MARCH 3: Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans in a game against the Sacramento Kings on March 3, 2014 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and o
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

Pinpoint Davis' ceiling for me, would you? 

Oh, that's right, you can't.

It's impossible.

Predicting something the NBA has never seen is always impossible. There is no past case study to compare Davis to, no previous standard to measure him against.

Not that anyone hasn't tried. The race to define Davis is ongoing. It began more than two years ago when he was at Kentucky, and has spilled over into the NBA, where his on-court prowess remains ineffable.

Players such as David Robinson, Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and even Durant, among others, have been tossed around, both haphazardly and seriously. Some, like ESPN New York's Robin Lundberg, have been quick to point out that Davis is an amalgam of all those players, and then some:

Most of the time, claiming a sophomore sensation is a compound derived from all-time greats and Hall of Famers would sound ridiculous. For Davis, it doesn't sound like it's enough.

Though mashing his ceiling with the reputations of past and present players seems like a good idea, Grantland's Zach Lowe explained why Davis makes even that difficult:

Davis has murdered this parlor game. People around the league don’t know what to make of him anymore. They are just terrified, especially after having watched Davis average 30 points, 13.5 rebounds, and three blocks per game on 55 percent shooting over a 10-game stretch in March — a period during which he turned 21 freaking years old. He’s already fourth overall in Player Efficiency Rating, behind only LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Kevin Love. His game has so many elements on both ends of the floor, it’s going to take years for the Pelicans to figure out the optimal uses and roster construction for him. It’s hard to decide what someone is best at when the answer might be “everything.”



Summarizing everything he's capable of doing is a trying task, but CBS Sports' Matt Moore did a nice job encapsulating his skill set:

He had the wingspan coming in. We knew he'd be a god pick and roll player, throwing down lobs, blocking shots. But in just his second season, Davis has added the face-up mid-range jumpshot, the turnaround fadeaway out of the post, the pump-fake up-and-under, the weakside rotation, return-to-your-man block, the chasedown, the pick-and-pop, nearly everything. If he's hitting that jumper, there's nothing you can do. Nothing.



Realistically, the NBA is housing a talent who could one day lead all players in points, rebounds, blocks and steals in the same season. There isn't anything Davis can't do, one statistical category he cannot distend. 

Even raw and developing aspects of his game are teeming with promise. Passing out of traffic has been a season-long issue, but Davis has the playmaking background that makes you believe he'll figure it out. Once the Pelicans surround him with more shooters, it should become that much easier.

All we can say for now is Davis' individual future is beyond bright. The same player who ranks 12th in win shares despite playing on a Pelicans team already eliminated from playoff contention is going places. In fact,  while concrete measurements of his potential don't exist, that's probably a good place to start.

Davis' 10.4 win shares account for 32.5 percent of New Orleans' 32 victories this season. For context, let's compare that against the win-share-to-percent-of-total-team-wins ratio of James and Durant since both entered the league:

When compared to James' and Durant's sophomore campaigns, Davis', from a win-share standpoint, isn't that much different. James accounted for 34 percent of the Cleveland Cavaliers' victories in 2004-05, and Durant represented 34.3 percent of the Oklahoma City Thunder's wins in 2008-09.

To be sure, this isn't a direct comparison. I'm not some soothsayer here to tell you Davis is going to be just as good as or even better than Durant and James. This is about appreciating how far Davis has come, how far he's going.

What he's doing on his own is sensational. It makes you want to see what he can do alongside a better, healthier supporting cast.

It makes you want to see what he will be doing, two, three and five years down the line.

Injury Bug 

Injuries have a way of finding Davis.

Unfortunately for him, it comes with the territory. Stringy, 6'10" forward-centers who both bang down low and frequently help guard athletic wings are going to take beatings. Recently we've seen Davis take a shot to the jaw, experience some discomfort in his left leg and try to play through back spasms. He's also dealt with a variety of other maladies since entering the league.

Last season, as a rookie, Davis lost 18 games to injury. He's missed 10 so far this year, and could be in line for more. 

Though not a flaming-red flag, Davis' long-term health is a concern. Successful rebuilds aren't staged around fragile players. Health can dramatically shift perceptions, like it has with Kyrie Irving and Derrick Rose.

But Davis is not Irving and Rose. Unlike Irving, he's cracked 60 appearances through each of his first two seasons. And unlike Rose, he isn't coping with career-threatening injuries. 

Durability is something to keep an eye on, if only because of his build and how it relates to the position(s) he plays and the things he does. But it's not the ultimate deterrent, nor is it reason enough to second guess his future and value as a franchise cornerstone.

The Best, Or Just One of The Best?

DENVER, CO - APRIL 2: Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans looks on against the Denver Nuggets on April 2, 2014 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this P
Bart Young/Getty Images

It's that time again.

Name five players you would trade Davis for if you were building a team. Or three. Or one.

Go ahead. Do it.

You can't. 

Not easily.

Maybe you say James. Maybe you say Durant. Maybe your eyes wander over to an elite 2014 or 2015 college prospect not yet in the NBA. Maybe you pick someone else entirely.

In the case of everyone except James, you would be wrong. Picking James doesn't even mean you're right. He's just the only other player worth arguing for at this point.

Davis is that promising. So promising, we don't even know what he's going to be, what position he's going to play for most of his career, what ceiling—if any—he must be measured against.

Mystery sells, though. With Davis, it's a resume-booster, not a detriment. We don't know what records he's going to break, how many championships he's going to win.

We don't know how many MVP awards he's going to secure.

"He is going to be his own player," Pelicans coach Monty Williams told Lowe. "People try and think back to re-create another A.D., but he’s not like anyone we’ve ever seen."

To this point, we know very little about Davis—in a good way. But we know enough to understand that his ceiling two, three, five years into the future makes him, at worst, the NBA's second-best building block right now.

*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise attributed.



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