If you’ve happened upon practice footage from Team USA’s pre-FIBA Basketball World Cup training camp, chances are your eyes beheld a truly traumatizing sight: a better, quicker and—most terrifying of all—bigger Anthony Davis.
NBA fans already know him as one of the league's most exciting up-and-comers.
Now it’s time to unleash him on the world.
With Kevin Love announcing his withdrawal from next month’s festivities in Spain, head coach Mike Krzyzewski will be leaning harder than he ever thought he would on the 6’10” Kentucky product.
Not that Davis will be manning the frontcourt by himself—DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Drummond hope to state their case for next-generation greatness as well.
And what a stage it promises to be.
Scheduled as it traditionally is between Olympic Games, the FIBA World Cup almost always arrives awash with exemptions from the American side.
Rattling off those last three names, it’s all too clear what Team USA’s most pressing concern will be: a notable lack of frontcourt depth.
As of this writing, the only player other than Davis who can be faithfully described as a traditional 4 is Kenneth Faried. For all his unquestioned energy and athleticism, he isn’t the kind of dynamic two-way threat the team truly needs.
As USA Today’s Sam Amick recently reported, Krzyzewski still has plenty of strategic options at his disposal. They just aren’t exactly ideal:
Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant is more than capable of stretching the floor at the four-spot, and Krzyzewski has shooters like Paul George (Indiana Pacers) and Chandler Parsons (Dallas Mavericks) at his disposal as well. There will likely be a roster ripple effect on the rest of the frontcourt a well, with young big men like DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings) and Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons) seeing their odds of making the 12-man roster increase with every star player's exit.
Colangelo also made it clear previously that he's open to the idea of adding someone from the Team USA Select team that is competing against Team USA during the Las Vegas training camp. The forwards in that group include Mason Plumlee (Brooklyn Nets), Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors), rookie Doug McDermott (Chicago Bulls) and Tobias Harris (Orlando Magic).
Needless to say, Davis probably wasn’t counting on this level of productive pressure, just as he wasn’t when he bookended Team USA’s bench in London two summers ago.
So long as he’s ready to embrace it, however, Davis has a chance to take not just Spain by storm, but the sport as well.
Really, the writing—or rather the math—has been on the wall for quite some time:
With one ludicrous leap already under his belt, the 21-year-old Davis is rightly being viewed as the vanguard of the NBA’s next generation. And not just by fans, either.
Superstar Kevin Durant offered about as effusive a sound bite as one could expect from a league rival when speaking with reporters following a recent Team USA scrimmage:
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.
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.
Scary. Monster. Freak.
The Anthony Davis lexicon, much like the one that accompanied LeBron James a decade ago, is one written in equal parts awe and fear. In particular, a fear of the unknown—the ways in which Davis stands to explode time-honored notions of production, position and even potential.
This is the Anthony Davis, after all, who not so long ago was a begoggled, lightly recruited 6’2” pencil of a point guard. Eight inches and a pair of contacts later, Davis had become one of the nation’s top high school recruits—a rare athletic terror with the defensive instincts of a fleet-footed center and the ball-handling of a player half his size.
Five years later, Davis has become, in the words of Krzyzewski himself (via NOLA.com's Jimmy Smith), Team USA’s “main guy” heading into the first in a series of crucial qualifying events for the 2014 Olympics in Russia.
With Davis, the forthcoming FIBA fascination isn’t merely about the heavy minutes ahead of him. With the frontcourt so paper-thin, though, Davis’ usage will doubtless be a development worth following.
Rather, the intrigue lies in the threefold tasks he stands to face.
First, can Davis help neutralize the pass-happy offenses his team is certain to face—controlling the paint like the graceful pterodactyl he is—without getting into foul trouble?
Second, will a summer spent compiling pounds translate to punishing production at the other end?
Finally, can Davis use the experience of four years ago to help solidify his place as a bona fide cornerstone in 2016 as the Americans likely play without the planet's current basketball overlord, LeBron James?
That Team USA routinely brings to competitive bear the most sensational athletic specimens goes without saying—even if the recent results, particularly those prior to the 2008 “Redeem Team,” were mixed.
In this respect, "The Unibrow" is no different. But it’s in the more rarefied of American merits—intelligence and teamwork, precision and passion—that Davis might mine enough gold for a more global love.