The 23 Million Reasons New Orleans Pelicans Should Stick Anthony Davis at Center

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 23, 2016

AUBURN HILLS, MI - FEBRUARY 21: Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans handles the ball during the game against the Detroit Pistons on February 21, 2016 at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan. 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 2016 NBAE (Photo by Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Though Anthony Davis' progression toward intergalactic basketball superpower has hit a bit of a snag this year, he's still given us a glimpse of a developmental step everyone wanted.

He's a center now—even if he's not so sure of that himself.

"If somebody asked me, I would definitely say I'm a power forward," he told Bleacher Report. "No hesitation."

It's more complicated than that, though, as Davis went on to explain that the New Orleans Pelicans' positional designations are often matchup dependent. When he and Ryan Anderson share the floor, they play interchangeably on offense, based sometimes on who gets down the floor first.

Davis plays the 5 on defense, of course, and he also works exclusively at power forward when paired with any of New Orleans' more conventional bigs: Omer Asik, Alexis Ajinca and Kendrick Perkins.

Those players' general ineffectiveness (not to mention injuries throughout the roster) have allowed Davis to log about 55 percent of his minutes at center this season, per Nylon Calculus. And any questions about his fitness for the gig should have disappeared when he split time evenly between the 4 and 5 in his career and had an NBA season-high 59-point eruption against the Detroit Pistons on Sunday.

According to B/R Insights, Davis spent 21:56 at power forward and 21:25 at center in his Detroit destruction.

On the year, New Orleans has played consistently better with AD in the middle. If you take the Pelicans' 10 most effective five-man units that include Davis (measured by net rating and limited to those who have logged at least 30 minutes), he's the center in nine of them, per NBA.com.

Davis' per-36-minute individual numbers are mostly the same regardless of position, but his true shooting percentage is significantly higher at the 5 than the 4 (60.4 percent vs. 52 percent), per Nylon Calculus.

No mystery there: There isn't a center quick enough to keep Davis from getting whatever shot he wants in space. To be fair, power forwards have a hard time with that, too.

It behooves Davis to embrace the numbers here—particularly the one that says he plays most of his minutes at center, because getting the broader NBA world to accept his new position could help make him a whole lot of money.

The five-year, $145 million extension Davis signed this past offseason kicks in next year, and the Rose Rule would allow him to make an extra $23 million over the life of his deal if he meets one of the following criteria, per Larry Coon's collective bargaining agreement FAQ:

  • Wins MVP at least once.
  • Voted an All-Star starter at least twice.
  • Named to first, second or third All-NBA team at least twice.

The All-Star start didn't happen this year, and it's still possible Davis could make an All-NBA team at forward—especially if he keeps turning up for 59-point games. But with LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green (just to name four) playing for contenders and dominating at the forward spots, Davis has some stiff competition there.

Even if Davis outproduces the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge, Gordon Hayward, Blake Griffin, Paul George, Al Horford and Pau Gasol in his quest to make the third team, all of those players compete for teams with better records and playoff positions than Davis' Pelicans.

That matters to the sportswriters and broadcasters who vote for those honors.

The competition at center is much thinner. DeMarcus Cousins seems like a lock to take one spot, team record and franchise turmoil notwithstanding. But who else at the position has a better resume than Davis?

Andre Drummond? DeAndre Jordan? Hardly.

Jonathan Bachman/Associated Press

There might be a case for Tim Duncan, but he's only averaging 25.4 minutes per game and has missed time with a knee injury.

Cultivating broader acceptance of his time at center seems like AD's best bet here, and the fact he's not shouting from mountaintops that he's a 5 gives a good idea of where his priorities lie.

"It doesn't really matter to me," he said. "I'm going to play the same way whether I'm the 4, the 5, the 3, the 1…whatever. The roles change, but I still have the same mindset."

Despite professing a consistent mental approach, Davis makes some concessions about the challenges of his dynamic role. Oddly, though, he finds power forward the more taxing spot—an ironic opinion, especially after Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry said over the summer he wanted to keep Davis at the 4 to spare him the physical toll of banging with bigs.

"I think it's more tiring chasing the stretch 4s because you might have to pull in and help on a drive, and then those guys can shoot the three, so you've got to run all the way back out to the three-point line and try to contest," Davis explained. "And those guys can come off pindowns or screens or whatever else, so it's a lot more wear on your body to chase them around."

That's not to say playing the 5 is easy for AD, especially early on in his career when he didn't know the tricks of the trade underneath.

"Once you learn the nuances of the game, it makes it a lot easier. … But it was tough at the beginning because you're complaining to the ref that they're holding you, and you're saying, 'Look at my jersey! It's untucked. I didn't do that myself. I'm not lying.'"

Steven Adams comes up plenty when discussing the challenges of playing center with Davis, who also cites Drummond and even old-school power forward Zach Randolph as players who make it tough on him down low. At some point, Davis explains, all you can do when battling for rebounding position with them is "just hope the ball bounces the other way."

Not much has bounced New Orleans' way this season, but Davis establishing himself as one of the best centers in the league stands as a major development—one that should give the Pelicans an advantage for years to come.

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Davis spoke with Bleacher Report on behalf of H&R Block. See his first commercial here.