The New Orleans Pelicans are one of the NBA’s least sexy teams. Of the 82 games they’ve played this season, just two were played in front of a national television audience. And yet, the upstart Pels have fought and clawed their way into the playoffs in the loaded Western Conference, narrowly edging out the Oklahoma City Thunder.
That playoff berth would not have come without the superlative efforts of Anthony Davis, and yet, like the team as a whole, the big man has toiled away in relative obscurity. While Stephen Curry, James Harden, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook dominated the headlines and jockeyed for position in the MVP race, Davis quietly assumed the mantle of the NBA’s next big thing. In a league defined by its stars, Anthony Davis has exploded out of the darkness like a supernova.
Birth of The Brow
During his junior year of high school, Anthony Davis was an unheralded, rail-thin point guard standing six feet three inches tall. By the time he signed a letter of intent to play at the University of Kentucky two years later, he’d undergone an extraordinary seven-inch growth spurt that transformed both his body and his game. His shooting, ball skills and unselfish instincts remained, but Davis also worked tirelessly to add post moves, rebounding and a preternatural ability to block shots to his repertoire. That combination of gifted athleticism and determined work ethic propelled him to a National Championship at Kentucky and a first overall pick in the NBA draft.
Ballin’ in the Big Easy
Conventional wisdom dictates that NBA players make the biggest leap between their second and third years. With that in mind, many observers expected big things from Anthony Davis after averaging an impressive 17.3 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.3 blocks in his first two NBA campaigns. Almost immediately, it was clear that the Pelicans’ big man would not disappoint. Davis dominated the first month of the 2014-15 season, averaging 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and 2.1 steals per game.
Through the All-Star break, The Brow was on pace to finish the season with the single highest player efficiency rating in NBA history. Perhaps the defining moment of his season occurred on Feb. 6, when he topped off a 41-point, 10-rebound game against the Thunder with a game-winning three point shot at the buzzer. By the time the Pelicans’ final game was in the books, Davis boasted a stat line of 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game. Just seven players have ever managed to compile such statistics, and each of them has a spot reserved in the Hall of Fame. Davis also finished with an efficiency rating exceeding 30, another feat accomplished by just seven players in league history.
Scratching the Surface
For all his spectacular accomplishments, it’s worth noting that Anthony Davis is still figuring out how to use his superpowers. At just 22 years old, he’s only beginning to tap into his seemingly limitless potential. The most marked improvement in his game has come via the jumper, where Davis has worked hard to make himself into one of the better mid-range shooters in the NBA. He boasts a higher mid-range shooting percentage than Blake Griffin, LeBron James or LaMarcus Aldridge. With his increasingly consistent shooting stroke, it’s possible he may even extend his range beyond the three-point line in the coming years. He’s even better near the rim, where his shooting percentage in the post is better than all but four players in the league. Davis has also worked to develop an effective isolation game, rising up for a shot or taking his man off the dribble with surprising ease.
The next step, as with any ascending superstar, is to forge his legend in the crucible of the playoffs. After a playoff debut that saw Davis go for 35 points against the best defensive team in the NBA – including a spectacular 20 points on 70 percent shooting in the fourth quarter – he may be well on his way. The Pelicans are unlikely to become a national draw any time soon, and they have little hope of competing with the vastly superior juggernaut that is the Golden State Warriors, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore what their superstar big man has done. Anthony Davis may not have a shot at the 2014-15 MVP, but he’s emphatically announced his arrival as one of the game’s greatest players.