In this week’s installment of “You’re The GM,” we look at two players who have unexpectedly been linked since early into their young careers. In fact, it wouldn’t be a surprise if second-year players and first time All-Stars Anthony Davis and Damian Lillard continued to be tied together as they grow as players. Both are completely different in what they do, Anthony being a franchise center type and Lillard quickly becoming a franchise-caliber point guard. But if you had to pick one of the two to build a team around, who would it be?
We begin with the consensus first pick in the 2012 NBA draft. After a single NCAA championship winning season with Kentucky and a relatively poor draft class looking to break into the NBA, Davis was an easy choice for the New Orleans Hornets (now Pelicans) to make. Initially he struggled, both with injuries and the pace of the game. Playing both the power forward and center positions and having little help available to him on the team, the season wasn’t pretty. His wiry frame also meant that he was bullied in the paint when playing the five position, while his jump shot was not to a particularly high standard to enable him to stretch opposing teams playing at the four either.
Despite some solid additions like former All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, this season again began a little slowly for Davis. A fractured hand in early December threatened to once again derail his season, but since returning he has been on an absolute tear. Season averages of 20 points and 10 rebounds are serious numbers, especially for a second-year player still learning the game. His 3.1 blocks per game average is verging on the ridiculous and he has become increasingly dominant in the paint as well. Making the All-Star game as a replacement for the injured Kobe Bryant was simply the icing on what has turned into a very successful season personally for the 20-year-old. Oh yeah, there’s that: he is only twenty.
Already beginning to dominate on both ends of the court before he can legally drink, it is crazy to think of what he may one day become. Yes his Pelicans team has struggled this season, and with the talent they have they should probably be a playoff team. But in the tough Western Conference this is not easy feat. Put simply, Anthony is quickly turning into a franchise player. It is far too early to compare him to a Tim Duncan or a Kevin Garnett, but with both reaching beyond the autumn of their careers, Anthony looks primed to take over their position as the premier do-it-all big man in this league. Why wouldn’t you want that on your team?
If not for this guy, Davis would have been last season’s Rookie Of The Year, and that is a good place to start. Relatively unheralded coming out of Weber State, most projected that the Trail Blazers had a capable point guard on their hands, albeit one who would take a few years to truly come into his own. They were wide off the mark with that assessment, as the 23-year-old quickly set about becoming a starter for his team and contributing right away. His numbers of 20.9 points and 5.7 assists are great, there is no doubt about that. Making the All-Star team in a Western Conference where players such as Tim Duncan, DeMarcus Cousins and Goran Dragic did not also shows you what kind of player this guy already is.
Yet there is something else Lillard possesses, a trait all the true greats do. Already he is an extremely clutch player, always willing to take the game-winning shot for his team. He has come through on these occasions more than once too, putting him up there with the best in the league at closing out games. That fearlessness blended together with his underrated range, which got some love in the Three-Point Contest on All-Star Saturday, combine to make Lillard a player who absolutely should be feared and respected. Of course LaMarcus Aldridge is the first option on this team and the reason they are in the thick of the playoff action, but if he weren’t around Lillard would ensure this team stayed more than just competitive.
He has proven to be an unexpected thorn in Davis’ side so far, and he may yet have the trump card up his sleeve as to why people would take him over the Pelicans star. We live in a point guard-driven league, where in order to be a great team, you need a great point guard to lead you to the promised land. There are a couple of exceptions to this rule, but generally that is how it has become. The big man is hardly dying out, but the fact remains that this is a smaller more athletic league now. If you have a player like Lillard, who can take it to other elite point guards and win a lot of those personal duels on a nightly basis, your team is going to be more than just all right. Is that reason enough to pick him over the juggernaut that is Davis though?
So, there you have it. Two elite young players who have both reached the level of All-Star so quickly, and you can only pick one. Do you take the dominance of Davis, or the sparkling abilities and clutch play of the point guard Lillard? Leave your answers in the comment section below, or let me know on twitter @LucaLockheart. For what it is worth, this writer is taking Davis in an extremely close one. There are many great point guards out there, but players like Davis don’t come around all that often. We’ll be back again next week with two more players to choose between.