Hornets Insider: Four Things to Know About the NBA Education of Anthony Davis

Anthony Davis

September 12, 2012

During a whirlwind summer in which he was chosen as the NBA’s No. 1 overall draft pick and also won an Olympic gold medal, Anthony Davis has been called a franchise-changing, once-in-a-generation talent. He’s also been deemed the most intimidating defensive presence to come out of the college ranks in the last 20 years – if not longer.

As the 6-foot-10 University of Kentucky product approaches his official pro debut in October, however, there’s one description he has yet to be tagged with: Finished product.

The 19-year-old Chicago native is just 18 months removed from playing high school basketball. Furthermore, due to his much-discussed, eight-inch growth spurt, he’s only been a frontcourt player for a relatively brief period of time. As recently as his sophomore year at Perspectives Charter School, he was a 6-foot-2 guard. For his part, Davis has publicly listed several short-term personal goals, telling the New York Times recently that he hopes to be named the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year in 2012-13. Although Davis is projected by many to make a significant impact on the Hornets this season, New Orleans’ coaches and staff are even more focused on his future, long-term development.

Less than a month from Davis donning a Hornets uniform for the first time in a Mexico City preseason game Oct. 7, here are four things to know about the player’s preparation for ’12-13 and beyond:

Anthony Davis

Anthony Davis

Anthony Davis

1) Becoming a go-to guy begins with a go-to move.
Most 6-10 players enter the NBA having spent years playing in the low post, where their stature gave them an advantage over smaller opponents in high school and college. They’re also generally comfortable on offense playing with their back to the basket, using old-school, low-post moves to shoot over their defender. Due to his late growth spurt, though, Davis is a unique case. At Kentucky, he sprinkled in a few low-post moves, including a half-hook, but many of his baskets were scored on dunks or face-up jumpers (he even sank three three-pointers). The London Olympics provided an extreme example of this – nearly all of Davis’ 11 field goals were slams, often after a USA teammate drew defenders and lofted an alley oop.

Uncontested baskets aren’t likely to come as easily in the NBA, with opponents devoting considerable attention to the league’s top draftee. As a result, expanding his low-post toolbox will be one of Davis’ top priorities. If he can add to his options, he’ll be much more difficult to defend.

“We’ve got to develop a go-to move for him, and then a counter to it (if the primary move is defended well),” explained Hornets player-development coach Kevin Hanson, himself a 6-foot-11, 250-pound former pro who’s already worked out hands-on with Davis. “That’s how you develop as a post player. You get a go-to move, and then you make counters off of that. He’s only had two or three years of actually playing in the post, so he has more to learn.”

Specifically, big men are taught precise footwork for various situations that happen in the flow of a game, such as how to spin or pivot to the basket after setting a pick. In Davis’ case, some of those techniques aren’t yet second nature.

“He has great feet,” Hanson described of Davis’ quickness and agility, “but his footwork in the post and on pick-and-rolls and different situations playing off the ball, he needs to clean up. Because he’s so dynamic (athetically), if we can clean up his feet, and make him quicker to the rim or quicker to make moves, that’s going to help him a ton.”

In his previous stint with the San Antonio Spurs basketball operations staff, Hanson observed the work of one of the game’s greatest all-time tacticians in the paint, Tim Duncan. One of Duncan’s most underrated skills is using his body to put defenders in poor position around the rim. In basketball lingo, the warding off of a defensive player with one’s body is known as “sealing.” It’s another area where Davis will focus on improving.

“Tim has such a great feel around the basket, and his ability to seal is something Anthony needs to work on,” Hanson said. “Tim has probably been the best sealing big in the league for the last 15 years. Anthony has not been taught that. It’s something that will come, but we need to work on it. If you learn to do it the right way, regardless of how strong a defender is, they should not be able to come across your body. If they do try to come across you, it will be called a foul.”

2) Increasing muscle and weight will be a long-term project.
At 220 pounds, it’s common knowledge that Davis needs to add weight to thrive against some of the league’s more physically mature big men (for the sake of comparison, new teammate Ryan Anderson is also 6-foot-10, but weighs 240). It won’t be an overnight process, though. The Hornets plan to monitor Davis’ gradual increases in muscle and weight, tailoring the program to his specific needs.

“It’s a process,” explained Hornets director of athletic development Carlos Daniel of the changes Davis will make to his frame. “Initially what I wanted to do was establish his strength, but there’s no alarm to say we’ve got to do this or that. He’s a 19-year-old kid. He’s probably still growing. So it’s about understanding that, then getting a plan that doesn’t shock his system.

“I want him to have a strong, functional core and I want him to have a strong base. If we can develop those things, he’ll be fine, especially in his first year.”

When a player attempts to tack on pounds, media and fans often wonder if there is a specific numerical goal in terms of how much weight he should add. Is Davis’ ideal eventual playing weight 240? Or maybe 260?

Daniel – who like Hanson is not far removed from his professional career as a frontcourt player – says it’s not that simple: “With weight gain or weight loss, you could say, ‘Can I have this person gain 20 pounds? Or lose 20 pounds?’ But do you want a strong, functional basketball player? Or do you want a bodybuilder? Do I want (a successful competitor) on The Biggest Loser? No, you want someone who’s in the best position to be effective on the court.”

For that reason, the Hornets aren’t planning to target an exact number for what Davis should ultimately weigh. “You have to be careful with pinpointing a number,” Daniel said. “You could straight up say that you want a guy to be 250 pounds. Well, if it’s not a functional 250 and he can’t move and develop into the player he wants to be, I’m actually working against him. Anthony is only 19. It has to be a slow, maintainable progression that allows him to fill out naturally and develop strength he can use on a consistent basis.”

3) The Olympics were an invaluable experience – on and off the court.
To help accelerate Davis’ NBA preparation this summer, Daniel went to London to attend the Olympics and was even given access to USA Basketball team practices. The former Washington State standout forward believes Davis’ daily, first-hand exposure to how the NBA’s premier players approach their craft was a priceless experience.

“I think the biggest thing he saw was that these guys work,” Daniel said. “To be at the upper echelon of the league, they come to work focused every day. They do the extra stuff. They take care of their body. They really understand the premise that your body is your business.

“Players say they want to do whatever it takes to be the number one player in the league. But not a lot of guys totally want to do it. They want to do pieces of it and parts of it. The guys at the top of the food chain understand it and are doing every piece. They don’t leave a stone unturned.”

Like Hanson, Daniel has also gotten to work out with Davis on the court – primarily in the paint. The muscular, 6-foot-7 Daniel was a post player in college and as a pro.

“Being with him during his Olympic stint gave me a great opportunity to get my hands on him one-on-one, to be able to say, ‘This is what I think his focus should be and how we’re going to implement it over time,’ ” Daniel said. “I wanted to get a gauge of who he is, and know exactly where he is in terms of his conditioning, strength and power.”

4) Being coachable goes a long way in the NBA.
As much as college scouts raved about Davis’ excellence on the floor throughout his run to the 2012 NCAA championship at Kentucky, they also gave him high marks for his attitude and team-first mentality. Many speculated that since Davis wasn’t a coddled high school “superstar” – after all, he was barely recruited by Division I programs prior to his growth spurt – he never acquired a sense of entitlement. His coaches say he’s embraced the learning aspect of his development, understanding that he has considerable work to do to eventually fulfill his potential.

“He looks very willing to learn,” Hanson said. “He’s very coachable, listened to everything and goes hard. He’s got all of the intangibles of a guy who wants to get better. So that’s good to see. He’s got all of the skills and the tools. It’s just a matter of refining them and putting them into play.

“As coaches, we have visions for each player of what we think can be. Obviously we think Anthony can be great, as everyone does. Now we’ve got to put that vision on the court.”