This will not come as news to anyone who follows the NBA, but since they have a few other scoring options on the roster these days, it still needs to be said, the playoff chances, and even respectable record chances, of the New Orleans Pelicans will rely heavily on the health and production of Anthony Davis. The truth is, that while it may not be great if this is always the case, it comes with the territory of being the first overall pick, which Davis was in 2012, especially if your selection comes on the heels of leading the University of Kentucky to a National Championship.
While Davis is a unique talent who didn’t miss a single game in his one year in Lexington (40 games), unfortunately for him and the Pelicans, his NBA career hasn’t gone as accordingly. During his four seasons in the league, he has never appeared in more than 68 games due to a variety of injuries. He has suffered injuries all over his body, covering 13 different body parts. Pretty much if you name it, he’s probably injured it. Adding to that, this season got off to an ominous start when Davis suffered a sprained ankle in the preseason, but what happened next gave the team some hope.
Davis was expected to miss 10-14 days, but he returned in only eight days and exploded for 33 points and 13 rebounds in the Pelicans final preseason tuneup, a 114-111 loss to the Orlando Magic. Despite the loss, the team had much to celebrate because their oft-injured star was able to return quicker than initially presumed. New Orleans will need a healthy Davis to be able to put up numbers like he did this past Wednesday and Friday, while some of his supporting cast deal with injuries, personal issues and a slew of shooting slumps.
Anthony Davis' unbelievable 50-point performance wasn't enough to lift the Pelicans over the Nuggets. pic.twitter.com/F7zNvpy5t5— SLAM Magazine (@SLAMonline) October 27, 2016
Unlike years past, Davis has strong talent around him, including Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday, but he’s had to start the season without both of them. Evans is still rehabbing a knee injury and won’t return for at least another month, and Holiday remains away from the team with his wife who recently gave birth to a baby girl and had a brain tumor removed. While the baby is healthy and the surgery to remove the tumor went well, there is more hope than a concrete timetable on when Holiday might rejoin the team.
One player who will have the opportunity to fill the void left by the absences of Evans and Holiday is first round pick Buddy Hield. Selected sixth overall, the injuries to Evans and Holiday will give him an opportunity to showcase his talent and he could be the second part of a formidable tandem with Davis. In his senior year at Oklahoma, Hield averaged 25 points per game, hitting 50 percent of his field goals and 45 percent from three-point range.
While it could take some time for him to develop the chemistry needed to succeed with Davis, Hield, who began the season coming off the bench, is a favorite for Rookie Of The Year, though, one probably needs to be able to conveniently forget the team’s first two losses on the schedule because Buddy has failed completely to live up to his famed moniker of Buckets.
Bottom line, don’t despair. Better-suited pieces are clearly in place this season, but it looks like it’s going to take time. Several deep-freezes require thawing, and it’d be beneficial to have the best two players after the superstar on the roster available. And although the Pelicans may not peak until after the All-Star break, don’t rule out New Orleans competing for a chance to return to the playoffs for the first time since the 2014-15 season when they were swept in four quick games by Golden State.
Why still the preposterous optimism?
Open your eyes — Anthony Davis is currently the league’s deadliest weapon. He appears poised to have the type of season that can lead the team to exceed expectations, and for this reason, I believe he may be the odds-on favorite to win league MVP honors.