Anthony Davis' first postseason may be over, but his ascent up the NBA's MVP ladder is just beginning.
Although the New Orleans Pelicans got swept out of the first round by the top-seeded Golden State Warriors, Davis acquitted himself beautifully during a brief, but fruitful, four-game run. During his weeklong postseason debut, he introduced himself to a national audience by producing historically significant numbers—because what would a Pelicans game be if he didn't?—against swarms of Warriors defenders.
With the spotlight shining bright, Davis averaged 31.5 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.0 blocks and 1.3 steals while shooting 54 percent from the field and 88.9 percent from the free-throw line. Dating back 20 years, Davis is one of four players—along with Shaquille O'Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Karl Malone—to average at least 30 points and 10 rebounds over the course of a playoff appearance.
"He became the first player in 40 years to average more than 30 points and 10 rebounds a game in his first playoff series," The Times-Picayune's Jeff Duncan wrote. "The only other players to average 30-10 in their first four playoff games were Wilt Chamberlain with the 76ers in 1960, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with the Bucks in 1970 and Bob McAdoo with Buffalo in 1974."
Davis was so dominant that Warriors head coach Steve Kerr reveled in his team's escape from Brow Island, according to Bay Area News Group's Marcus Thompson:
"Defensively, he was fantastic jumping out on Steph [Curry]," Kerr said, according to The Times Picayune's Terrance Harris. "Not many big guys can do that, really jump out on Steph and bother him on the screen-and-rolls, so we dealt with that the whole series. The guy will be the MVP within the next few years, I think."
Stephen Curry—who averaged 33.8 points and 7.3 assists in the first round—was also quick to heap praise on Davis after advancing to Round 2:
Here's the thing to remember: Davis just turned 22 years old. His career is still in its infancy, and he's finding his footing with performances that put him in Hall of Fame-caliber company.
Even so, there's still tremendous room for upward mobility, and Davis' first taste of the postseason stands to leave him salivating for an extended stay.
New Orleans head coach Monty Williams touched on the importance of Davis' initial experience following the team's 109-98 Game 4 loss, per Duncan:
This series was like two years of (regular-season) experience. You can't get that anywhere else. As much as you try to tell guys about it, they can't really (understand) it until they go through it. He's won a national championship, a (Olympic) gold medal and a (FIBA) World Cup, but the (NBA) playoffs are different than any other thing you're ever going to go up against.
It's such a grueling test of your mental, physical and spiritual side. You can't explain that to (Davis). He'll be an even better player next year because of it.
If the past three seasons have been any indication, the improvement Williams alluded to should occur on a grand scale.
After his scoring average jumped more than seven points from Year 1 to Year 2, Davis bumped up his share of the Pelicans' scoring load to 24.4 points per game—good for No. 4 overall in the NBA behind Russell Westbrook, James Harden and LeBron James.
His steal, block and rebound numbers all ticked up, as well, making him the first player 22 years or older to average at least 24 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks since Shaq did so 20 years ago.
|Anthony Davis' Year-Over-Year Improvement|
Davis' improvement in specific play types, as relayed by Synergy Sports, was remarkable. Just look at the progress he made as a spot-up shooter:
Putting his new jump-shooting chops to work, Davis drilled 53.3 percent of his mid-range attempts against the Warriors. More impressive still is that he went to those face-up jumpers as his primary source of offense. Thirty of his shots in the series came from mid-range, with 41 coming in the restricted area.
For a guy who attempted more than 50 percent of his shots within 10 feet of the basket last season, Davis is displaying tactical advancement that artificially intelligent beings wouldn't believe.
Every quarter, every game and every week Brow seemed to add a new wrinkle to his game that rapidly became part of his expansive repertoire.
And that's the Davis experience in a nutshell.
Just when it looks like he's found a rhythm with a certain set of skills, his gargantuan wingspan plucks a new piece of offensive weaponry out of thin air, and it's practically refined upon implementation.
If the Pelicans have any say, those developmental strides are going to be taken in the Big Easy for years to come.
According to ESPN.com's Marc Stein, New Orleans is aiming to sign Davis for another half-decade before the Oct. 31 negotiating deadline:
With star forward Anthony Davis eligible for a contract extension this summer, Pelicans officials plan to be as aggressive as possible in presenting him with a maximum five-year deal that could exceed $140 million, according to league sources.
The exact figures will depend on how much the NBA salary cap actually rises in 2016, but sources told ESPN.com that the Pelicans indeed intend to present Davis with the biggest offer they can once the window for negotiations opens July 1.
Inking Davis to a deal wouldn't just prevent him from reaching restricted free agency in the summer of 2016—it would keep New Orleans in possession of the league's most coveted franchise centerpiece.
And if Davis' opening act is commanding that kind of respect, just imagine what the main event is going to look like.