Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant are running out the string on their fabulous careers. LeBron James is rapidly approaching his 31st birthday and may or may not be hampered by back miseries.
Who, then, are the NBA’s latest candidates for “Best Player in the World?”
What about James Harden, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook? Great as they all are, these guys are minimally effective without the ball in their hands.
Stephen Curry is certainly a viable choice, but many NBA insiders are convinced that the title goes to 22-year-old Anthony Davis, a 6’10”, 245-pound power forward.
As AD and his New Orleans teammates faced off against the top-rated defense of the defending champion Golden State Warriors on Saturday night, the young man’s credentials were put to the test.
He’s unquestionably an incredible athlete as evidenced, for example, in the first quarter when he jumped to the moon in response to a bad pass thrown his way, and tipped it to a nearby teammate.
Despite being a two-time All-Star (or, perhaps, because he is one), Davis isn’t reluctant to dive to the floor and wrestle with an opponent to rescue loose balls.
Shortly after biting on a fake by Draymond Green and wildly leaping to try to block a nonexistent three-point shot, Davis reacted to the same situation with a perfect closeout that forced Green to make a harmless pass. Proving that AD is flexible enough to make the correct in-game adjustments.
He always looked to box out whenever the Warriors launched a shot. And, on several possessions, AD was directing confused teammates to their proper spaces. Whenever a teammate drove to the hoop, Davis moved into perfect position to be available for a drop pass. (Two of which he turned into rousing dunks.)
He set eight sturdy screens as opposed to only two casual ones.
Whenever possible, Davis attacked a right-handed shooter’s jumper with his left hand. This is the correct procedure as it keeps a defensive presence directly in the shooter’s line of vision, whereas going after the same shot with the right hand only attacks the ball from an oblique angle.
When he was in the area, Davis exhibited superb recognition by providing weakside help on defense.
A willing passer with terrific vision, one of his assists came on a touch-pass-on-the-run that would’ve made LeBron proud.
Could Davis succeed Tim Duncan as “The Big Fundamental”?
In addition to his two shot blocks, Davis had two deflections as well as forcing three shot alterations.
In direct one-on-one defensive situations, Green only burned him for a pair of three-pointers. (Curry did take advantage of switches by scoring seven points while AD guarded him — an excusable situation since Curry dropped 53 points!) The score here was Davis 26, opponent-of-the-moment 13.
He was double-teamed several times when he received the ball in the low-post. On two of those occasions, the Warriors were whistled for illegal defense. (Davis was the designated free throw shooter and went 1-2.)
His timing, elevation, good hands and just plain grit resulted in his grabbing five offensive rebounds.
He attempted a trio of treys — missing one, hitting another in an early offense sequence, then getting fouled in the act after executing a convincing fake (and making all three of the resulting free throws).
Floaters, fakes-drives-and-dunks and put-back dunks all helped to put fill up his stat sheet.
He did miss two layups — one because he was clearly fouled with no whistle forthcoming, and the other when he tried to turn a poor incoming lob pass into a viable shot.
He has a long, easy stride that looks like he’s not running all-out but gets where he’s going in a hurry.
Davis is also a quick jumper with good hands, and great instincts.
MIN FGM-A 3PM-A FTM-A OREB DREB REB AST STL BLK TO PF +/- PTS
37 8-17 1-2 9-11 5 10 15 4 0 2 3 2 -19 26
AD’s shot-release looked tight and (besides his 1-2 from beyond the arc) hit only 1-4 jumpers.
When he wasn’t two-timed in the pivot he had trouble establishing position and sealing off Green. When he was able to receive an incoming pass, AD didn’t exhibit any explosiveness — which was also due to Green’s ornery defense.
His three turnovers came on bad passes — two into a crowd and one much too casual.
On two sequences he was late making defensive transitions.
During a 1-on-2 runout, Davis tried to force his handle between the two defenders and had the ball slapped away.
Eight of his defensive rebounds were secured without being challenged — i.e., grabbing a missed free throw, or while all the Warriors focused on getting back to deny the Pelicans fast-break opportunities.
One game does not a season make, but — despite his semi-impressive numbers and occasional brilliant sequences — Davis did not have a particularly good game.
It should be noted that except for having him curl off several sloppily-set down-screens, and only two plays where he ran around staggered screens, the Pelicans didn’t call his number enough. Indeed, the guards took 46 of the team’s 100 shots and looked to go one-on-one too often.
That said, Davis has terrific potential but does need to improve several aspects of his game: More spins and other change-of-direction moves when he’s crowded. A more consistent shot-release on his quick-shot jumpers. Cutting tighter off of screens. Setting and maintaining low-post position against stronger, active defenders who also have lower centers-of-gravity — to do this he needs to increase his core- and lower-body strength.
Above all, he needs to play with better players and a better-coached team.
And given Curry’s routine magnificence, perhaps Davis can only aspire to be being the best non-guard in the world.