By Anthony Olivieri
Stop me if you’ve heard the story of Anthony Davis before.
Formerly a 6-foot-1 guard as a sophomore in high school, Davis grew to 6-foot-3, then was 6-foot-8 at one point during his junior year. Davis, of course, eventually turned into the 6-foot-10 monster who hogged all the national awards while leading Kentucky to its first national championship since 1998.
He did that in a little over a year, eventually going from the backcourt to one of the best defensive players in college basketball history and the presumptive No. 1 overall pick in June’s NBA draft.
And he brought the unibrow back into style.
That’s why, even if I furrow my own ‘brow and think really hard, I can’t bring myself to compare Davis to another player on the hardwood. But that hasn’t stopped NBA general managers from starting the annual practice that their NFL counterparts just finished.
Anonymously, of course.
“There’s not one doubt in my mind that he’s going to be way better than Blake Griffin,” an NBA general manager told SI.com’s Sam Amick on Tuesday. “I don’t even think it’s going to be close.”
The GM wasn’t done there.
“I think he might end up being a little better than (Kevin Garnett),” the mystery man said, according to SI.com.
“He may be the quiet, humble (player) who’s not as great as Tim Duncan, but (he’ll be) that kind of a person, and maybe have the game to back it up. I don’t think he gets to that (Duncan) level, but he’s going to be pretty good.”
Personally, I don’t think of the powerful Griffin, maniacally intense Garnett or the steely efficient Duncan as a match for Davis, whose long arms and impeccable timing should allow him to approach the skills of Garnett and Duncan, two of the NBA’s all-time defensive masters, but that’s it.
Comparison is a flimsy practice, and it hinders the way in which we evaluate players. Consider that, if Davis does come to be Garnett’s equal, it will mean that he is a 14-time All-Star and future Hall of Famer. That still doesn’t tell me, specifically, if he will rack up the block numbers he did college or if his offensive game – honed by those guard skills – is something that will translate at that next level.
If he can’t match Duncan – just as that GM predicted – then, well, he won’t be the best power forward-center of all time. Damn you, Anthony Davis, you would be an underachiever.
My point? If GMs really think this way, the NBA talent evaluation process really is done with blinders. Granted, Charlie Sheen could come off a four-day rager and tell me that Davis is going to be a good player. But if you’re a GM, give me something more substantial.
We’ve devolved into a conversation made completely with comparison, as if other possibilities don’t exist. Like, I don’t think outgoing North Carolina point guard Kendall Marshall is going to be Jason Kidd, not even Chris Paul actually, but don’t be surprised if he’s a Mark Jackson.
What does that mean, exactly? Tell me how his skills translate and why, and don’t bother with the other stuff. Remember, Harold Miner, Vince Carter and Grant Hill reminded us all of Michael Jordan, all fell short and shouldn’t be in the same sentence.
NBADraft.net says former Kansas forward Thomas Robinson, the site’s selection is the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, can be compared to former UK forward Patrick Patterson. And ex-Connecticut big man Andre Drummond compares to Amare Stoudemire and DeAndre Jordan. We assume that’s a young Stoudemire, not the one who hits the 20-foot jump shot with regularity.
It’s all enough to make me want to put my hand through some glass.
I read the anonymous quotes, study the mock drafts and still have no idea how to project the skills of the next crop of players to an NBA court. It’s because evaluators are telling me how good the player can be, not what he specifically can do on the floor.
Of course, we should remember that getting to the level of a certain player is reliant upon other factors; that’s why matching anyone to Duncan is useless. He’s an all-time great without argument, but also blessed with the company of Gregg Popovich, the stress-free nature of the Spurs organization, the incomparable Manu Ginobili and now an emerging Tony Parker that could help him to a fifth NBA title.
Davis, if the ping-pong balls fall as expected, will be heading to the seven-win Bobcats. It would have taken both Duncan and Garnett at the same time to immediately resurrect that franchise, though it’s not out of the question that Davis could do it.
I just don’t think it’s going to happen within a blueprint that we’ve seen before.
And you should believe me, I’m the Arnett Moultrie of columnists.
Anthony Olivieri is the managing editor of LostLettermen.com. His column appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.