Why Anthony Davis Will Emerge as a Full-Fledged NBA Superstar in 2013-14

Dave Leonardis@@FrontPageDaveContributor IIIOctober 7, 2013

New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis has always had the skills to be special. That's why this is the year he makes the leap from promising youngster to NBA superstar. 

The 2012 No. 1 overall pick had a solid debut season. He averaged 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game (the latter two led the team). He also shot 51.6 percent from the field and a little over 75 percent from the free-throw line. 

However, Davis' rookie campaign was littered with minor injuries that seemed to stop him from gaining any momentum. He missed 18 games with a myriad of ailments, including the final three of the season with a sprained MCL and bone bruise. 

With a year of NBA experience under his belt and an improved supporting cast, Davis is poised to break out in his second season. Here are a few reasons why the former Kentucky Wildcat will take the world by storm in 2013-14. 

1. He Looks Bigger

One of the biggest knocks on Davis coming out of the draft and throughout his rookie year was that he was a little on the thin side. At 220 pounds, his uncanny quickness was offset by an inability to keep stronger opponents from overpowering him in the paint.

This summer, Davis looks like a changed man.

"I have gained at least 10 to 12 pounds, and I want to gain at least five more," Davis told NOLA.com's John Reid. "That's the ideal goal for me right now. I've been staying on top of it, eating more and gaining weight."

According to Reid, the improvement in Davis' upper-body strength was noticeable during Team USA's basketball training camp in July. 

The added weight and strength will benefit Davis going forward for two reasons. First, it obviously makes him better equipped to deal with bigger guys in the low post. As great as it is for Davis to have all that length and speed, it won't mean much if he's getting thrown around like a rag doll every night. 

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 5:  Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans defends the basket against Terrence Jones #6 of the Houston Rockets during the 2013 NBA pre-season game on October 5, 2013 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User e
Bill Baptist/Getty Images

At 230 pounds, that should be less of an issue. 

Secondly, the added bulk to his frame makes him a stronger candidate to log some minutes at center. With last year's starter, Robin Lopez, now in Portland, the Pelicans are going with a patchwork approach at the 5 spot. 

Jason Smith, the longest tenured Pelican on the roster, figures to open the season as the team's starting center. Free-agent acquisition Greg Stiemsma will be in the mix as will rookie Jeff Withey. All three bring a little something to the table, but none are ideal fits. 

If Davis can provide some quality minutes at center, it will allow the team to play him and sharp-shooting big man Ryan Anderson together. A potential rotation of Davis, Anderson, Tyreke Evans (once he recovers from a preseason ankle injury), Eric Gordon and Jrue Holiday could be scary. 

The added muscle will also help his body be better prepared for the rigors of an 82-game season. It could prevent the nicks and bruises that hindered his rookie season. 

2. His Uncanny Skill Set

Davis is different from many power forwards. In fact, we haven't seen a big man with his unique array of skills since Lamar Odom was in his prime with the Los Angeles Clippers

Despite being 6'10", Davis has the ball-handling skills to run the floor like a guard. His slick handles come from playing point guard early on in high school before a growth spurt forced him to move up in position. 

He is also surprisingly quick for his size. In transition, he moves like a gazelle. With that kind of speed and ball-handling ability, he can be a one-man fast break as soon as the ball is in his hands off the rebound. 

In fact, one of the highlights of the summer involved Davis doing just that during a Team USA scrimmage. 

In this clip, you will first see Davis snatch away the alley-oop pass. From there, he's off and running. With everyone else seemingly jogging, the big man opts to take it himself and speed down the court to go coast-to-coast for the slam.

Those kind of opportunities won't happen very often when the games matter in the regular season. However, the fact that he's capable of creating plays like that on his own makes him an exciting player to watch. 

With the team making the switch from bigger, slower point guard Greivis Vasquez to the quicker and more athletic Jrue Holiday, the Pelicans should be able to push the pace and play more uptempo this season. That should lead to more alley-oop chances for Davis when the two are on the court together. 

Even when the team runs plays in the half court, it is an added bonus to have a power forward who can set up on the wing and beat his man off the dribble for an easy basket. The list of big men in the NBA who can do that is very small. 

Lastly, Davis' outside jumper is sneaky. According to Basketball-Reference.com, he converted 43.5 percent of his shots from between three and 10 feet as well as 37.3 percent from 10-16 feet. A look at his shot chart tells the story a little better. 

Shot Chart courtesy of Vorped.com
Shot Chart courtesy of Vorped.com

The sample size may be small, as Davis didn't venture outside of the paint much, but he still hit a nice percentage from mid-range. Thirty-three percent from both corners is promising, as is his near 38 percent conversion rate from around the free-throw line. 

We already know Davis is going to be an excellent finisher around the rim. With his athleticism, speed and length, he's going to get a bulk of his points from dunks and putbacks. Still, if he can continue to develop his mid-range jumper, he'll become even more dangerous on the offensive end. 

3. He Finished His Rookie Season Strong

Davis' debut season might not have been the coming-out party that many anticipated, but he really flashed his potential down the stretch. In the final two months of the season, he averaged 16 points and just under 10 rebounds a game. 

He also chipped in at least one block and one steal a night as well. In April alone, Davis' nightly stat line was 16 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.6 steals a game. The thefts were particularly impressive because you don't see too many bigs with quick-enough hands to average nearly two steals a night. 

The sprained MCL brought Davis' hot streak to an abrupt stop. Still, there are signs that his late finish will carry over into this season. He managed 22 points and seven rebounds playing against some of the league's best in the Team USA minicamp (albeit a scrimmage). 

In the team's preseason debut, Davis dropped 21 points, three rebounds, two blocks and two steals on the Houston Rockets in a 116-115 win. He also held his own at times against the best center in the league in Dwight Howard

The improved play these last few months will only make Davis more confident. With the team needing someone to step up and lead this team, he has the potential to be the franchise anchor on and off the court. 

4. He's Already A Defensive Force

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 5:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Houston Rockets goes up to the rim against Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the 2013 NBA pre-season game on October 5, 2013 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User e
Bill Baptist/Getty Images

As mentioned before, Davis led New Orleans in blocks last season. He also tied with small forward Al-Farouq Aminu for the team lead in steals with 1.2 swipes a game. Defense was always going to be Davis' calling card when he entered the NBA after honing his skills as a defender in his lone season at Kentucky. 

With a year of experience under his belt, Davis has a better understanding of how to time his jumps when going for a block or studying opponents' tendencies. The game isn't as new to him as it was last year. He'll be adjusted to the pace and will have a better grasp of what is expected of him.

It seems like a stretch to think he'll win Defensive Player of the Year in his second season, but, at the very least, he's a dark-horse candidate for the award. He's going to get his hands on some blocks as the team's best interior defender, and his knack for coming up with steals can't be overlooked. 

The added weight will make him more stable in the post, which will make his battles down low more intriguing. If he can match or improve upon last year's impressive defensive stats, he could establish himself as one of the NBA's best stoppers before his 21st birthday (which is March 11, if you're wondering). 

Almost by default, the New Orleans Pelicans will be better than they were last year. They added an All-Star point guard in Jrue Holiday, who is still getting better at 23 years old. They also brought in Tyreke Evans to be a spark off the bench as well potential insurance for the oft-injured Eric Gordon (although, in an ironic twist, Evans is the one who got hurt first). 

They also have a slew of young role players from Ryan Anderson to Al-Farouq Aminu to Austin Rivers. 

However, the Pelicans' success (both this year and beyond) starts with Anthony Davis. If he stays healthy and plays like the manchild he was in the final two months of last year, the sky is the limit. He has so many special components to his game that he is bound to open some eyes when people look at the box score. 

He can attack the basket. He can make plays off the dribble. He can crash the boards. He can defend. Every now and then, he can even shoot a mid-range jumper. Optimists always knew that Davis would be a franchise cornerstone once he put everything together. 

An average of 20 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks and a steal a night isn't out of the question in his second season. 

This is the year he does it. "The Unibrow" is taking over in 2013-14. You can't say you weren't warned. 


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