Anthony Davis is ready to cement his place atop the list of the NBA’s best big men, and the loss of DeMarcus Cousins for the duration of the 2017-18 season has given him a ripe opportunity to do so. Davis has received the consistent knock of not producing a winning team, but thus far, this postseason has begun to erase those doubts as Davis and company just completed its sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers to kick off what could be a historic playoff run.
Indeed, all things seem to be coming together for the Pelicans, and Davis’ dominance is peaking at just the right time. He turned in some outstanding games against the Blazers, making Jusuf Nurkic appear ever-so slowfooted and out of place against arguably the quickest big to grace the Association since David Robinson. Davis’ speed and agility makes him a tough cover for limber 4s and 5s, never mind the likes of Nurkic, who could not help but commit silly fouls in desperation as Davis simply went berserk in round one.
Remember just two seasons ago when the majority of GMs picked Karl-Anthony Towns over Davis while faced with the “Which big would you start a franchise with?” dilemma. Undoubtedly, that has since flip-flopped back to Davis. He finished the Blazers series with averages of 33 points, 12 rebounds, 4.5 blocks/steals and 1.3 assists per game, while playing 38 minutes a night in four games the Pelicans easily seized. Next round, he will face an entirely different challenge, but no doubt it is one that Davis is ready to take on with his open-arms and massive wingspan.
Davis and the Pels will likely be drawing a matchup against the Warriors, which means an entirely different set of challenges on both ends of the court. For starters, Golden State is likely to go small often, putting do-it-all defender and Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green on “Brow.”
While Green certainly plays much larger than his listed 6’7”, it seems to almost defy logic to believe he has any chance of covering Davis. Accordingly, Golden State’s strategy may be to simply let Davis “get his,” while hoping to limit the supporting cast of the Pelicans, particularly Jrue Holiday—who is playing some insane ball in his own right. Moreover, Holiday’s defense on both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson will prove crucial enough in its own right, which puts the Pelicans at a slight disadvantage having its No. 2 scorer so heavily relied up on defensively.
But back to the statement notion, and what a statement it would be if Davis and the Pelicans managed to knock the defending champions out of the 2018 postseason. The Warriors really do not have any 5s capable of covering Davis, and Zaza Pachulia stands hardly more of a chance than Nurkic did last round. It is just that the Dubs are so loaded, that even the substantial advantage the Pelicans have at the 5-spot might not be enough.
There is still the issue of slowing Kevin Durant with either Solomon Hill or E’Twaun Moore. That is a losing proposition. And there is the fact that the Dubs have home court advantage at one of the most raucous venues in the NBA. The chips are stacked against New Orleans, and somehow, it seems the Pelicans might just prefer that.
After all, titles are not won by knocking off chumps, and even if the Warriors were not the draw, the Pelicans would still likely be out-matched by a Houston Rockets team that no one really wants to face either.
The notion of New Orleans being an underdog is hardly new, but the addition of Nikola Mirotic has added an entire new dimension to the offense. Suggesting that the subtraction of Cousins is the reason for the success is short-sighted and shallow. It is more that Mirotic was a “missing piece” of sorts, than arguing Cousins inhibited Davis, or any other nonsensical notion along those lines.
Is a two-big lineup ultimately for the best? That is another topic for another day. The point is, that for now, Davis is unimpeded in making as massive a footprint as he wants on this postseason. Call it the “Postseason of the Brow.” It has been long in coming, and Davis is ready to wipe slate the ridiculous notion that he is “not a winner,” or “not a leader” or whatever other garbage pundits have thrown out throughout the struggles the Pelicans have endured most of his NBA career.
As for whether Cousins and Davis are ultimately best paired or apart can be addressed in the offseason. Cousins still has an injury to rehab from, and he might not be as hotly pursued by other NBA clubs do it (then again, maybe he is, as a franchise talent is still a game changer, declined or whatever).
For the time being, enjoy the Brow. Enjoy Holiday, Mirotic, and a Rajon Rondo that has saved his best for the postseason. The time for doubters to begin eating those printed tweets has arrived, and while this writer is certainly unsurprised by the Pelicans advancing, the convincing fashion and sweep by which it did so, caught even me off-guard.