Anthony Davis is on fire right now. In his last eight games, he has achieved at least 28 points and 9 rebounds. How rare is that accomplishment? In the past 29 seasons (all the further Basketball Reference allows those parameters to be searched), Shaquille O'Neal did it twice, once in 2000 and again in 2001. Karl Malone did it once. That is the entire list. All of it. Add in AD's 1 block per game and no one has accomplished it in eight straight games except the Unibrow. Did I mention this started before he was able to buy a drink?
The streak is one thing, his consistent high performance dating back to nearly the All-Star game has been less documented. Taking a peek at his game log shows that he is taking it to another level. Davis has played 16 games since the All-Star Break. In one (@ Dallas on February 26th), Davis was injured in the second quarter, scoring just 6 points while corralling 9 rebounds in just 13 minutes. In two other games (@ Clippers on March 1st and @ Kings on March 3rd), Davis was either in foul trouble from the tip (LAC) or just ice cold (SAC). Three pretty rough games for a variety of reasons.
Take a look at his Basketball Reference game log. We have his three bad games all with single digit game scores. Read more about Game Score here. Since the Charlotte game (when AD really took off), he also has 11 games with a game score of 21 or better. In those 11 games, Davis has scored at least 26 points and snagged 9 rebounds in each. Looking at the NBA Leaders and wondering how it is Davis that averages more points per game than Dirk Nowitzki, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, and John Wall? This supernova stretch is why.
Put the Team on His Back
The wheels on this team should have fallen off. They came out of the All-Star Break losing three straight games in increasingly painful fashion. First, the Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks just out-executed the Pelicans in a seven point game. The Pelicans led with 2:28 to go. Then the Bobcats escaped with a three point victory in Charlotte. Eric Gordon missed a free throw to tie the game with just eleven seconds remaining. Putting a bow on #MontyBall, AD's potential game winning free throws were erased by Nene and Monty's curious decision to defend John Wall with Brian Roberts. Four more straight losses to Western Conference playoff teams and a loss to Sacramento brought a painful losing streak to eight.
There were signs of hope at the end of that road trip though. Tyreke Evans, despite being locked in an elevator, was moved into the starting lineup and the returns have been remarkably promising.
Tyreke's last 11 games. Probably good. 20.8 PPG 5.9 APG 5.5 RPG 1.5 SPG 53.5% FG% 40.0% 3pt% 83.6% FT% pic.twitter.com/RQ8bBrTZH6— David Fisher (@usnfish) March 23, 2014
Coming off an ice cold night, on the second night of a back-to-back against the Lakers who had narrowly beat Portland in the Rose Garden, Anthony Davis decided he had had enough. 17 points in the first quarter on 6/7 from the field should have been our first clue that he had shaken off the frost from Sacramento. He went on to tally 32 points and 15 rebounds in the Pelicans first win in three weeks. After a 29 and 14 in a second win over Milwaukee, Davis was dominant against Denver, racking up 32 points (to tie his then career high) and 17 rebounds in an overtime victory over the Nuggets.
Despite missing both Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon due to illness, Davis nearly carried the team himself to a win against Memphis, AD's first game after his 21st birthday. Evans and Gordon returned against Portland, but Lillard Time struck hard in the fourth quarter. The Pelicans were again on a losing streak, this time despite the Unibrow's best efforts. Could he do more?
Yes, yes Anthony Davis found himself capable of more. Against the Boston Celtics, Davis would not allow his team to lose. 40 points, 21 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 blocks later, New Orleans squeaked out a one point victory. Fortunately for the Toronto Raptors, Davis came down with an upper respiratory infection causing him to miss their March 19th match-up. So the Pelicans could beat the Lakers, Bucks, Nuggets, and Celtics. Hardly murderer's row. How would they fair against three consecutive Eastern Conference playoff teams?
Better Competition Cannot Slow Davis
Two victories in a row, we have an answer. The Atlanta Hawks, riding high with a five game winning streak with the Knicks closing (on their own eight game winning streak), were unable to slow down Anthony Davis. Monty Williams suddenly discovering Luke Babbitt was still on the roster, had to help. Davis poured in 34 points and 11 rebounds, including the game-sealing FTs, were instrumental in getting the win.
Miami, the defending NBA Champions, staggered into New Orleans on the second half of a back-to-back of their own. As such, both Dwayne Wade and Greg Oden did not dress. It is important to note that the Pelicans were without Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson, and Jason Smith. Holiday still leads the team in assists per game, Anderson is still second in points per game, Jason Smith started 27 games this season. Are any one of those players the same caliber as Wade? No. Is missing three of your top six rotation players a bigger deal than missing just one? Of course.
Anthony Davis put up an impressive 30 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 steals to beat the Heat. Even more impressive than his scoring, was his ability to defend multiple positions and direct defensive traffic. While Davis has stated he is not a rah-rah kind of player, that does not mean he cannot quarterback the defense.
In fact, as Davis matures as a basketball leader, his voice needs to become predominant on the defensive end, much in the way Kevin Garnett led the Celtics defense under Doc Rivers and Tom Thibodeau. This summer's schedule includes training camp and potentially nine games in the 2014 FIBA World Cup under the tutelage of Thibodeau. That should further develop AD's communication skills. Spending a great deal of August and September surrounded by the likes of Kevin Durant and Kevin Love will help continue AD's development. Who knows, maybe Davis can even convince Love to move down to New Orleans?
Last summer, Davis was determined to improve his jump shot. He shot 29.36% (64/218) outside the lane and had to improve to become a legitimate pick and pop threat. This season the Unibrow is shooting 42.2% (138/327) and has even hit two corner threes, a shot he did not attempt in his rookie season. Monty Williams also wanted Davis to put on weight over the summer. AD responded by packing on 10-12 pounds. What is on his to do list this summer? Add the corner three as a consistent part of his offensive arsenal would be my suggestion. Improvement in the post (he scores just .85 PPP according to Synergy Sports) may also be on the docket. Either piece (or both) would be a great start.
Davis is in the midst of the greatest season by a 20 year old in NBA history. Instead of a typical sophomore slump, Pelican fans have been treated to a supernova.