Anthony Davis' fourth NBA season ended Sunday with worlds undevoured and records unshattered—a surprising disappointment to everyone expecting last year's breakout superstar to shake the foundations of the sport in 2015-16.
Beset by injury, overtaken by too much hype and crippled by a 1-11 start, the New Orleans Pelicans have had little to play for since December. And now, with Davis' knee and shoulder ailing, they announced they would shut him down.
A wise move, given the severity of Davis' injuries, per John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune:
John Reid @JohnReid64
Pelicans confirm that Anthony Davis will undergo multiple surgeries for a torn labrum in his left shoulder and for his left knee.2016-3-20 22:43:29
In 61 games, Davis averaged 24.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 2.0 blocks. Those are fine numbers for anyone not expected to build on a historically great age-21 season. In Davis' special case, the numbers are disheartening. His player efficiency rating of 25.2 is seventh in the league, but the 30.8 he posted last season was the 12th-highest in NBA history—and the best, by far, of any 21-year-old.
Remember, a quarter of NBA general managers thought he'd win MVP this year (only LeBron James got a higher percentage). And an incredible 86.2 percent of that same GM pool said they'd make Davis their first pick if they were starting a franchise.
The results of next year's survey will be very different.
Financial redemption won't ease all the pain of a lost year, but it sure could help. And if AD winds up on one of the three All-NBA teams at season's end, his max contract (signed this past summer) would get even bigger, per ESPN Stats & Info:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
If Davis is All-NBA this season, his 5-yr contract (kicks in next season) can reach ~$145M. If not All-NBA: ~$121M. https://t.co/2T5smGWYoE2016-3-20 21:34:38
The Rose Rule is behind the possible cash spike. It allows players on max deals to make 30 percent of a team's cap figure instead of 25 if they win MVP, make at least two All-Star starts or earn at least two All-NBA nods before the contract kicks in, per Larry Coon's collective bargaining agreement FAQ.
"To me, if you’re asking me if he’s one of the 15 best players in the NBA, I don’t think that’s even up for discussion," Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry told reporters. "Anybody that doesn’t think he’s one of the top 15, they shouldn’t be writing (about) or they shouldn’t be coaching in this league."
Unfortunately for Gentry and Davis, it's not quite that simple.
Right or wrong, Davis' team performance hurts him. Statistically, he could have won MVP a year ago (see historically significant PER), but the Pelicans were an eighth seed, so Davis lost out. Now, New Orleans' lottery-bound destiny stands as the biggest hurdle in Davis' quest for an All-NBA spot.
That's a shame. Because even in a down year, his numbers certainly look like those of an All-NBA talent.
Only one other player in the league, DeMarcus Cousins, averages at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. Cousins, it's worth mentioning, was an All-NBA second-teamer last season despite playing just 59 contests. So in addition to helping highlight the rarity of Davis' 20-10 averages this year, Cousins also helps dispell the notion Davis hasn't played enough to be on an All-NBA squad. If 59 games is enough, so is 61. And if Cousins could make it last year on a dysfunctional, 29-win Sacramento Kings team, Davis should at least get consideration as a member of an injury-riddled 26-win (so far) Pelicans outfit.
Finding room for Davis as a forward is hard. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green have more team success, will finish with more games played and, for the most part, have unassailable statistical cases. After those four, Davis would still have to be one of two selected among Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Gordon Hayward, Paul George, Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge...just to name a few. Every realistic contender at forward has been a part of more wins than Davis this season.
Still, the stats stack up well for AD, per Basketball-Reference.com:
Center is Davis' ideal position in the future, and it may be where he makes his money in the present. According to Nylon Calculus, Davis played 53.1 percent of his minutes at the 5 this year. So considering him a center is by no means a side door here.
Cousins has been more statistically productive than Davis in a number of key areas, and the Kings and Pels stink with roughly equal potency. So that first-team spot almost certainly belongs to Boogie. After that, Davis is in the mix with DeAndre Jordan and Andre Drummond.
He rates well against them, per Basketball-Reference.com:
Davis doesn't need votes at one position or the other. Per Justin Verrier of ESPN.com, as long as he gets the requisite number of ballots cast in his favor, Davis is eligible at either forward or center:
Justin Verrier @JustinVerrier
Note on AD for All-NBA: All of his votes, either at F or C, are totaled. Even if he gets only a few at C, his total points are what counts.2016-3-20 21:37:38
Unlike last year, Davis runs into trouble with some advanced metrics. He ranks 21st in win shares and 37th in box plus-minus. Neither stat is perfect, but the box plus-minus leaderboard basically reads like an MVP list in order: Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, James, Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Durant and Chris Paul are the top seven.
If the voting broadcasters and sportswriters dig into the data and conclude Davis is something like the 37th-most valuable player in the league, maybe they'll decide he doesn't belong among the 15 All-NBA members.
And what about defense? New Orleans has been horrible on that end all year. Will Davis take the blame for that?
It's hard to separate Davis' recently completed season from the one that came before it. Measured against the standard of 2014-15, everything feels like a disappointment—especially because we wanted more than a repeat. We wanted a leap up from the unprecedented height to which Davis had already climbed. Turns out that was as unfair as it was unrealistic.
It's definitely a close question, but if you only consider the numbers and the context (injuries robbed Davis of any reliable help), AD's 2015-16 is worth a spot among the league's top three centers or top six forwards.
Davis was good enough for that—even if he wasn't great enough for our expectations.
Everyone Is Doing It Wrong
After all that talk of lost seasons and Davis' shutdown, the Pelicans somehow went out and beat the Los Angeles Clippers, 109-105, in New Orleans.
Hey Pelicans: Benching Davis means you're giving up on this season. Good job. Giving up is something you should have done months ago because Davis needs a lottery talent alongside him for the next 10 years. Still, better late than never.
But then you go out and win with an inspired effort, somehow allowing Toney Douglas to go off for 15 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. Omer Asik not only caught the basketball when it was thrown to him, but he somehow erupted for 15 points. You are doing it all wrong. This is not how you play for the future.
Clippers: You pretend to be a fringe contender, yet you just completed back-to-back losses against the most injury-riddled rosters in the league. The Memphis Grizzlies got you Saturday with a bunch of 10-day-contract journeymen, and now you've gone and let the decimated Pels beat you, too.
You are also doing it all wrong.
Completing the doing-it-wrong trifecta, here's Alan Hahn of MSG relaying the coaching emphasis of New York Knicks interim guy-in-charge Kurt Rambis:
Alan Hahn @alanhahn
Basically what Rambis is saying is he's not really interested in focusing on development and evaluation of young players vs trying to win.2016-3-20 21:54:04
Sure, why not? The Knicks are playoff afterthoughts, and the only logical goal at this point in the season should be finding out which young players might have something to offer in the future. But OK, keep playing the old guys. New York fell to the Kings on Sunday as Cousins piled up 24 points, 20 rebounds and four assists.
Jose Calderon played more minutes (33) than Langston Galloway (23) and Jerian Grant (27).
There aren't enough facepalms in the world for this.
Dirk Can Still Shoot His Age
Bleacher Report @BleacherReport
Dirk Nowitzki became 1 of 4 players to score 40+ points in a game at age 37+ since 1963-64 (H/T @BR_Insights) https://t.co/0Fhz70XtGz2016-3-20 22:58:30
And then some.
Portland frequently switched Dallas' repeated high pick-and-rolls, an odd strategy that left small guards with the impossible task of defending Nowitzki's high-post arsenal. NBA gambler Haralabos Voulgaris sarcastically praised the Blazers' tactics:
The Dallas Mavericks had been slipping lately, losing seven of eight before beating a Portland team playing nearly as poorly since March 1. Dallas must still answer serious defensive questions, and it's difficult to use a home win over the struggling Blazers as a sign of progress. But it's hard to ignore the feeling that as long as Nowitzki is healthy enough to take the floor, the Mavs have a chance.
Dallas is now tied with the Houston Rockets, a mere half-game behind the Blazers for the No. 6 spot in the West.
Do You Hear That, Cleveland?
That is the sound of inevitability.
Or maybe not, but those footsteps behind you, increasing in volume as they draw closer, belong to the Toronto Raptors.
Behind 25 points from DeMar DeRozan and yet another sterling fill-in job from Bismack Biyombo (12 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks starting in place of Jonas Valanciunas), the Raps dispatched the Orlando Magic by a final of 105-100, moving to within just one game of the Cleveland Cavaliers for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Being within a hair's breadth of the Cavs is new for Toronto, but playing just as well (or better) than the defending East champs isn't. Since Jan. 1, the Raps are 28-8, better than Cleveland's 28-11 mark. According to NBA.com, the Raptors' post-New Year net rating of plus-5.8 is right there with Cleveland's plus-6.2. For all intents and purposes, we've had a 1A and 1B in the East for almost three months.
In terms of playoff positioning, the paths of the first and second seeds in the East are essentially the same. If the Cavs slip to second at some point, it won't be the end of the world. Remember, they finished behind the Atlanta Hawks last year and had no trouble reaching the Finals. At the same time, letting the Raptors catch them from behind might play with the Cavaliers' collective psyche.
What's more, Toronto's 2-1 record against Cleveland this season means a tie in the standings is as good as a win for the Raptors. Nine of the Raptors' final 13 games come against opponents currently in playoff spots, while the Cavs only face six such squads down the stretch.
The Cavaliers have a slight edge there, but this feels like a race destined to last the duration.
Isaiah Thomas Is Not the Problem
From March 1-19, Boston's offensive rating was 18th in the league. And during the four-game losing streak they snapped by beating Philly, the Celtics shot just 40.6 percent from the field and 29.4 percent from long range. The Sixers have a way of fixing what ails you, and Boston suddenly looked cured of its offensive woes.
Isaiah Thomas put up 26 points to tie Philadelphia's Carl Landry (!!!) for the game high, and his performance in March proves Boston's scoring struggles haven't been his fault, per B/R's Brian Robb:
Brian Robb @CelticsHub
Isaiah Thomas in the month of March: 26.4 ppg (7th in NBA), 4.6 apg, 44.1% 3pt, 88% FT (7.4 FTA/game)2016-3-21 00:40:30
With Jae Crowder still nursing a bum ankle, it's harder for the Celtics to define themselves by their grit and defensive versatility. If they can ride Thomas and a refreshing offensive outburst against the Sixers to a few big scoring nights until Crowder returns to restore their true identity, it'll go a long way toward preserving their chances of a No. 3 seed in the East. Even after that recent slide, Boston is only a game behind the third-seeded Hawks.
That may seem like a long shot, given how strong the Hawks and fourth-seeded Miami Heat have looked lately. But if Carl Landry (again: !!!) can score 26 points in an NBA game in 2016, anything's possible.
Joe Ingles: Smile Inducer
y-Utah Jazz @utahjazz
Hey @Bucks, you might want to cover @Joeingles7 in that spot (💣 3x) https://t.co/eY3Hm2eN6B2016-3-21 00:52:19
Any clear-thinking person who loves Manu Ginobili (All clear-thinking persons love Manu Ginobili) also sets aside room in his heart for Joe Ingles, the Utah Jazz's slowed-down, slightly larger, definitely-not-as-good-but-still-good version of the San Antonio Spurs' crafty lefty.
This writer is among the devotees of Manu and Joe.
So watching Ingles hit three straight fourth-quarter triples from the same spot in Utah's 94-85 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday brought forth a smile.
Per Jody Genessy of the Deseret News, Ingles reciprocated:
Jody Genessy @DJJazzyJody
Joe Ingles is trying so hard to not smile after hitting a third straight 3-pointer.2016-3-21 00:50:11
Utah has now won five of its last six and is still very much a part of the West playoff race. The Jazz have played better than all but the top three seeds in the conference over the last 10 days, and they're now just a game out of the No. 8 spot.
And though Shelvin Mack had 12 assists and Gordon Hayward logged 18 points, let's all just agree that Ingles was the story.
Follow @gt_hughes on Twitter.