On the heels of his first visit to the second round of the NBA playoffs — after an unexpected sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers in Round 1 — and earning third place in both the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year Awards, Anthony Davis is more poised than ever to wrap his hands around the elusive Maurice Podoloff trophy.
Obviously, this confident feeling is due to the strongest of performances last year. Davis put the New Orleans Pelicans on his back after DeMarcus Cousins was lost for the season, and after playing back-to-back 75-game seasons, he has tempered those injury plagued accusations that have saddled him and the team over his four prior seasons. However, I believe there is more to it than that.
Going back to last season, expectations were high throughout New Orleans, despite plenty of initial non-belief on the national level. However, Davis and Cousins were thought about as potential MVP candidates should New Orleans find a successful #RealBig formula. On a preseason edition of The Bird Calls Podcast — host, Preston Ellis asked Oleh Kosel (editor of The Bird Writes) and myself which Pelican was most likely to win the MVP should the Pelicans make that kind of award earning run. Both Oleh and I agreed that Anthony Davis would be the best player and the main reason for success, but that DeMarcus Cousins’ story, his personality and his tendency to dominate the ball, could steal the spotlight from Davis, landing him the MVP mainly due to his vibe.
Anthony Davis is more of a muted superstar — he was more likely to take a backseat despite being the better and more important player. True to form, we saw this play out early as Cousins posted some huge games and the national media began to insert his name into the MVP conversation.
There was this article from USA Today.
BOOGIE! Have you looked at his numbers lately?
29.4 ppg, 13.6 rpg, 5.9 apg, 1.6 spg, 2.1 bpg, 49 FG%
That’s absurd! And he’s doing it with Anthony Davis playing. Oh and he’s hitting over two three pointers while we’re at it.
Vice Sports also got on the Boogie MVP hype-train early with a very in-depth piece supporting their case.
Three weeks into the 2017-18 NBA season, DeMarcus Cousins has been no worse than the league’s fifth-best player. He’s 27 years old, off to the most efficient start of his career, on a team that would make the playoffs if the season ended today.
Before you write him and New Orleans off for all the rational reasons one might lean towards doing just that, please look at these averages: 28.2 points, 14.0 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.6 blocks per game. Basic numbers are almost useless without context and further exploration, but it’s hard to argue that anyone posting these on a nightly basis isn’t helping his team win. They are farcical figures. The grand list of players in history who normalized this box score for an entire season amounts to two: Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor. Ho hum, nothing to see here.
These types of articles and stumping for DeMarcus were soapboxed from newspapers to blogs to podcasts to sports shouting shows to Twitter to bar stools everywhere — precisely what Oleh and I were expecting. Cousins was off to a great start, but his personality and the story of the once malcontent wasted talent finding a home and being that dominant force everyone expected him to be out of college was stealing some of the shine of his even more impressive and talented teammate. He was like Method Man or Ghostface Killah, shinning out in front while AD was the RZA on the boards making the beats and bringing the whole thing together.
Then Cousins got injured and Davis again became the face of the Pelicans to close out the season with a strong push for the MVP.
Then Boogie bolted to the Bay.
Important to this story, Cousins wasn’t the only one to take his strong personality out West. Rajon Rondo would shock the team, the city and the NBA by signing a one-year, $9M deal with the Los Angeles Lakers. Rondo was equally applauded and castigated by fans and media who couldn’t seem to meet in the middle to find what his true value was to the Pelicans’ success. You’d hear about his shooting inabilities, his defensive liabilities, his lack of effort and his assist hunting from an angry mob in one ear, and about his amazing basketball IQ, his leadership and his brilliant playmaking in the other. The truth is delicately balancing on a unicycle in a highwire act across the large gully separating the two schools of thought.
Similarly, Rondo’s replacement — the Westbank’s own Elfrid Payton — is a divisive player to one group he’s a perfect replacement for the glowing version of Rajon, to other’s he’s a borderline NBA player at best. I’m on Team Payton, but the one concern for me is that he doesn’t have that leadership, strong personality and insane basketball IQ that Rajon Rondo brought to the locker room. However, outside of the IQ, the lack of the fiery personality and leadership skills may be a slight blessing.
Anthony Davis, a relatively quiet and almost reluctant star for the entirety of his career thus far (not on Kawhi’s level, but he doesn’t bring that alpha mentality to the off court aspects of basketball stardom), will be the dominant and loudest personality in the locker room of monks Dell Demps has assembled. It sounds like he’s ready to shine in his new role, issuing a challenge to all those who are not his teammates. Check out what he said about DeMarcus Cousins joining the Golden State Warriors.
“I wish the best of luck to him and we’ll see him three maybe four times this year, and try to beat him, said Davis. “Now he’s the enemy. Anybody who’s not on the Pelicans is an enemy to me. He went from a teammate to an enemy.”
AD is now clearly piloting a successful franchise that took a roster that maybe didn’t look like a title contender in the West, but did look like a team no one wants to play and added players that project to either replicate what was lost in the case of Elfrid Payton, or add increased defensive flexibility, athleticism, selflessness and work ethic like Julius Randle. Randle will handle a lot of the dirty work. He’ll inspire with his work ethic (we are already seeing Elfrid Payton who has been criticized for his lack of offseason improvements in the past working with Randle’s trainer), and his passing ability, versatility, lower usage, and ability to run, will be better fits for the offense and defensive schemes Alvin Gentry, Chris Finch and Darren Erman want to run.
All of this should make Anthony Davis more efficient and freer to roam on defense — this is a scary thought for the rest of the league!
Sometimes having two Beyonces is too much. The Pelicans found some Destiny’s Children to give the spotlight back to Davis while also going platinum. These moves combined with the Pelicans stretch to close the regular season and their playoff performance made it no surprise that ESPN has Davis 2nd only to LeBron James in the MVP race heading into the season.
These ESPN’s rankings are interesting considering Bristol insider Kelvin Pelton has the Los Angeles Lakers finishing 9th in the West — keeping them out of the playoffs, and eliminating any chance LeBron has at winning the MVP. However, ESPN and Vegas both agree that the Pelicans will be back in the post season as a 7th seed.
The 7th seed may not be enough to net Davis the most prized hardware, but the national media and Los Vegas have had a habit of underrating the Pelicans. Last season, the Vegas line was 40 wins for New Orleans and CBS had them at 42.8. The Pelicans would win 48 games — 6th in the West — despite losing their 2nd star in January. I believe the Pels will jump one spot to the 5th seed as they are once again overlooked but exceed expectations and improve upon last season’s run with Anthony Davis clearly the face of the franchise.
The next MVP Award should be his to lose.
In celebration of the 2018-19 Pelicans roster construct, I will extend this case for Davis having his most talented team that best enables him to shine in a follow up where I power rank every player he’s ever played with. Stay tuned.