Anthony Davis, man. It’s difficult to describe the performances that the former Wildcat has been putting on display. 40-point games are hardly a shock at this point. Honestly, it’s becoming a disappointment when he doesn’t score at least 30. The season-ending Achilles injury to DeMarcus Cousins could have stuck a fork in the rest of the New Orleans Pelicans season, but that hasn’t been the case in the slightest bit.
Let’s start by taking a look at some of Davis’ numbers since the Cousins injury. In 13 games without his partner in crime, Davis has averaged 33.3 points, 13.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.3 steals, and 2.4 blocks per game. He’s doing all of this while shooting 49.8 percent from the field and 34.9 percent from three.
His last seven games are somehow even more impressive, averaging 39.3 points (uh, what?), 15.0 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.9 steals, and 2.7 blocks during that span. To describe these as video game numbers would be an insult to his greatness.
I mean, seriously, he’s 6-foot-10 and doing things like this?
Davis has entered the field of MVP candidates, something that was long overdue. He’s easily in the discussion now and it would be hard to argue he’s not in the top 3 at this very moment (trailing only Giannis Antetokounmpo and current frontrunner James Harden). There may not be enough season left for Davis to overtake Harden, he’d have to continue this hellfire to reach that point, but there’s at least a non-zero chance he could get it done. It helps Harden’s case that he’s the best player on the hottest team in the NBA, but if Davis can will this team to the fourth or even third seed out West, the conversation will surely be a valid debate.
Davis has the Pelicans riding a six-game win streak, something that seemed improbable after Cousins’ injury. But when you’re the heart, soul, bones, skin, and blood of this team and on a streak that can best be described as Kevin Garnett going super-Saiyan, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise.
Davis’ 53-point performance against the Phoenix Suns on Monday was the moment where everyone collectively went “Wait, what? He scored how many? AGAIN??”. With no Cousins to help share the brute of opposing defenses, there is no need to focus defensive effort anywhere else except for Davis, but it doesn’t seem to matter. He’s hitting contested pull-up jumpers in the eyes of seven-footers. Easily skying over big men for tip-ins with a touch so soft you’d think he’s trying to pet a sleeping kitten. Throwing down alley-oops where at first the ball looks like it might fly into the fourth row only for Davis to go-go-gadget extendo arm, grab the ball, and slam it home.
Anthony Davis just became the first player in history record a 50-point, 15 rebound, 5-block game.
— Kelly Scaletta (@KellyScaletta) February 27, 2018
Now, to play a little bit of devil’s advocate, the Pelicans schedule hasn’t exactly been challenging. During their seven-game winning streak, their opponents have a combined winning percentage of .56 (195-232) as of March 1st. Two of those games (Miami and Milwaukee) went into overtime and another (Brooklyn) went into double overtime. Yes, the Pelicans are winning – and that’s all that truly matters – but by slim margins against subpar teams.
The Pelicans only have 21 games left on their schedule and several of them come against the likes of the Houston Rockets (twice), the Golden State Warriors (on the road), the Cleveland Cavaliers (on the road), the Boston Celtics, and the San Antonio Spurs (twice). They’ve built a nice cushion during this win streak, moving up to fifth in the Western Conference standings and 2.5 games ahead of the ninth spot. In the West, that’s hardly comfortable, but it’s much more manageable than if they had only gone 4-3 or even 3-4 over their last six. Also, there are plenty of games left against the likes of the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns, and Memphis Grizzlies, so it could all cancel out in the end.
Now back to the positives, Davis isn’t necessarily doing this alone. He’s 100 percent the main concern for defenses, especially with Cousins out, but Jrue Holiday has done his part, too. Holiday is averaging 25.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 7.6 assists over the team’s last seven games. A subtle reminder that Holiday was once an All-Star and still an incredibly talented (yet overpaid) player.
Rajon Rondo may not be a good fit for most teams, but it appears New Orleans may be the closest thing. Rondo is a professional assist hunter, which can work when someone such as Davis is constantly cutting towards the rim (if the term “assists-hunter” were in the dictionary, a picture of Rondo passing up an open layup to kick it out for a contested three would be the only thing that pops up). Davis ranks in the 94.3 percentile on cuts, averaging 1.57 points per possession. Someone who cuts as much as Davis is an “ideal” counterpart for Rondo, who will gladly toss it in Davis’ vicinity whenever they lock eyes. None of this is a knock on Rondo, per se, but a testament to what Davis is doing that makes everyone around him better.
Davis is taking a page out of the ole’ book of Russell Westbrook tactics. In an interview with Rachel Nichols, Davis was open about how he’s approaching each game now that his All-Star teammate is on the bench. “You kind of have that Russell Westbrook mentality when [Kevin Durant] went out,” Davis said. “Russ just went out there and played, and he shot 40 shots sometimes, you know, whatever it takes to help your team win, and I’m kind of taking that approach.”
To be fair, that approach won Westbrook an MVP (no matter how much I disagreed with it) and Davis really has no other option at this point. The difference is that Westbrook shot 42.5 percent from the field last season. Davis is currently shooting 53.6 percent. Harden still has a healthy lead over both Davis and Antetokounmpo, but another 10 to 15 games stretch of averaging 35-plus points per game will convert some Harden haters.
Every time I write about Anthony Davis I feel the need to reemphasize this fact. He is only 24 YEARS OLD. He can’t even rent a car yet but he can drop 45 points on your favorite team.