It can be hard not to lament the past seven seasons of Anthony Davis’ time in New Orleans.
A Pelicans 254-318 record hardly befits one of the game’s greatest and most unique talents on both ends of the floor. The five-time All-Star, three-time All-NBA selection and three-time All-Defensive Team superstar has been that and more for the city of New Orleans.
And, at just 25 years of age, Anthony Davis’ best years probably lie ahead.
But as Tom Haberstroh of NBC Sports pointed out, injuries have been a catastrophic roadblock toward the success that the Pelicans expected when they drafted Anthony Davis first overall in 2012.
“Over the last five seasons, the Pelicans have lost the second-most games due to injury or illness,” Haberstroh wrote. “Only the Sixers have fared worse over the last five seasons, which has been well-chronicled.”
The Philadelphia 76ers get a pass, being quite willing to rest their temporarily damaged youth in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid as the urgency to win was hardly paramount under general manager Sam Hinkie’s “Process.”
What excuse for such staggering numbers do the Pelicans have?
In words shared with the Athletic’s Senior writer, Joe Vardon, Anthony Davis hardly conceded his time in New Orleans as done, instead focusing on what could have been, and what still may be:
“Just imagine if we had DeMarcus through the whole thing last year. We think we coulda won it all. The frustrating part, you just don’t know how good your team can be if everybody gets hurt.”
Anthony Davis has made his real intentions for his upcoming ‘pre-agency’ clear on more than several occasions. Last year he told Adrian Wojnarowski that winning trumped all else, mentioning the buzzword 22 times in the published piece. When Vardon asked what legacy means to him, he went on to mention it four more times:
“Winning first. Individual performance. Team success.”
AD’s frustrations and disappointments were as abundant as they were raw in his candid interview. So too, was his faith that the Pelicans could have given him the lasting success and legacy he longs for, if things had just gone a little differently. Yes, it can be hard to gloss over multiple failures over seven collective seasons, but he truly believes the potential was and is still there.
“The only thing that matters to me is this team right here, and all I can do to help this team win and what we can do as a team to get more wins,” said Davis. “The other stuff is for guys outside the team, and media, whoever wants to look at it. For me, it’s about this team and what we can do to win.”
If we take Davis at his word, the potential for a happy marriage is still attainable.
It will take diligence and cunning maneuvers from the front office, renewed faith in head coach Alvin Gentry’s system and Darren Erman’s defensive philosophies. It will take proper execution to close games and it will take defensive ‘grit and grind’ as Davis declared after the 114-112 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.
And maybe most important of all, it will take health.
The Pelicans have less than the requisite depth to challenge opposing franchises 1-8, and continued absences like those of Elfrid Payton (31 games) and Nikola Mirotic (15 games) could dismantle the legacy Anthony Davis seeks to build in New Orleans.
Payton’s availability cannot be overstated. Obviously his presence allows teammates to better suited roles, but his quickened pace accelerates the team’s scoring in a way that Tim Frazier could not consistently duplicate.
#Pelicans are averaging 127.1 pts in the seven games Payton has played significant minutes (20+). Their lowest offensive output in any of those games was 116-109 win over LAC on Oct. 23. In the seven Payton high-minutes games, Pels have shot 44% on threes (34% in other games)— Jim Eichenhofer (@Jim_Eichenhofer) January 6, 2019
Nikola Mirotic was enjoying his best season to date before multiple ankle injuries sidelined him just when the Pelicans needed him most. Averaging 17.4 points and 9.2 rebounds to 54% EFG, Mirotic’s spacing and size give the Pelicans the continuous area for dribble penetration, runners, floaters and backdoor sneak attacks.
Should the Pelicans trot out the five-man lineup that defeated the Rockets and Kings by a combined 39 points to open the season and outscored opponents 30 points per 100 possessions in 65 minutes played, there hardly exists an insurmountable foe in the Western Conference to slow them.
An offense that could be close to finding it’s groove again with Payton back in the mix.
“Gotta wait and see what happens. Can’t predict the future.” — Anthony Davis