The NBA All-Star Game gave fans a chance to see the best players in basketball share the floor at one time. But the 2015 edition surely and sorely missed one of the world’s top ballers: Anthony Davis.
It was a wise decision for himself and the playoff-hopeful New Orleans Pelicans, but the news was disappointing for fans who wanted to see the 21-year-old gallop alongside the superstars he will soon dethrone.
Since we were robbed of what would likely have been a jaw-dropping display, let’s instead pause for a moment and marvel at what we’ve already seen from Davis this year.
The former No. 1 pick has been sensational in his third professional campaign, averaging 24.5 points (fourth in the NBA) on 55.1 percent shooting, 10.3 rebounds (tied for 10th) and 2.7 blocks (first). His current player efficiency rating of 31.7 would go down as the fourth-best in league history.
He scores at will in the paint, cleans the glass with ease, displays genuine heart on defense, runs the floor like a thoroughbred horse and puts the Pelicans on his back each time he dons the uniform.
But one of Davis’ paramount talents—perhaps even his greatest—can’t be learned.
The kid is just clutch.
With ice in his veins, AD is there when the Pelicans desperately need him the most. In crunch time, he rises to the occasion like few others in the game today.
The 30-foot, buzzer-beating bomb that lifted New Orleans over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Feb. 6 garnered a lot of attention. But throughout 2014-15, the Brow has been as cold-blooded a player as there is in basketball.
By the Numbers
Sure, he gives us the highlight dunks and shots at the horn we love to watch. But statistically, Davis is unbelievably clutch.
With under two minutes to go and the score differential at two points or fewer, Davis is shooting 100 percent from the floor this season, per NBA.com.
He hasn’t missed a single shot during the most pressure-packed moments of the year.
Monta Ellis (12-22), Markieff Morris (9-15), Eric Bledsoe (9-18) and Kemba Walker (8-23) are the only guys with more converted field goals than Davis (7-7). Combined, they shoot a still-impressive 49.8 percent—less than half of AD’s unblemished mark.
|The Clutch Gene: Two minutes left, score within two points|
|Player||FGA-FGM||Shooting Percentage||FT Percentage||X-Factor|
|Anthony Davis||7-7||100||85.7||4 blocks|
|LeBron James||2-5||40||87.5||4 turnovers|
|Kevin Durant||1-5||20||N/A||2 rebounds|
|Russell Westbrook||3-15||20||66.7||4 rebounds|
|Damian Lillard||6-19||13.6||60||3 assists|
|Kobe Bryant||4-21||19||70||3 assists|
|DeMarcus Cousins||4-7||57.1||100||4 rebounds|
|Tim Duncan||6-15||40||50||10 rebounds|
Last season, Davis shot 60 percent (6-10) in those situations.
When the Pels have been in five-point games with under two minutes left, Davis has hit 9-of-12 field goals and 10-of-12 from the stripe.
It’s rare to see a 21-year-old so willing to take the big shot. It’s even rarer to see him knock it down with such consistency.
Usually we see clutch individual play from guards, not 6'10" forwards/centers. Whether it's an isolation at the top of the key or a fadeaway jumper, ball-handlers are almost always the guys who create shots in the biggest moments.
Has there ever been another big man who's hit clutch shots like this? Kevin Garnett, to whom Davis is often compared, was not this clutch in his prime. Hakeem Olajuwon, maybe?
"I want to be a guy who works hard, who plays hard, plays for his team, doesn't care who scores as long as we get the win," Davis told Sports Illustrated's Rob Mahoney on Feb. 10. "If you need a big shot or defensive play, I want to be the guy they go through. I'm not quite there yet. I've got a lot of work to do but I'm willing to do the work."
NBA legend Magic Johnson talked with ESPN Radio’s Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic on Feb. 10 and likened Davis to one of the all-time greats:
He’s the new LeBron (James). He’s the younger version of LeBron, the bigger version of LeBron. He can do it all. We said the same thing about LeBron when he came in, and here Anthony Davis is—a guy who can score inside, outside, run the break, catch lobs, dunk, blocks shots, he can steal the ball. He’s doing it all. And you said his age , that’s the scariest thing because he’s only going to get better.
I would be shocked if he didn’t win four or five MVPs of the league and a few titles. He is that good, and he’ll make everybody around him better…I don’t know if it’ll be in New Orleans, but if he ends up staying there, it will be with them.
Earlier in his career, James wasn’t considered clutch. For all his stat-stuffing and awe-inspiring dominance, LBJ never provided the Cleveland Cavaliers with the type of elite go-to option down the stretch of close games that AD has given New Orleans.
Davis will be 22 by the end of this season, so let’s put the 22-year-old James under the same microscope.
With less than two minutes to go in a two-point game during the 2006-07 season, the King shot 42.9 percent from the field, missed all seven of his three-point attempts and hit 57.7 percent of his foul shots.
While Johnson might be correct in anointing AD as the next occupier of the NBA’s superstar throne, the Pelicans star certainly has big shoes to fill.
But in terms of clutchness, Davis can't even squeeze his toes into those kicks.
The Biggest Shots
This season alone, Davis has racked up an extraordinary amount of cold-blooded buckets. Let’s start with the one that got the basketball world buzzing in early February.
Weathering the Thunder
KD had buried two triples within a matter of 30 seconds to carry Oklahoma City back into the contest, but Davis sunk a pair of crucial free throws to put his team up 113-110 with 2.8 seconds left.
The game was all but won. But on the ensuing inbound, Quincy Pondexter inexplicably fouled Westbrook on a wild three-point try, and the point guard calmly converted all three.
With 1.2 ticks remaining in a 113-113 tie, Tyreke Evans took the ball out, his eyes scrambling to find the 41-point, 10-rebound superstar who had taken his team this far.
Evans found him alright, but 30 feet from the bucket. Davis caught it, squared up and leaped and, with a quick double-clutch, fired.
"If you don't want to be great, step aside and let somebody else be great," Davis said, per ESPN.com, echoing coach Monty Williams' in-game advice. "Everybody just wanted to be great tonight. I know I had to be great. I want to be great, so you have to be able to accept the challenges."
Williams couldn’t say enough about the rapidly-improving Davis, whose buzzer-beater was just his first three-pointer of the year:
Tonight you saw greatness from a guy who doesn't run from it. You don't get a lot of time to celebrate in the NBA, but I'm sure he feels that he's not just one of the better players in the league, he might be the best when it comes to being a young guy who's not afraid of the moment. He's carrying his team at 21, and not many guys have been able to do that at his age. It just adds to his experience. He knows that he can come through.
Davis’ shot against OKC will probably go down as one of the most iconic of his sure-to-be storied career. But it wasn’t his first clutch moment of 2014-15.
Slicing San Antonio
Against the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 8, AD poured in 27 points, 11 assists, six blocks, four steals…and, of course, the game-winner.
New Orleans was down 99-98 when Davis got the ball at the elbow with about 10 seconds left. He turned, faced up and attacked the rim like a lion after a zebra.
AD’s swooping layup lifted the Pelicans to a 100-99 victory.
About a month later, the ‘Cans and Spurs were locked in another slugfest.
It was 82-82 with under five seconds to go. Evans drove the lane and totally misfired, but the freakishly lanky Davis was there to flush home the brick with under a second to play.
Tim Duncan—or was it Omer Asik?—tipped in a fluke alley-oop at the buzzer, though, and the defending champions eventually won in overtime. Still, it was another notch in Davis’ growing big-shot history.
No Panic against Dallas
In another nail-biting intra-division clash, New Orleans outlasted the Dallas Mavericks 109-106 on Jan. 25.
Down 106-105 with 12.3 left, the Pelicans caught a break. Tyson Chandler fouled Davis as the home team attempted to inbound and the kid, barely old enough to legally drink, stepped tothe line to calmly stroke two swooshes.
Davis sacrificed his body and stole Dallas’ ensuing inbound, got fouled and knocked down another pair of foul shots.
After the final horn, the typically mild-mannered Davis was pumped. Here’s John Reid of NOLA.com with more:
In most games, Pelicans forward Anthony Davis rarely shows much emotion. But Sunday was different.
Davis screamed, pumped his fist and even hugged a fan standing near the court at the end of the game.
Most importantly, Davis made the necessary critical plays down the stretch to help the Pelicans beat the Dallas Mavericks, 109-106, to extend their winning streak to three in a row for the first time this season...
“This was fun,” Davis said. ''Big win, everyone contributed with our hearts and it's a big team win. A division opponent, a team that's in our conference, and a team that's up there (in the standings).”
Winning certainly is fun, regardless of the score. Outdueling a title contender down the stretch of a heavyweight fight? That's downright euphoric.
How Far Can AD's Clutchness Carry the Pels?
The 27-26 Pelicans are currently two-and-a-half games out of eighth place in the Western Conference, but the 28-25 Thunder have leapfrogged them for ninth place behind the 29-25 Phoenix Suns.
ESPN’s Hollinger Playoff Odds gives New Orleans just a 15.9 percent chance of making the postseason.
After Davis got hurt and came out of the game against Chicago, the Pels went on to lose 107-72. On the following night, they lost to the 19-34 Utah Jazz, 100-96.
Finally, in the last game before the All-Star break, New Orleans got drubbed by the 21-33 Indiana Pacers. The final score of 106-93 was close, but this was a total beatdown.. With two minutes left in the third quarter, the Pacers led 80-53.
Granted, Jrue Holiday has been out for a month and Ryan Anderson (elbow sprain) missed the games against Utah and Indiana. But without Davis, the Pels would be lottery-bound.
Should the team get back to full strength after the nine-day vacation, making a playoff push is possible. But a spot is not guaranteed by any means.
What the Pelicans are guaranteed, however, is a chance, even if it's a slight one. They have a star who will carry the team in close games and fearlessly face those season-defining moments head-on. For a guy making such noise with last-minute heroics, getting New Orleans into the playoffs at the 11th hour would surely be his greatest feat yet.
Davis is well on his way to becoming one of the league’s most elite and complete players. Pretty soon, in the matter of just a few years, he’ll probably be the game's undisputed top dog.
Right now, though, he's already one of the most clutch.