Many 21-year-olds are figuring out how to pass one of their final college courses, working to escape their parents' basement or starting to make a living while striking out on their own.
Not Anthony Davis.
Even though the New Orleans Pelicans big man only recently became able to enjoy the full extent of Bourbon Street—and, let's be honest, the rest of NOLA's nightlife scene—he's already an NBA All-Star now functioning as the backbone of Team USA at the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
When he and the rest of the Americans travel to Spain at the end of August, it's Davis who will be vitally important to the cause. He's fully capable of functioning as the No. 1 stud on the roster, though Stephen Curry and James Harden, among others, will surely have something to say about that.
However, there are a pair of major factors that go beyond that.
Davis may not end up being the best player on the Team USA roster, but he doesn't have to be in order to function as the squad's backbone.
If you're looking for an NBA comparison, think about David West serving as the heart and soul for the Indiana Pacers during the 2013-14 season. His two-way play, constant passion and tough, physical work ensured they maintained their identity even when Paul George and Lance Stephenson were the ones drawing all the positive headlines.
Functioning as a backbone is not inherently dependent on a player's skills on the court. They certainly help, but elements like passion also come into play. And on Team USA, so too does positional scarcity.
At first, the Americans were set to build things around Kevin Durant and the bevy of point guards, but that's obviously changed in the wake of the MVP's withdrawal from consideration for the final roster. As head coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters in Chicago, per NBA.com's Sekou Smith, everything is different without Durant, and his leaving in the middle of camp threw a major wrench in the plans:
We had a whole camp building what we're doing around him. So that's the very first thing: You had one of the great scorers at the [power forward position]. So how does that change your offense? That changes your offense immensely.
You have to do more to get your guards shots. I mean, these guards are really good, but they were complementing one another—Kevin with those guards. ... Now we have to look at developing our inside and getting the guards more involved.
Durant was poised to serve as Team USA's best player and backbone, but now that baton has been passed to Davis.
Why him? Well, partially because of the position he plays and the importance of that role within the schemings of Coach K.
As the roster stands right now, in advance of the final cuts that will eventually be made, likely after exhibition season draws to a close, here's the positional breakdown of Team USA:
- Point guard: Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard
- Shooting guard: James Harden, Klay Thompson, DeMar DeRozan
- Small forward: Chandler Parsons, Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gay, Kyle Korver
- Power forward: Anthony Davis, Kenneth Faried
- Center: Andre Drummond, DeMarcus Cousins, Mason Plumlee
From that group, four players will be axed before the competition begins in Spain.
But unless Coach K takes crazy pills and cuts all four point guards, the overall composition isn't going to change that much. The strength will still lie in the backcourt and on the wings, while the undersized and shallow frontcourt will always pose problems.
And that, in a nutshell, is the first reason Davis is so important.
If Curry, Rose, Irving or Lillard struggles, there's another All-Star point guard to pick up the slack. The importance of the point guards—even on a squad that is stylistically dominated by floor generals—is lessened just by the sheer wealth of talent at the position.
The position as a whole matters. The individuals? Not as much.
The same can be said about shooting guard, especially because the Americans haven't exactly been hesitant to run with two 1-guards on the court at the same time when they feel the need to do so. Should Harden, Thompson and DeRozan underwhelm, extra minutes can just be handed to one of the floor generals at the 2. Rose and Curry—slashing and shooting, essentially—can complement each other rather nicely, for example.
Small forward? Not only are there a number of impressive talents competing for the spots, but the 2-guards can all shift over and play at the 3 in a pinch.
But power forward and center is where things get tricky.
Gay is capable of lining up at the 4 in a smaller lineup, but the team would be giving up an awful lot of size if it attempted to do the same thing with Parsons or Hayward. And with Faried basically serving as a specialist—Krzyzewski admitted as much in a Denver Post report by Nicki Jhabvala—that puts the onus on Davis.
Not only is the New Orleans Pelicans big man the only player truly capable of making an immense two-way impact among the crop of American power forwards and centers, but he's also the only one who can consistently suit up at both those positions. Given Spain's dominance at the biggest positions, as well as a size advantage for a number of countries that will be tough tasks for Team USA, that's vitally important.
You won't find any lineups that feature both Cousins and Plumlee, nor should Faried be the biggest man on the court at any point.
However, Davis can capably function as a center with Faried at power forward, and he can do the same if Team USA is playing small-ball with Gay or another natural 3 playing out of position. Additionally, he's comfortable spacing out the court from the 4 while a paint-bound big man like Drummond plays the center role.
Either way, he's going to be a matchup nightmare for the opposition, devastating those who attempt to match up against him with a constant barrage of floor-spacing mid-range jumpers, athletic plays around the basket and versatile defense.
There isn't a more unique commodity on the roster at this point.
Team USA might have the most talented roster—by far—at the 2014 FIBA World Cup, but talent alone doesn't guarantee victory.
Other countries have played together for much longer, boast more international experience and have years of established chemistry on their side. Especially against an opponent like Spain, experience is sure to play a part, though the size of that part is still up in the air.
Well, try as they might, the Americans can't artificially boost their experience. Instead, they can lean heavily on the players who have been through the wringer before.
Even though Davis is just 21 years old and has only two seasons of NBA play under his belt, he's already one of two players on the Team USA roster who has played in a major international competition. He and James Harden—along with Durant, who obviously doesn't count anymore—are the only involved players who suited up at the 2012 Olympics in London.
So far, he's been able to parlay that into leadership skills.
"It feels like it was yesterday," the Pelicans big man told reporters in Las Vegas, via USA Basketball's official website. He was referring to that Olympic experience, of course. "I remember everything about that trip and about that experience."
The website explains further:
Fast forward two years and Davis is now one of the veterans at training camp for the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain next month. As the team continues practices on UNLV's campus, Davis joins Kevin Durant and James Harden as the only players on the roster with an Olympic gold. In a very short time Davis has gone from a player just enjoying the ride to one of the organization's leaders.
That was early in the proceedings, but not much has changed outside of Durant's departure. At least when referring to this part of the Team USA experience, as the devastating injury suffered by Paul George obviously created a massive shift as well.
Harden has drawn great reviews for his leadership skills, but Davis demands attention there as well—especially because of his on-court actions during the exhibition games, where he's playing the part of the seasoned veteran and not the 21-year-old kid.
During Team USA's first exhibition, which resulted in a big win over Brazil, Davis finished with 20 points, eight rebounds and five blocks on 9-of-15 shooting from a field. But even against the backdrop of thunderous slams and mid-range shots that found the bottom of the net, it was his leadership that stood out, at least to some extent.
"Early in the game, Davis missed a few jump shots and said Kyrie Irving jokingly asked him if he was going to stop shooting," John Juettner reported for TeamUSA.org. "Davis responded with a 'no'—something you look for a star to do."
How about a star, a leader and, above all else, the team's backbone?
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