Going into the 2015-16 NBA season, Anthony Davis and his Pelican team was a media darling. They were coming off a postseason appearance and employed a legit future star who donned a signature brow and a No. 23 jersey. The Pelicans were expected to make a leap from up and coming fringe playoff team to potential top-4 seed, and Davis was supposed to be lauded in praises and MVP trophies. In a preseason survey, 86 percent of the NBA’s 30 general managers said they would pick Davis if they were starting a franchise and could sign any player. Everything was trending upward for the Pelicans.
Unfortunately, New Orleans bucked the trend as injuries derailed everything, including Davis’ season, and the Pelicans kersplatted into a 30-52 record.
The biggest headline Davis made was missing out on $25 million due to not being voted an All-Star starter or picked a member of any of the three All-NBA teams. And when NBA general managers were asked who they’d start a franchise with coming into this season, Karl-Anthony Towns got the nod; Davis was relegated to “others receiving votes.”
Maybe Davis was miffed about losing out on $25 million. Maybe the adulation at Towns, the reigning Rookie of the Year, got Davis heated. Maybe this 2016-17 season was a Rocky III analogy with Davis playing Rocky: the champ, with everything in his hands, lost it all to an up and coming adversary in Towns and worked his way back to the top thanks in large part to an unintentionally hilarious beach running scene.
If last season was Davis’ decline, the 2016-17 was a glorious vengeance spree where Davis came for all those who dared suggest someone other than he was the future of the league. It was bloody. It was scary. It was downright beautiful to watch.
Davis wasted no time in reasserting his dominance over the league: in the season opener against Denver, Davis had 50 points, 15 rebounds, five assists, five steals and four blocks. Two nights later Davis dropped 45 and 17 on the Warriors. The problem, however, was that Davis’ efforts weren’t rewarded with wins, and that continued to be a frustrating theme. Over New Orleans’ first 10 games, Davis scored at least 30 points in seven of them; but the Pelicans tallied just a 1-9 record.
Davis was largely absolved from criticism for the Pelicans poor start as he did just about all anyone could possibly expect from a single player. He was just without proper aid. Buddy Hield was a rookie and very much played like one. Solomon Hill was being paid like a star small forward but continued to play like the reserve he was in his last season with the Pacers. Jrue Holiday had to tend to his ill wife and Tyreke Evans was injured. If the Pelicans had any chance at winning, Davis would have to dominate and play like a top-five player.
And dominate he did.
Davis finished the season with eight 40-point games and scored at least 30 in 28 others. There were 49 games where he grabbed at least 10 rebounds, 24 where he had 15 or more and even had three games where he surpassed 20 boards. Davis set his career best with 22 rebounds against Miami.
Okay, that’s a whole lot of numbers, but to give them some context, have a look at how several of his performances really stood out.
Anthony Davis (95) and Michael Jordan (91) are the only 2 players over the last 50 years to score 90 points in their team's first 2 games. pic.twitter.com/81IDQ0regw— ESPN (@espn) October 29, 2016
Most 40-20 games in last 30 seasons— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 12, 2017
Shaquille O'Neal 4
Anthony Davis 3
Davis also got the job done defensively and served as the catalyst for New Orleans’ resurgence on the other end. Davis was second to only Rudy Gobert in blocks per game with 2.2. He would also average 1.3 steals a game which tied him for eighth in the league with a glutton of other players.
But, Davis saved his best performance for the NBA’s biggest stage. With New Orleans playing host for All-Star weekend, Davis put on a show for his home and the entire basketball world with a record-setting 52-point performance en route to winning the game’s MVP award.
Davis’ All-Star Weekend turned from good to great when the Pelicans traded for DeMarcus Cousins. It took some time for the team to get acclimated to Cousins, but Davis continued to shine regardless. In their first three games together, Davis posted 29 and 9 against Houston, 39 and 14 at Dallas, and 38 and 7 in Oklahoma City. The Pelicans lost all three games and Cousins would be suspended for the team’s fourth game post-All Star break, but it was no matter: Davis carried the Pelicans to a 23 point win over the Pistons and scored 33 points and 14 rebounds in the process. Exactly ten days later, on his 24th birthday, Davis treated himself to 46 points and 21 rebounds in Charlotte.
Statistically, the 2016-17 season was the best of his five-year career. Davis averaged a career high in both points (28.0) and rebounds (11.8), and perhaps most importantly, he played in a career-best 75 games. He became the first player in franchise history to surpass 2,000 points in a season. Not surprisingly, selections to both the All-NBA and All-Defense teams are expected.
Coming into this 2016-17 season, there were doubts about Anthony Davis. His talent was never questioned, but would he ever win or is he doomed to be the second coming of Kevin Garnett? Would he ever be able to stay healthy or would one minor injury pile on top of another injury and keep us from seeing Davis’ potential fully realized?
Anthony Davis used the 2016-17 season to answer the latter question with a resounding “yes” and made us look foolish for doubting him. Hopefully, he can do the same for the former come next season.