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Anthony Davis Is Thrilled At Omer Asik’s Stated Desire To Just Defend, Rebound

There was some debate in 2012 as to whether or not Anthony Davis the draft prospect could play both spots in the frontcourt. Rail thin and mostly subsisting on offense at the rim in his lone season at Kentucky, the uninitiated feared that Davis – a blue-chip prospect regardless – was too lithe to be a center and not skilled enough to be a power forward. But those concerns were always unfounded, and Davis has rendered them completely irrelevant two years later after bulking up to nearly 240 pounds and showing rare range and driving ability for a player of his length.

Davis can play anywhere – he’s good enough to make an overwhelmingly positive impact at the 4 or the 5. That much is clear by now. What’s also evident, however, is that his burgeoning perimeter game and all-around scoring prowess mean that The Brow has outgrown the two-way dirty work normally provided by a center.

Think about it: How many big men in the league serve as their team’s go-to offensive threat and defensive fulcrum? That’s simply asking too much of players not only extra prone to injury, but who also take more of a pounding on both ends than their teammates. The New Orleans Pelicans have lacked the defensive-minded behemoth in Davis’ first two seasons to ease his burden, but not anymore.

Enter Omer Asik. The Pellies acquired the Turkish seven-footer in principle on the eve of the draft in a trade with the Houston Rockets. Overqualified as Dwight Howard’s backup last season, it was only a matter of time until the disgruntled Asik was dealt. Though a first-round pick is a pretty price to pay in the modern NBA, Asik’s singular impact plus his influence on Davis made surrendering one to acquire him worth it for New Orleans.

And unsurprisingly, Asik is already taking to his new role as Davis’ partner in the Pelicans frontcourt. This sounds like a guy planning to wreak havoc in 2014-2015:

One of the league’s best rebounders and an underrated pick-and-roll defender, Asik has a legitimate chance to garner All-Defense consideration in his first season with New Orleans. He doesn’t put up elite shot-blocking numbers, but don’t be fooled by surface-level stats; Asik is a great rim-protector. Opponents shot just 46.8 percent against him at the rim in 2013-2014, the seventh-best mark of all big men in the league. Davis, remember, led the league by blocking 2.82 shots per game last season.

Should all go according to plan, New Orleans will be a terror in the paint defensively come late October. And if the ancillary defensive skills of Asik and Davis impact their teammates the way they could, the Pelicans will surely field at least an above-average defense this season after placing twenty-fifth on that end last year.

All of that said, it’s what Asik’s presence will do for Davis offensively that likely had him smiling. Freed from constraints of playing center – the position he occupied for 42 percent of his floor-time last year – Davis will be able to attack from mid-range at will and feast on smaller defenders. One New Orleans coach told Grantland last season that Davis has “some Dirk [Nowitzki]” in his game. With Asik in tow, we’ll see it in 2014-2015.

Then there are the physical tolls of playing center that will no longer weigh on Davis. Perhaps more important than any schematic switch as a result of Asik wearing navy and gold is the fact that The Brow will have more energy to act as an offensive alpha dog because his responsibilities on defense will be lessened. That’s huge.

And if Asik and Davis indeed prove to be ideal pairing that they appear on paper, there will be a lot more smiling in New Orleans this season.

*Statistical support for this post provided by nba.com/stats and basketball-reference.com

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