Think of all the power forwards in the league. It's an eclectic bunch. A lot of different skill sets and sizes, superstars and specialists alike. It's one of the league's deepest positions, trailing only point guard.
Now think of all those power forwards, and weed out all the players who can't do these two things simultaneously: protect the rim defensively and space the floor offensively. If they do one but not the other, toss them out.
All of a sudden the list gets a lot smaller, doesn't it? There are shot-blockers, and there are power forwards who can knock down a jumper, but rarely can they do both.
Serge Ibaka is definitely one that does both. Taj Gibson probably qualifies as well. But even Ibaka and Gibson are incredibly limited in what else they can do in addition to that.
That's why, in a lot of ways, New Orleans Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis is the prototype for the power forward position going forward.
Part of that is because you can't really compare him to past or current players.
“He is going to be his own player,” says Monty Williams, the team’s coach. “People try and think back to re-create another A.D., but he’s not like anyone we’ve ever seen.”
“I’m not sure he reminds me of anyone now,” says Dirk Nowitzki. “In my 16 years, I’ve never seen anyone like him.”
Davis is in the NBA at the perfect time. Ten or 15 years earlier, and he might be criticized even more than he is now for being too skinny. He'd be stuck guarding some of the mammoth centers that roamed the plains and told to get back down on the block instead of facing up from the perimeter. It would be more about what he isn't than what he is.
Twenty-five years earlier? He'd be outed as a time traveler, most likely, but it would be even worse.
But now, in today's game that has become so much about efficiency? Davis provides the mesh most teams look to receive from both of their frontcourt players. The stretch 4 is so popular because teams want floor spacing, but defensively, they still need an anchor at the 5. Davis satisfies both needs, allowing his team to get creative at the 5 or just double down on whatever skill they covet most.
The Pelicans have decided to try to become an elite defense by acquiring Omer Asik, which makes sense given the slow pace at which Williams prefers to play. Asik can defend the pick-and-roll, rebound and block shots, but it's Davis who makes his total lack of an offensive game palatable.
Here's what Williams told Jim Eichenhofer at NBA.com:
“I think Omer is going to be able to take some pressure off AD as far as guarding other bigs,” Pelicans four-year head coach Monty Williams said. “AD can go challenge shots and not worry about the backside of the defense, as much as we have in the past. Both of those guys are great rebounders.
They both can challenge shots and they can play off of each other, as far as getting rebounds and not allowing offensive rebounds, especially late in the shot clock, which is something we struggled with last season. We’d play great defense for 18 seconds, but then give up an offensive rebound and a score. I think it’s going to cut down on that, having Omer, AD and Ryan (Anderson) in that (frontcourt) rotation.”
Asik doesn't work next to all power forwards, but Davis plays with nearly every legitimate center. The power to fit and make others better, regardless of skill, is something only the truly elite, like Chris Paul and LeBron James, possess.
The flexibility Davis allows is a huge part of his appeal and a big reason why he should be considered the modern 4. Even highly skilled players like Blake Griffin, who can pass and handle at the 4, still need lineup protection. Davis is as low-maintenance as they come.
While it may make some uncomfortable to heap this much praise on Davis this early, particularly since New Orleans has done nothing with him, Lowe on Grantland explains why there's so much excitement:
Davis will get all of this; he’s too good not to. It’s just going to take some time. Same goes on the other side, where Davis projects as a regular Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He’s a shot-blocking menace, even if New Orleans’s overall numbers don’t reflect his impact yet.
The dude is going to be a destroyer. He already blocks shots no one else approaches. He gets 3-point shooters on flying closeouts. He comes from off your television screen to nail a poor, unsuspecting spot-up shooter in transition. He’ll even tip unblockable shots one-on-one in the post.
In a league where big men usually take the longest to develop, Davis has already flashed dominance on both ends of the floor at the tender age of 21. When you think of two-way frontcourt players in the league, he's well on his way to the list. There are just so few players who can combine this level of athleticism, size, skill and intelligence.
It may be a while before we see another talent like Davis, but he's the guy young big men should want to emulate.
Like Tim Duncan before him, Davis could end up defining this area of basketball for frontcourt players and re-defining what kind of production teams should want from power forwards in the future. He creates what you want offensively, and he takes away what opposing teams want defensively.
Basically, what else could you want?