An element of bracket nostalgia brings reflection of last year’s March Madness and the talent that shined on the biggest stage.
It was less than a year ago that Anthony Davis cut down nets as the Most Valuable Player of the Kentucky Wildcats’ NCAA Championship.
Now, the NBA rookie is quietly progressing as an interior asset with a ceiling much higher than his 6’10” stature.
And the kid just turned 20.
Davis is eventually going to become royalty in the NBA.
The 220-pounder was supposed to be too skinny for this league, a body type that wouldn’t manage the inside strengths of the pro game. If he was going to add weight, which didn’t seem likely, he could lose his quickness.
But the No. 1 overall pick is already producing at the next level, scoring 13.1 points per game on 51.3 percent shooting and averaging 7.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks.
It isn’t supposed to be this easy for rookie post players, especially for a guy like Davis who played as a teenager up until his birthday on March 11.
The transition to the NBA post is difficult, as boys transition from the favorable mismatches of college to the physical grit of grown men in the pros.
The league requires its bigs to become immovable objects in the paint, and to fully understand leverage for inside positioning takes time. Navigating a back-to-the-basket game, comprised of post footwork and maneuvering for high-percentage finishes, requires a learning curve that only experience can provide.
The league has proven an easier transition for guards, a point demonstrated by Rookie of the Year favorite, 22-year-old Damian Lillard. The No. 6 pick has become an immediate veteran point in running the Portland Trail Blazers' offense at 19.1 points and 6.5 assists per game.
If Lillard is Reggie Bush, then Davis might be Mario Williams.
The near mythical success of Lillard has taken up much of the spotlight, imparting a shade over the pressures on Davis as the top overall pick.
Davis has been lucky that the hype has escaped his development within a mostly hidden New Orleans scene. The Hornets' record is one of the league’s worst, but that ensures the pressures to win don’t outweigh the luxuries to develop.
The Kentucky product is only continuing his progression, finishing his rookie campaign with increased productivity, averaging 16.8 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in March.
His play was on display in one of his last games as a teenager on March 9, when he tallied 20 points and 18 rebounds in an exhibition of his versatility and talent against the defensive toughness of the Memphis Grizzlies:
Jimmy Smith of the New Orleans Times-Picayune asked Hornets coach Monty Williams about Anthony's development:
"At this point," Williams said, "we want him to use his speed and quickness against guys who are stronger than he is. He's had so much put on him, you spend a lot of time trying to protect him from that. But he's certainly handled the task.
"As he gets stronger, he's going to have a better jump shot, he's going to be able to develop a post move. This summer, we're going to work on a go-to move for him that he can go-to. His weak-side defense is going to have to get better. But with his ability to block shots, I think that's going to make him a defensive stud some day, especially on the weak side."
The coach compared Davis to LaMarcus Aldridge, whom he coached in Portland. Aldridge entered the league around the same weight as Davis, but now at 27 weighs 240 pounds—and Williams said that Davis actually has a bigger frame.
Strength may prevent injuries, which took a bite of Davis' year.
He missed 13 games earlier this season due to a concussion and a stress fracture in his ankle. But he's not soft; he has recently played through a sprained shoulder that did cost him two games on Feb. 27 and March 1.
Even though Rookie of the Year honors will belong to Lillard, the numbers of Davis stand out among rookies. Davis' player efficiency rating of 21.42 is best among rookies who average 20 minutes or more.
He's the only rookie shooting higher than 50 percent of any guy averaging at least 10 attempts, and he has the most double-doubles of any first-year player. He also leads all rookies in rebounds, blocks and steals.
Davis still needs to work on his range though. While he is shooting 67 percent in the restricted area and 47 percent in the paint, he is still at just 28 percent from mid-range, according to NBA.com's advanced stats.
Greatness is rarely established from the outset of a post player’s career; not everyone is Shaquille O’Neal or Tim Duncan.
But Anthony’s star will continue to rise as his inside play becomes valuable enough to pioneer success in New Orleans.
Long, talented big men are rare in today’s NBA, and Davis is proving to have all the tools to be a special player and a staple of the league's future.
Who will have a better career: Davis or Lillard? Tweet NBA Lead Writer Jimmy Spencer at @JimmySpencerNBA.