There are a select few players who have consistently made their respective case for the Most Valuable Player award this season. Players like James Harden, Stephen Curry and LeBron James all established their candidacy in the early stages of the season and have continued to demonstrate their impeccable skill, overall value and importance to their respective teams through the All-Star Break and into final quarter of the season.
But could Anthony Davis swoop in and steal the award out from under them?
An afterthought after the devastating DeMarcus Cousins injury, Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans now surprisingly find themselves in a more than favorable position heading down the stretch thanks, in large part, to the play of the 6-foot-10 24-year-old.
There really is no other way to put it: Davis has been flat-out unstoppable in the 12 games since Cousins went down. Averaging 33.9 points, 13.2 rebounds, 2.4 steals and 2.6 blocks per game while shooting 50 percent from the field on nearly 25 shots per game, Davis has put the team on his back in short order. Somehow, his numbers manage to look even more ridiculous over the last six games: 41.5 points, 15 rebounds, 3.2 steals and 3.2 blocks per contest all while sinking 54.2 percent of his 27.7 shots per night. The Pelicans have won their last six games and have a record of 7-3 in the month of February.
That’s not all, however.
Outside of the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors, the Western Conference has been a battlefield for playoff positioning. There are currently eight teams within 5.5 games of each other, none separated by more than four games in the loss column. While some teams have dropped, Davis and the Pelicans have continued to climb.
Many expected them to fall to the rear of the pack without Cousins. Davis has not only held the Pelicans steady, but they have managed to actually climb in the standings. On Davis’ back, New Orleans has won their last six, are 7-3 in the month of February and now sit just two games behind the third-seed Minnesota Timberwolves and 1.5 behind the fourth-seed San Antonio Spurs in the standings, two teams dealing with their own major injury issues and that could regress. The team sits in prime position to continue their climb as they continue to surge, and none of it would be possible without Davis. The MVP can often be a narrative-driven or narrative heavy award, and the Pelicans standing their ground, or continuing to move up, in a tough Western Conference without their second best player could only add to Davis’ chances.
Another aspect that could earn Davis some votes is just the sheer difference he makes on the court for the Pelicans. The Pelicans swing 8 points, (3.1 points better to 5.1 worse than their opponent) when Davis hits the bench. The Rockets and the Warriors, on the other hand, manage to maintain a lead over their opponent regardless of whether or not their respective star is on the floor (Rockets are still 5.4 points better than their opponent when Harden is on the bench, Warriors 3.7 without Steph on the floor). With Cousins gone, the Pelicans have no one player to turn to when Davis needs a break, while the Rockets and Warriors can rely on other stars on their roster (e.g., Chris Paul or Kevin Durant) to carry the load. Were Davis to miss extended time, his loss would almost certainly be much more pronounced or visible than Harden’s or Curry’s loss (each of whom have already missed time this season) for their respective teams and, in all likelihood, his absence would cause the Pelicans to fall out of the playoffs altogether.
As of now, Davis appears to be forming the perfect storm to disrupt the thoughts and discussions of MVP voters. Not only is he playing dominant basketball, but the narrative that backs him and the difference he makes for a Pelicans team that would be a bottom feeder without him plants him squarely in the thick of things. With the Pelicans surging toward a postseason appearance behind their star, Davis is certainly capable of stealing some hardware come the end of the season.
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