Anthony Davis had one of the most dominant overall games in NBA history after dropping 40 points, 21 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 3 assists on Sunday evening against the Boston Celtics. It was only the eighth time in the past 27 years a player put up numbers like that, and the Celtics were unfortunately on the receiving end.
For the sixth consecutive game, Boston had trouble inside. Last Sunday, Andre Drummond snatched 22 rebounds, nobody could score against Roy Hibbert on Tuesday, Carmelo Anthony had his way inside on Wednesday, and then on Friday night, Miles Plumlee and Alex Len both tipped in important baskets in the fourth quarter.
Of course, Davis' performance last night was the cherry on top. I'm not much of a conspiracy theorist, but I'm pretty sure the government created Davis in a petri dish, with the combined DNA of Bill Russell, Kevin Garnett, and Tim Duncan.
Out came a 6-foot-10 man with an 89-inch wingspan -- and a huge unibrow, too, just to prove that he's unlike the rest of us mortals. Davis just turned 21 years old and is already one of the brightest starts in the NBA; at this rate, he could pan out to be better than all three of those aforementioned big men.
The rest of the league should fear this freak, but Davis also furthered a point that has been a theme all season: the Celtics desperately need a rim protector.
Even when Davis isn't blocking shots, he's deterring each opponent's ability to get off a quality look. Late in the fourth quarter, it looked like Jeff Green was about to thrust down a posterizing slam, but guess who stepped in to stop the play? Anthony Davis.
The play won't go down as a block, in fact, Davis doesn't even get credit for causing the miss in the box score. Only advanced stats will display what Davis did, but even that won't give him the justice that he deserves.
Green should've had an easy dunk, but Davis hopped into perfect positioning, jumped straight up (so no foul would be called), and his insane combination of length and bulk prevented Green from completing the dunk.
Plays like this show what big men are capable of, but they have hurt the Celtics just as much on the offensive end this season, too. Boston is taking a beating, allowing the third highest percentage of shot attempts in the restricted area this season.
Opponents are exposing them in the pick and roll, and that's a large reason why the Celtics are looking at potentially having a top pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
But that could actually be a blessing in disguise for the C's, since they'll likely have multiple chances to select a rim protector. It's March Madness, and Boston will send their scouting department out to find out which players should be at the top of their board.
"I've never had [a rim protector], but I think it obviously plays a critical role in defending the paint," said Brad Stevens after Friday's loss to the Suns. "In an ideal world, you have somebody protecting the paint at that size."
Did Stevens hint at an offseason need? Possibly, especially considering the Celtics were in the market for an ideal rim-protecting center earlier this season, Omer Asik.
Prodded further, Stevens was asked if a rim protector is on his Christmas list this offseason. "I think, certainly, in an ideal situation, you're looking for certain qualities of the team," replied coach Stevens. "I think a rim protector, whether it is a 7-footer or not, is extremely important in this league."
Could Danny Ainge bring a rim protector to Boston through the NBA draft? It's a serious possibility. There is no Anthony Davis in this year's draft class, but there are a handful of players that could make a similar impact on the defensive end of the floor. Here are four names that will be playing this month in March Madness:
Joel Embiid | Center | Kansas
HT: 7-0 | Projected: Top 3
Embiid will miss the first two or three games of the NCAA tournament with a lower back injury, but he is the premiere rim protector in this year's draft class. He's strikingly long, with a 7-foot-5 wingspan, but he's also quick and explosive moving laterally. He's able to shift from one side of the paint to the other with ease to get into position to block or alter shot attempts. Even though Embiid's still raw and picks up the typical "freshman fouls," he will someday be an elite shot blocker in the NBA.
Joel Embiid often gets compared to Hakeem Olajuwon, but a better defensive comparison could be Tim Duncan, who still makes his impact felt today even if he isn't blocking shots. Kansas has struggled defending the paint this season when Embiid is on the bench, which details the impact he makes on the game. The Celtics will be watching him in the tournament, that is, if Kansas advances far enough for Embiid to get the chance to play.
Willie Cauley-Stein | C | Kentucky
HT: 7-0 | Projected: Mid-Round
One of the most frustrating players in this year's draft class is Willie Cauley-Stein. He's the perfect model of inconsistency, since he'll have one play where he looks like the fiercest shot blocker, but he'll have another when he's clueless and allows easy layups. But there's no denying his potential, since he's averaging 3.0 blocks per game, and has had games that are reminiscent of what Tyson Chandler is capable of on the defensive end.
At 7-foot-0, with an 86.5-inch wingspan, Cauley-Stein has ideal size for the center position. But he's also inordinately athletic, and can step out and switch on smaller forwards and some guards. This is important for the Celtics, because Brad Stevens like his defense to switch on the pick and roll when the can. Inside, Cauley-Stein perfectly times his blocks when he's feeling it, but he gets himself into foul trouble by leaving his feet too early. However, most of his issues seem to be mental, so the key will be for him to develop enough to get past those errors. If he does, he could be a potential steal.
Aaron Gordon | F | Arizona
HT: 6-9 | Projected: Top 7
The Celtics are fans of Aaron Gordon, according to ESPN's Chad Ford, and for good reason. If you remember, Brad Stevens said that a rim protector doesn't always have to be a 7-footer. For example, Avery Bradley is a "rim protector" in that he rarely allows the ball handler to even penetrate the paint. Think of Gordon the same exact way. He's one of the quickest defensive players in the nation, and consistently shuts down his opponents on a night-to-night basis. If he continues to develop, he'll probably be able to contain the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
Gordon doesn't turn 19-years-old until September, which makes his defense even more remarkable. At such a young age, he's far ahead of the curve in terms of technique and intelligence. He's already elite at hedging the pick and roll, properly contesting shots at the rim, and pure man-to-man defense. His post defense needs work, but that will come as his body develops. For the next ten years, championship contending teams will need to contain players like James and Durant, and Gordon could very well be that defensive stopper.
Andrew Wiggins | F | Kansas
HT: 6-8 | Projected: Top 3
Wiggins gets a lot of hype for his scoring potential, but he could also become a terrific defender, which is why he is so appealing. He has yet to grow into his frame, but he has already shown the potential of a lockdown wing defender because of his athleticism alone. With a long, 7-foot wingspan, Wiggins is able to prevent entry passes onto the post and block shots from the weakside.
But it's his lateral quickness that wows NBA scouts. He moves his feet immensely well and stays in front of his man, which prevents plays at the rim from ever occurring. His combination of speed, agility, size, and length is rare, which could lead to a promising future on the defensive end of the floor. Once Wiggins reaches his prime, he will be able to defend guards and forwards equally well, which is extremely valuable considering Brad Stevens' philosophy defending the pick and roll. Wiggins could switch on nearly any screen and cut down on opportunities near the rim.