At just 21 years old, Anthony Davis is already poised to stake his claim as one of the NBA’s more versatile and complete big men. In a league where a growing trend of utilizing a stretch-four rather than a more traditional back-to-the-basket or post player at the power forward position has almost become the norm, Davis already both literally and figuratively ‘towers’ over the competition on many nights.
Davis was top-10 in just about every statistical category among power forwards in 2013-14 including being first in blocks (2.82 BPG), third in steals (1.33 SPG), fourth in rebounds (10.0 RPG) and fifth in scoring (20.8 PPG). Davis also shot just under 80 percent (79.1 percent) from the charity stripe on the year for good measure.
Put simply, the young man is a problem regardless of the matchup due to his tremendous combination of size, speed, agility and new-found power – up to about 240 pounds after entering the league at rail thin just under 220 pounds. Beyond the size and favorable intangibles, Davis is a bona fide athlete as a big man. Fans of the Pelicans can attest to scenarios where Davis will routinely protect the rim, provide weak-side support, find a way to secure the rebound, and still end up finishing on the other end in transition. Unlike many of his contemporaries that are also similarly athletic big men (e.g., DeAndre Jordan, JaVale McGee or Miles Plumlee), Davis also has the footwork, ball skills and all-around offensive game to be highly effective in the halfcourt set as well.
Far from being “just a leaper” that blocks a shot here and there, Davis is a legitimate two-way player that not only excels on defense, but he’s actually one of the few young big men that consistently takes pride in the work he does on that end of the floor. He’s excellent in help-and-recover situations, utilizes his quickness and length to near perfection on the pick-and-roll, and will even apply pressure along the perimeter if drawn way from the basket.
Perhaps such versatility comes from the fact that Davis went from being a 6’3 point guard to start his junior year in high school (less than five years ago) to just under 7’ by many accounts at this point, but true credit should be granted to his passion for the game and a desire to continue improving and evolving each summer. The 2014 All-Star is currently training with Team USA in Las Vegas in anticipation of Friday’s Blue vs. White Exhibition, which is in preparation for the FIBA Basketball World Cup set to start at the end of next month.
“Of course, I’m a young guy, so all I want to do is play basketball right now,” Davis said last Friday during a conference call hosted by the Pelicans. “That’s the only thing on my mind is just play, play, play. I love the game so much.”
The love he has for the game is evident, and Pelicans head coach Monty Williams – also an assistant of Coach Krzyzewski’s on the national team – is eager to see Davis reach his full potential as a player. As scary as it sounds, Williams acknowledges what we’ve seen from Davis could very well simply be the tip of the iceberg.
“I think he can be better a better ball-handler, especially in the open court,” Williams told Jimmy Smith of NOLA.com on Monday. “I’m just trying to get him to understand how important he could be if he could catch the ball on the break and make plays. In order for him to be comfortable in those situations, he could improve his ball handling, which is already really good. But I’m just trying to make it more sound.”
If you watch enough of this young man, you may find yourself audibly asking, “What can’t this kid do?” The truth of the matter is, although he continues to improve, strengthen and refine his skills, there isn’t much on that list. He was second to Portland’s Damian Lillard in Rookie of the Year voting following a promising rookie season and qualified for the first of what will likely be many All-Star games in year two. Although seldom-used as a member of the US’s 2012 Gold Medal team, Davis can draw from the experience of having played alongside the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant as he heads into a potential leadership role with this group.
“It [2012 experience] really helped,” Davis said. “Without that experience, being around all those elite-talent guys, I don’t think I ever would have known as much as I know now, or developed as quickly as I have just because of the fact that they taught me so much. They’ve seen it all, and for them to share that information with me meant I had an edge over some of the rookies that I came in [to the NBA] with.”
Williams has acknowledged being prepared to at least monitor Davis and newly acquired teammate Omer Asik’s (also playing for his native Turkey), early season workload and minutes, but seems pleased his presumed starting frontcourt is gaining the invaluable experience of competing vs. international competition.
“Everyone who’s been in these situations, they come back a lot better,” Williams said. “I’m looking for those two guys to come back better.”
Again, it is scary to even envision there being a better version of what Davis already brings to the table, but that’s just what Williams (and Davis himself) are counting on as he enters his third season. For a team that hasn’t qualified for the postseason since their opening-round loss at the hands of the Lakers in Williams’ inaugural season at the helm in 2011, the playoffs must be a goal as we head into 2014-15.
For Davis, it’s not only important to continue progressing on a personal level (as he has), but for those improvements to translate into overall team success. The Pelicans won just 27 games in his rookie season, and followed it up with a 34-48 year that just passed.
Clearly, this is no small task with the Western Conference expected to be every bit of the juggernaut it has been in recent years, but with the pairing of an ever-improving Davis with Asik up front to go along with a presumably healthy trio of Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, and Jrue Holiday, the Pelicans should already have enough to compete on a nightly basis. Depending upon whether they receive consistent contributions from reserves Ryan Anderson and Austin Rivers as well as the development of young players like Russ Smith or Patric Young, the Pelicans could very well find themselves within the mix as long as health permits.