Anthony Davis was a no-name guard who stood in the corner and jacked up threes. That was as recently as 2009 before he grew eight inches in the span of 18 months. Soon he was one of the most heralded recruits in the country. At Kentucky Davis led the Wildcats to the 2012 National Championship. The Final Four was held in the Mercedes Superdome, just across the street from the Smoothie King Center. The New Orleans Pelicans (then-Hornets) won the NBA lottery the following month and AD was headed back to the Crescent City on a more permanent basis. This summer Davis did his best to extend his stay, signing a contract extension which runs through 2021.
Since arriving in the NBA Davis has been categorized as a power forward. Early on in his career this made a ton of sense. Davis weighed just 222 pounds at the NBA Combine. By the summer of 2013 AD claimed he had put on 10-12 pounds and in the summer of 2014 General Manager Dell Demps said Davis was up to 242 pounds. This summer reports have AD's weight at 253 pounds. Hopefully the added strength and mass can limit the volume of odd injuries the big man has suffered during his first three seasons in the NBA.
Anthony Davis' injury history is kind of bizarre. Nothing major, but a LOT of minor stuff in less than 3 seasons. pic.twitter.com/N1QvG9bNhD— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) March 23, 2015
Of course, with that added size comes the question of AD's position. Davis is rapidly approaching the listed size of a number of centers in the NBA. Dell Demps brought back both Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca, a clear statement on where the Pelicans intend to utilize Davis for most minutes in most games. If, however, that was somehow ambiguous Alvin Gentry was quite definitive when discussing AD's position during the 2015 Summer League in Las Vegas.
NBA.com: The team brought back both Asik and Alexis Ajinca. Does that mean that Davis will continue playing the four, primarily?
Gentry: He'll be a four and a five in certain situations. The one thing I don't want to do is have him banging, night in and night out, against the Dwight Howards of the world. Physically, I don't think he's ready for that. And I don't want him to be that.
Obviously, there's going to be times when he'll have to do that. But for the most part, we want him to be a four man.
This is largely the same line of reasoning Pelican fans have heard from the front office and former head coach Monty Williams since Davis was drafted. Looking strictly at the sheer volume of nicks and bruises Davis has piled up in three years, it makes sense. However, those injuries are largely odd or freak occurrences which had little, if anything, to do with AD's mass or strength. Instead a number of odd landings and bad luck, including breaking his finger during a game trying to finish an alley-oop, are to blame.
I have long been an advocate of Davis playing center close to full time. Beyond Dwight Howard most teams with a big center in the Western Conference have an equally large power forward, oftentimes one who will deliver more punishment. The Memphis Grizzlies are content to have Marc Gasol initiate the offense from the high post while Zach Randolph pummels Davis on the block. DeAndre Jordan is rarely a post up option for the Los Angeles Clippers who get Blake Griffin touches in the post, both low and high, against New Orleans and AD frequently. Now the San Antonio Spurs have paired Tim Duncan with LaMarcus Aldridge, who Davis regularly guarded posting up for the Portland Trail Blazers throughout his first three seasons.
There simply are not a great number of centers in the NBA who function consistently in the post. Take a look at the numbers from last season. Of the top ten players in post ups in the league half (Aldridge, Randolph, DeMarcus Cousins, Pau Gasol, Griffin) will start at power forward this season. Call Davis a center or a power forward or an alien (probably the most accurate) and he is still going to take a ton of punishment from big bodies on the low block this season.
None of this is to say that Davis should start at center or play center exclusively. Omer Asik provides significant value in the first six to eight minutes of each half by saving AD from some wear and tear. Asik and Davis pummeled opponents in the second half of the season last year posting a +8.1 Net Rating on the court together in 667 minutes. A number of the best five man units were also built on pairing Davis and Asik together.
There are some matchups, as the playoff series against the Golden State Warriors clearly demonstrated, where Asik can become a massive liability. In those cases rather than trying to stay big by substituting Alexis Ajinca, who brings a different set of weaknesses on defense rather than offense, Alvin Gentry and company should consider moving Davis to center for significant stretches of the game. In fact, in many cases Davis should expect to finish games at center even when the matchup allows Asik to absorb the beating at the five spot in the first and third quarters.
Davis will have ample opportunity to try the position on for size in the coming weeks. Coach Gentry said that Davis at center will be an option for the Pelicans due to the recent injury to Alexis Ajinca. For his part, Davis provided no push back on the idea of playing center.
"We’ll just try different combinations of players," he said. "One of the things that we’ll do is we’ll experiment a little bit with (Anthony Davis at center) and then play even a small lineup where Dante Cunningham may even (play power forward), and three guards — Tyreke (Evans) and Jrue (Holiday) and Eric (Gordon) or Norris (Cole) — in there."
Davis, who has played center in some stretches in his New Orleans career, said "it’s a lot easier to run when you have a small lineup," and the Pelicans are looking to push the pace under Gentry.
Davis starts at power forward alongside center Omer Asik, and he shrugged off a question about whether he’ll see more minutes at center with Ajinca sidelined.
"That’s an Alvin Gentry question to me," Davis said. "It doesn’t matter what position I play. Played some center last year when me and Ryan (Anderson) was in the game. It doesn’t matter. I just go out there and play basketball."
The contracts of both Asik and Ajinca make it unlikely that Davis will make a permanent move to center in the near future. Don't be surprised if Alvin Gentry becomes enamored with AD patrolling the five spot after some experimentation in the next few weeks. It's one thing to talk about putting Davis at power forward frequently during the offseason. Once the results come rolling in Gentry is more likely than Monty Williams ever was to let new data effect his decisions.