A Picture Worth 1000 Words
As anticipated, the US won the "first" FIBA World Cup, renamed from the previous FIBA World Championship. Davis was dominant during the tour and group play. Once Team USA entered the knockout stages the combination of poor shooting, lack of free throw attempts, and foul trouble really limited his effectiveness.
Despite not scoring at his previous team-leading clip, Davis was an integral part of the team's success. Throughout the nine game tournament Davis blocked 19 shots. The previous Team USA high in the Coach K era (since 2006) was 12 by Dwight Howard in the 2006 FIBA World Championship. No player since has blocked more than 8 in a tournament. His importance was not lost by the SBNation writing team.
Anthony Davis is my MVP. But then he sat most of this game, and Team USA still rolled.— Tom Ziller (@teamziller) September 14, 2014
I’m still going with Anthony Davis as the FIBA MVP but Harden, Kyrie or Faried works too.— Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) September 14, 2014
The award ultimately went to Kyrie Irving, who simply could not miss in the championship game.
|Brazil - 8/16||26||9||15||2||2||8||5||1||20|
|Dominican - 8/20||16||3||6||1||2||4||2||1||7|
|Puerto Rico - 8/22||21||3||6||4||6||5||3||1||10|
|Slovenia - 8/26||19||5||8||8||11||9||5||3||18|
|Finland - 8/30||14||6||8||5||5||4||0||0||17|
|Turkey - 8/31||26||8||11||3||5||6||2||2||19|
|New Zealand - 9/2||22||7||13||7||10||9||1||2||21|
|Dominican - 9/3||20||5||10||0||0||7||5||0||10|
|Ukraine - 9/4||21||6||9||0||0||6||1||1||12|
|Mexico - 9/6||20||2||9||0||0||6||4||2||4|
|Slovenia - 9/9||21||5||11||3||4||11||3||0||13|
|Lithuania - 9/11||19||4||7||0||0||6||2||0||8|
|Serbia - 9/14||14||2||4||3||4||4||1||1||7|
For the entire summer Davis was second in points (Harden - 180), second in rebounds (Faried - 97), and first in blocked shots (Klay Thompson was second with 10). Davis recorded 40% (34) of the 85 shots blocked by Team USA. He played less than half (259/520) of the available minutes.
Davis's true impact, however, was not in shots blocked or even shots altered. His mere presence in the lane (thanks in no small part to the conservative pick and roll scheme of Assistant Coach Tom Thibodeau) deterred most opponents from even attempting to drive at the basket. On a team starting known defensive sieves Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry, and James Harden it was Davis who allowed those players to defend passing lanes aggressively.
Or sometimes to simply have a picnic at the top of the key.
The hope among many Pelican fans was that Davis would use the World Cup to springboard into this season, much as Kevin Durant did in 2010. Unfortunately with the tournament ending how it did some, like Marc Stein in this article, posit that this is just a matter of the US distancing themselves from the rest of the world. No individual US player had a dominant tournament. Each player had bouts of uneven play but despite it the US ran away from each and every opponent in the third quarter at the latest.
Ryan Schwan and Michael McNamara discussed the roster in their podcast a few weeks ago as the World Cup was just beginning. Specifically concerning to them was the lack of veteran leadership that Davis could learn from in Spain. During the 2012 Olympics there were LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, and Chris Paul to observe on and off the court. Consummate professionals dedicated to the craft of making themselves excellent basketball players. The 2014 roster lacked players with that drive (beyond hypothetically Steph Curry) or cache in the NBA.
While I agree that this team clearly lacks a superstar to learn from, I believe that made the experience even more valuable to Anthony Davis going forward. In a starting lineup surrounded by superstars it was up to Davis (and Thibodeau from the bench screaming his head off) to quarterback the defense. Harden's naps off the ball aside, the pick and roll coverage was solid to excellent throughout the tournament.
Davis can take that on court leadership (and hopefully implant Thibodeau's defensive philosophy into Monty's head) into the Pelican locker room this year and put it to use. Before last season with a number of players older and more established in the league (if not actually better basketball players) who was going to lead was a real question for the Pelicans. Thanks to injuries and Davis exceeding even the highest expectations during the season there is not a question now. This experience with Team USA only helps cement Davis's position.
Training Camp opens in just two weeks with the first preseason game in just 18 days. Our "long" off-season wait is almost over.