It’s no secret the sports brain is hardwired for hierarchy—to understand how and why specific players and teams rank above or below their peers. Heck, the debate is what makes it so fun.
But it’s particularly powerful when it’s a player—one of the bona fide best, in fact—who weighs in with his or her own perspective.
Following a recent USA Basketball practice, Kevin Durant made it clear who he believes is next in line for the basketball throne: New Orleans Pelicans’ third-year sensation, Anthony Davis. From NBA.com’s Jim Eichenhofer:
"I know how good [Davis] is going to be," Durant said. "I know how good he is now, but I know how good he’s going to be. He’s an MVP-caliber player. So he’s next. He’s next in line – a guy that has grown so much in just a year."
Durant went on to cite Davis’ offseason work habits as a harbinger of things to come:
You can tell he’s getting bulkier, getting bigger, more confident. You can tell he’s working. I’m excited for him. He’s a good friend of mine. I’ve seen him since he was a junior in high school. His growth from then to now is just phenomenal. He’s just growing every single day. He’s moving up the ladder every single day. It’s scary. Scary.
Speaking as someone who just took Davis fourth overall in a super-secret Bleacher Report draft, this author is in no position to disagree.
And neither are the numbers, for that matter:
You’d have a hard time finding a park bench’s worth of fans who don’t expect the 6’10” Davis—a freakish athlete with a guard’s handle, an ever-deadlier jumper and mid-air defensive instincts of a ravenous pterodactyl—to completely explode.
Helping the U.S. bring home the gold in the FIBA World Cup would certainly be a step in the right direction. In fact, head coach Mike Krzyzewski is already calling Davis his “main guy,” according to NOLA.com’s Jimmy Smith.
Just how good can Davis really be? Back in March, Sports Illustrated’s Rob Mahoney penned a brilliant analysis on what makes the Pelicans’ pivot such a freakish force of nature:
Such dramatic change in Davis' second season puts him way ahead of his developmental curve, and perhaps positions him to be a more overtly dominant offensive player than many anticipated. The pick-and-roll success was a given; players as long and lithe as Davis tend to give opponents fits when utilized on the move, and from his first day in the league Davis was deadly when aimed toward the basket. It's the other flourishes that have improbably brought Davis to the brink of the league's top 10 in scoring: The isolation play, the catch-and-shoot accuracy, the quiet aptitude from the low block…It's one thing to have a potentially dominant defender as a cornerstone piece, but quite another to build around one of the league's most promising two-way players.
So yeah, good luck finding Anthony Davis haters.
From coaches to fellow stars, the praise being heaped upon Davis is rare, if not exactly unprecedented. Durant was viewed in a similarly laudatory light following his 2007-08 rookie season. And LeBron James, well, he’s been LeBron James practically since middle school.
Davis, for all his undeniable talent, never enjoyed quite the sentimental trajectory. Until now.
With Team USA entering the World Cup relatively thin in the frontcourt, the focus on Davis—and to a similar degree, DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Drummond—is sure to be acute.
But for one NBA superstar, Team USA’s unibrowed superhero has already passed the eye test. With flying limbs.