Anthony Davis Quietly Having Historic Season Amid Trade, Free-Agency Noise

Sean Highkin@highkinFeatured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2019

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 16: Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans handles the ball against Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors on January 16, 2019 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
Noah Graham/Getty Images

PORTLAND, Ore. — Few guys in the NBA this season have been talked about more than Anthony Davis. Almost none of that attention has been focused on what he's doing on the court.

The bubbling speculation about Davis' future—reports of dinners with LeBron James, looming questions about whether he'll sign the $235 million extension the New Orleans Pelicans can't even offer him until the offseason, the prospect of a hypothetical July bidding war between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics—has been arguably the biggest story in the league.

The part that has gone unspoken at best, taken for granted at worst, is this: The reason there's such a feeding frenzy to dissect Davis' trade market and upcoming free agency a full 18 months before he can hit the open market is that few players in recent memory have been as dominant as he has.

Davis has been appointment viewing for as long as he's been in the NBA. Few big men this century—and for that matter in the history of the league—have possessed his combination of 6'10" size, skill, versatility, defensive impact and athleticism. He's a force of nature who can take over games at both ends and put up monster numbers even when he doesn't.

Even by his own lofty standards, Davis has been on another level in 2018-19. He's averaging career highs in points (29.3 per game), rebounds (13.3), assists (4.4) and steals (1.7), along with 2.6 blocks per game.

The only other player in league history to average at least 29 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and two blocks in a season is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who did it in 1974-75. That's the list—Kareem and Davis. No Shaq, Hakeem, Kevin Garnett or Tim Duncan.

PORTLAND, OR - JANUARY 18: Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans takes a shot in the first half against the Portland Trail Blazers during their game at Moda Center on January 18, 2019 in Portland, Oregon. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges
Abbie Parr/Getty Images

"I think he's getting better," Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry told Bleacher Report. "During the summer, he tries to add something to his game, and because of that he's going to get better. Everybody forgets he's only 25 years old."

Other players have received the lion's share of MVP buzz in the first half of the season, be it James Harden putting up Wilt Chamberlain scoring numbers or Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the Milwaukee Bucks to the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Davis' soft-spoken nature doesn't help push his case for an award that's driven as much as anything by narrative. Neither does New Orleans' middling 21-25 record and lingering questions about the rest of the roster.

In particular, Davis has grown this season as a playmaker. The Pelicans' coaching staff spent time during training camp working with him on passing out of double-teams, which he draws plenty of. His 4.4 assists per game are easily a career best, nearly doubling the 2.3 he averaged last season.

Davis himself downplays that particular improvement.

"Guys are just making shots," he said. "I trust my teammates, and they have a lot of confidence knocking down shots."

On Friday night, in a 128-112 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, Davis had one of his more pedestrian games in impact and exited in the fourth quarter with a hand injury he tried to play through. (The Pelicans announced on Saturday morning that Davis had suffered a left index finger sprain that will sideline him 1-2 weeks.)

The box score tells a different story. If there's such a thing as a quiet 27 points and seven rebounds, Davis managed it. These sort of numbers are so routine for him that a game like that qualifies as an off night. And he may still have another level to reach.

SACRAMENTO, CA - DECEMBER 23: Head coach Alvin Gentry of the New Orleans Pelicans coaches Anthony Davis #23 against the Sacramento Kings on December 23, 2018 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agree
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

"He's still not shooting as many threes as I'd like him to," Gentry said. "But he's improved in that area, and he's improved in taking the ball to the basket. And just overall, his post stuff, because he's gotten stronger. He's got a much stronger base, and he's added more muscle."

The discussion about where Davis will play next season isn't going away, at least until July. That's when he will either sign the five-year supermax extension or turn it down. The Pelicans aren't going to trade him before they have a chance to offer him a long-term deal, and talk of what the Lakers, Celtics or any other team could or would offer in a trade package is pure speculation.

The Pelicans aren't losing sleep over it. Not yet, anyway.

"We just play," Gentry said. "We turn off all the outside noise. I look at it as white noise. We don't talk about it. There's nothing to discuss. There's not anything. I don't know anything about his free agency. All I know is he's on our team, he's under contract, and that's the way we approach it."

They have more immediate things to worry about, like clawing their way back into the Western Conference playoff picture. New Orleans sits four games out of the eighth seed, hampered by recent injuries to Nikola Mirotic and Elfrid Payton, a lack of roster depth and inconsistent defense.

A late-season turnaround and playoff push, like the 17-8 post-All-Star-break surge last season, could convince Davis to commit to New Orleans for the long haul. Such a run would likely require Davis to keep up this superhuman production and maybe even take it up a notch.

The notion that Davis could carry this flawed Pelicans roster to the playoffs is a testament to just how rare a talent he is. His future is getting the attention it is because he's worth the hype. He's a generational force, and he's only getting better.

"He wants to be the best player in the world," Gentry said. "It won't take very long. Not at 25 if he keeps playing the way he is."

        

Sean Highkin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report and is currently based in Portland. Follow him on Twitter, @highkin.

Related

    Team LeBron Comes Back to Beat Team Giannis

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Team LeBron Comes Back to Beat Team Giannis

    via Bleacher Report

    Mike Malone Clowns Team LeBron 😂

    This is the perfect response

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Mike Malone Clowns Team LeBron 😂

    This is the perfect response

    Scott Polacek
    via Bleacher Report

    Beal Admits to Recruiting Over ASW

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Beal Admits to Recruiting Over ASW

    Joseph Zucker
    via Bleacher Report

    Tatum: 'We're Going to Win the Finals This Year'

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Tatum: 'We're Going to Win the Finals This Year'

    Paul Kasabian
    via Bleacher Report