On Tuesday morning, I spent some time talking to retired NBA player and current ESPN basketball analyst, Antonio Davis.
Davis, a 13-year NBA veteran and one-time NBA All-Star, was originally drafted by the Indiana Pacers and had playing stints for the Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks. In his playing career he racked up 9,041 points, 6,755 rebounds and 889 blocks. Appearing in a dunk contest, Davis was known for his physical post play and great rebounding ability. After playing, he was elected president of the NBPA in 2005 and served until 2006.
Q: What player would you compare yourself to in today’s NBA?
A: A lot of the guys I would compare myself to are being phased out. It’s just such a different game than it was 10 years ago. It’s just crazy to look at these power forwards who are shooting threes, doing so many different things. When I was playing it was all about protecting the rim, rebounding and being around the painted area. Some people have compared me to David West and I’m like I don’t know man, he just does more things than I ever did. I couldn’t knock down that free throw line shot like he could. I guess if I was a couple inches taller, I’d be like Robin Lopez because he protects the rim, gets rebounds and blocks shots.
Q: The NBA has continued to evolve. What similarities and differences are there between now and even 10 years ago?
A: There is a lot of things that have affected the game. Obviously, the rule changes have affected the game, but the other thing that people aren’t talking about is the ability of coaches.
They see every single game, they see plays that are being called, they see tendencies, and with analytics they know more about you than you do yourself!
You constantly have to be working on your game, watching film, studying. Almost like a poker player. If you’re going to run a play, it can’t look like the play you ran one or two weeks ago. It may be the same play, but it may look different, it may be called a different name, and I just think it’s forcing players and coaches to be in tuned to what they’re doing.
You’ve got to be adaptive, you’ve got to be so flexible, with lineups that you play, things that you can play, things that you do to be successful. That’s just such a big part of the game, whereas back in my day there were specialists. Like if you were a good rebounder, you were on a team. Now-a-days, if you’re a good rebounder you don’t just get a spot on a team. You can’t just do one thing, you have to be good at multiple things.
Q: This current season, how do you see the Western Conference panning out? Do you see the Warriors repeating?
A: It’s going to be interesting. The Warriors are off to a hot start and expectedly so with their players returning. But I think the Clippers obviously got better because they got deeper. The Spurs obviously got better because they got LaMarcus Aldridge and I think Kawhi Leonard is just going to continue to grow and get better. Houston is super talented. Memphis is struggling and I think they’re going to continue to struggle with playing those two bigs they have. They can’t play both Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph together because they’re too slow.
But I think the hard part is going to be at the bottom part of the conference. I don’t see Portland making the playoffs, but I think teams like New Orleans, Phoenix, Utah…I see maybe two or three of those teams getting in. But it’s going to be a battle as much at the top as it will be on the bottom.
Q: I cover a lot of the Portland Trail Blazers. What is your opinion of what they’ve done and how they project moving forward?
A: First and foremost, I think that anytime you go from a situation where you lose one of your key pieces, there is going to be some time needed to regroup and get an identity. This whole year, I think the Trail Blazers are going to be looking for that identity. Who they are, how they approach this game, how they’re going to win, and in this tough conference how they’re going to get results.
Obviously they have guys who can get it done like Damian Lillard, but if you look down the roster a lot these guys are going to need some time to step in and come into their own. And it’s great they have a guy like Chris Kaman because you’re going to need guys to help these young players like the Meyers Leonards and Mason Plumlees of the world.
So I think this year is going to be difficult, especially when you lose those stars to free agency. It’s different if it were a sign-and-trade or a trade. But, I do think on paper, you give these guys some time and then you start to be competitive. Then you go out into the summer knowing what pieces you need and what holes you need to fill. That’s how they’ll get better. You’ve got to give Portland credit because they’ve always been a team that understands how to get competitive and stay competitive. And if you have a star point guard, it’s just a matter of time before somebody is going to want to play with him.
Q: Do you have a favorite Trail Blazer of all time and if so, why is he your favorite?
A: There is so many guys who played for Portland. You know what, I’d have to say Maurice Lucas. I would say he’s my all-time favorite Portland Trail Blazer. I don’t know if it had to do with his team as much as it did him. When I was growing up, I saw a few games of him playing. I just remember one particular game I saw him fight a couple guys, it was almost as if he’d stood there waiting for someone to hit him, and nobody would swing. It was that quiet, dominating presence, what I wanted to have when I started playing. It’s like “Hey, I’m going to go out there and do my business, but I’m going to set the tone when I walk on the floor, and when I walk onto the floor you’re going to know that I’m there.” God rest his soul, but if you talk to his teammates I’m sure you would get that same vibe.
Q: Lastly, did you know you’d end up working in media?
A: No, not at all. It started in 2007, when they brought NBA TV to Atlanta. They were asking guys to come down and do stuff with the broadcast. I went down there and just learned a ton, found out I loved talking hoops. Sitting there talking to all the guys like Chris Webber, Kenny Smith, all of those guys, it was just fun. They would call me and I’d work a couple weeks or months at a time. But at that time, I was at the Player’s Association and I had just decided I wanted to continue working in media. A guy called me out of the blue, he asked if I had an agent and then he made a highlight tape, sent them out to all these different places. That’s when ESPN called a few weeks later and next thing you know, I’m there.
The recorded interview is HERE.
Follow Antonio Davis on Twitter: @espnantoniod
Keep up with all the upcoming NBA action on ESPN. Wednesday and Friday this week, they’ll have two back-to-back games starting at 8 p.m. EST. Wednesday night features a marquee matchup between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Golden State Warriors, so set your DVRs because it should be good.