Anthony Davis’ game is as unique as the lone eyebrow spanning his forehead. In the post he is a nightmare for lumbering bigs, utilizing his elite athleticism and length to sky for rebounds, put-backs, and monster jams that make fans in attendance fall back in their chairs while simultaneously holding their friends back in a “did that just happen?” sense of disbelief. His capabilities outside of the paint have been rapidly expanding, adding range to his jump shot and sharpening his (already unfair) ball handling abilities that no one his size should possess. This goes without praising his defense, which should develop into multiple first-team All-NBA caliber and earn annual Defensive Player of the Year nominations as he holds down the paint blocking every shot imaginable. Davis represents the future for a talented, yet unpredictable basketball team in New Orleans. To witness Davis’ ascension into the NBA elite, look no further than the display being put on this summer during Team USA’s FIBA preparation.
Anthony Davis is no stranger to the limelight of Chicago’s basketball crazed culture. Neither is he ignorant to the social issues plaguing the city’s streets. Davis grew up in Englewood, the same neighborhood made famous by its penchant for violence and for being the home to a fellow superstar in the Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose (who addressed the issues in a pregame speech). It was fitting that Team USA’s first exhibition game en route to FIBA competition was held in the hometown of both young NBA Stars.
In Rose’s case it was a long awaited homecoming, a proving ground for showcasing he can still be considered amongst the handful of players who claim to be the best in the NBA. For Davis, Chicago signified a different proving ground, one that put the people witnessing on notice to the fact that the best player on the floor was not a representative of the hometown team. Rose somehow has become the grizzled veteran leader of Team USA at just 25-years-old, while Davis is making it clear that this team will go as far as he takes it.
The box score of USA’s 95–78 defeat of Brazil paints a striking picture of Davis’ importance to his country’s success. He terrorized Brazil, going off for 20 points, 8 boards, and 5 blocked shots. It is important to note he was not doing this against no-name South American players, but against NBA-quality bigs in the Spurs’ Tiago Splitter, Washington’s Nene, and Cleveland’s Anderson Varejao. As one of those in attendance on that night, Davis’ ability to get out on the break was a sight to behold.
Davis is an extremely active big, who hustles like a Varejao but possesses actual basketball skills when operating in space. Look away for a moment and you might miss him catching an alley oop, creating another poster for your NBA wall-space. As proof of the growing confidence in his game, he attempted to dunk on a Brazilian player from a good 3–5 feet OUTSIDE of the paint on the baseline (an unsuccessful attempt, but he drew the foul). While the athleticism is unquestioned, NBA pundits are waiting to see if his jumper can evolve into a dangerous tool and his post-game can expand into something that an offense can be run through. He is steadily becoming a threat from 15–18 feet, which is a big improvement over the outside shooting over his rookie year. It is easy to forget we are talking about a 21-year-old kid on the verge of just his third NBA season.
His offensive statistics jumped significantly in his sophomore season, averaging 20.8ppg & 10 rpg while shooting over 50% from the field for the second year in a row, up from the 13.5 ppg and 8.2rpg marks of his rookie year. While Davis’ lowly 1.6apg must improve as opposing teams focus in on stopping him defensively, his offensive growth has been on display throughout team USA’s FIBA World Cup preparation, which is surely an encouraging sign for the perennial bottom-dwelling Pelicans of the Western Conference.
New Orleans head coach Monty Williams is getting a first-hand look at Davis this summer as an assistant for USA basketball under head coach Mike Krzyzewski. While the career altering injury to Paul George in Las Vegas prompted a reexamination of NBA player’s participation in international basketball competition, Davis’ development under USA Basketball provides evidence to the positive impact the program has on the growth of young talent. The competitive atmosphere and collection of premier youngsters within USA basketball provides an environment separate from tedious individual workouts or glorified pickup games in summer pro-am leagues that usually evolve into something of And-1 mix-tape nostalgia. Having Williams on the coaching staff must also ease the minds of New Orleans ownership and has allowed the head coach to work with his star player on a day-to-day basis.
Like Team USA, the success of the Pelicans this season will hinder on Davis evolving into an NBA superstar sooner rather than later. The addition of Omer Asik bodes well for Davis on defense, allowing him to shift over to the power forward position that is more suited for his length and still slender-ish frame. The Davis-Asik duo could be the best rim protecting front court in the entire league. Davis is a shot-blocking menace averaging 2.8bpg, while Asik has averaged 1.7 bpg per 36 minutes, a number that may have been higher if not for his drama riddled career spent mostly on the Houston bench. Another encouraging sign for the Pelicans defense is the fact that both Davis and Asik average around 3–4 fouls per game, each player showing solid, straight-up defensive fundamentals when contesting shots and staying on their feet remaining insusceptible to the pump fake. Offensively, the Pelicans will still struggle with questionable fits and players searching to find their roles amidst the overcrowded collection of ball-dominant perimeter players.
Ryan Anderson returns from a neck injury that limited him to just 22 games played last season. His ability to stretch the floor with his shooting range should open up the paint for the Pelicans’ vast array of guards and forwards on the perimeter, who have yet to mesh or complement each other as envisioned by the New Orleans front office. Point guard Jrue Holiday must somehow become the facilitator and engineer that can make this collection of talent work. This becomes difficult when ball-stopping talents Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon remain the odd couple, with Gordon’s bloated salary limiting roster flexibility and Evans displaying no signs of an improved outside shooting game; in order for these square peg players to fit in the round holes of a successful NBA team, Anthony Davis must be the hammer to force the fit.
The Anthony Davis MVP discussions will gain major traction should the New Orleans Pelicans display a noticeable improvement in the 2014–15 season. It’s not an impossible task — Derrick Rose proved as much at 22 years of age, becoming the leagues youngest ever MVP — but due to roster circumstances and conference logistics, Davis most likely will not reach the bar set forth by Rose. Rest assured, though, he will be in future MVP discussions for many years to come.
Davis’ MVP chances become exponentially more difficult playing in the brutal gauntlet of the Western Conference. The blessing of this curse makes his future play that much more impressive, should he continue his growth into one the best two-way players in the game. Reality says he will be a few years from overtaking Kevin Durant or LeBron James atop the NBA’s elite, but slowly he will start creeping in. NBA pundits will go through an eye-opening experience as Davis begins his dominance on both sides of the ball.
For now, enjoy the show that is Anthony Davis and relish in the fact that at only 21 years of age, an NBA superstar is blossoming before our eyes in the heat of the summer’s final months.