Why Anthony Davis Will Make New Orleans Pelicans the Surprise Team of 2014-15

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 7, 2014

Anthony Davis will put the New Orleans Pelicans on the map in 2014-15, but he won't have to do it alone.

That's not an attempt to understate AD's potential greatness. Davis is ready to crash everything from the All-NBA First Team to the Defensive Player of the Year race to the MVP conversation. How do we know that?

Mostly because the guy who earned the acknowledgment as last year's top talent says so.

Kevin Durant, the reigning MVP told reporters at Team USA's camp in Las Vegas, per Jim Eichenhofer of NBA.com:

I know how good he's going to be. 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. I'm excited to see what he does from here. He's definitely on pace.

Durant concluded: "It's scary. Scary."

If the endorsement of a four-time scoring champ and unquestioned superstar isn't enough to convince you Davis can lift the Pelicans to new heights, first of all, why isn't it? And who do you think you are to question KD's opinion on the league's top rising talent?

Secondly, you don't have to take Durant's word for it. The numbers point to the same thing.

Per Bradford Doolittle of ESPN.com (subscription required), Davis ranks in the top five of his projected breakout candidates for next season:

Put this one in the category of the truly frightening. Davis' 15.1 WARP last season ranked fifth in the league, and yet SCHOENE sees him getting even better. Davis is entering his age-22 season, so he could still be far from his peak. The system predicts a happy regression in playing time for Davis, who has missed 33 games over his first two seasons. If that happens and New Orleans' addition of Omer Asik aids a surge in Davis' defensive metrics, he could challenge the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant for the top WARP figure in the league. Scary stuff.

There's that word again: scary.

Apparently, it doesn't matter if you're an MVP or an analytics maven; Davis' potential frightens everyone.

Just as terrifying is the potential of a vastly improved Pelicans roster making life easier for the still-developing superstar.

Davis logged a grand total of 15 games alongside stretch-4 extraordinaire Ryan Anderson last year, and though the sample was extremely small, the Pelicans were an unstoppable offensive unit with those two bigs on the floor.

Per NBA.com, New Orleans' offensive rating spiked to 115.4 when Davis and Anderson played together last year, a figure that blew away the Los Angeles Clippers' top overall rating of 109.4.

The Pelicans can't be expected to sustain that pace over a full season, but it illustrates how Anderson's floor spacing opens things up for Davis to wreak havoc on the interior.

New Orleans also got just 34 games from Jrue Holiday last season, 27 of which came with Davis in the lineup. In the minutes those two shared, the Pellies posted a net rating of plus-4.1 points per 100 possessions.

That would have ranked eighth in the entire NBA and sixth in the West, ahead of teams like the Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns, per NBA.com.

It's getting easier to make the case that Davis and the Pelicans could enjoy a leap this season with better luck on the injury front alone. The numbers indicate New Orleans had the talent it needed a year ago; it just couldn't keep it on the floor.







With Davis, Holiday and Anderson on the court together, the Pellies were terrific. With Tyreke Evans in the mix, they were comically dominant, posting a net rating of plus 15.7, per NBA.com. That doesn't mean the rest of the roster can sustain that pace, but the signs of sky-high potential are hard to miss.

Remember, all those injuries last season forced bench players into roles they weren't ready for. Health in the first unit will ease the burden on those reserves, which means backup production could be on the upswing as well.

“If we’re healthy, we’re for sure a playoff team,” Eric Gordon told Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy. “It’s all about us getting together and playing because the West is tough. We know that and realize that. It’s all about having a full season together."

Gordon is confident but not unreasonably so.

New Orleans can't possibly lose a combined 141 games between Davis, Anderson, Gordon and Holiday this year. The numbers show that when the Pelicans had all of their weapons, they profiled as a playoff team. Round up the talent from last year, keep it healthy and let it mature, and a surge to the postseason seems possible.

Here's the thing, though: There will be more talent this season.

Omer Asik is an elite defensive center who can spare Davis from guarding bulkier bigs. What's more, Asik offers the Pelicans a second dominant rim protector in addition to Davis. For his career, Asik averages 2.4 blocks per 36 minutes. Davis' career mark is 2.6.

Good luck getting looks in the restricted area against the Pellies this year.

Davis, free to roam a bit more on defense, can use his freakish length and quickness to dominate as a weak-side helper. Keep those cameras ready; he's going to soar in for a bevy of out-of-nowhere swats this season. And though Davis has reportedly bulked up this year, he's still a more impactful defensive force when he's free to wander a bit.

Think of him like a giant Scottie Pippen in that regard—one who might also be one of the best help-and-recover closeout artists in league history. It's a rare player who is still in good defensive position even when he's clearly out of good defensive position.

Who blocks step-back jumpers after being crossed over? Davis, that's who.

Maybe the Pelicans can't play Anderson, Asik and Davis together—at least not until Davis adds the ball-handling and off-the-dribble moves of a small forward to his game (don't laugh). But three very good bigs with vastly differing skill sets sounds like a pretty good problem to have.

New Orleans won just 34 games last year, and it fell short of the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference by a whopping 15 contests. The West is as tough as ever this year, and making up that kind of ground in a one-year span would be more than a surprise.

It would be extraordinary.

Good thing they have an extraordinary talent in Davis to lead the charge.


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