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Anthony Davis Is Oh, so Close to Being the NBA's Best Player

this is a discussion within the Pelicans Community Forum; A glance at Anthony Davis’ numbers is like the view from the top of a mountain—everything just goes on and on…and on. The longer you stare, the more impressive it all becomes. The 21-year-old, now in his third NBA season, ...

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Old 01-03-2015, 02:30 PM   #1
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Anthony Davis Is Oh, so Close to Being the NBA's Best Player

A glance at Anthony Davis’ numbers is like the view from the top of a mountain—everything just goes on and on…and on. The longer you stare, the more impressive it all becomes.

The 21-year-old, now in his third NBA season, is putting up video game stats for the New Orleans Pelicans. Davis is scoring 24.8 points (tied for fourth most in the league), grabbing 10.5 boards (ninth) and swatting 2.9 blocks (first) a night while also leading the Association in offensive win shares. His mark of 31.4 stands just a hair behind Russell Westbrook (31.7) for the league lead in player efficiency rating, though the former is more impressive given that he's played in 12 more games.

New Orleans has a shot—albeit a long one—to earn its first playoff berth since Chris Paul’s departure, but the Western Conference is so competitive that Davis’ season may end in April instead of June.

On New Year’s Eve, Bleacher Report’s senior NBA writer Howard Beck wrote, “The Western Conference playoff race is over.” Beck pointed to the Golden State Warriors, Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder as his picks for the top eight finishers.

But let’s throw the whole team concept out the window for a second. In a league overflowing with individual talent, is Davis the best player?

Carrying the ‘Cans

Before each game, every Pelican throws on his jersey, laces up his kicks and promptly climbs aboard Davis’ back—night in and night out.

Basketball-Reference.com scores the Pelicans offense as the league’s eighth best (109.0). When Davis is on the floor, that number jumps from 104.7 to 110.5, which would be the No. 5 attack in basketball.

Here’s another staggering number from B/R’s Adam Fromal, who created a way to predict the future of today's teams by comparing them to similar squads of the past:

Considering that James Harden and Stephen Curry are serious MVP candidates, Davis' ability to shoulder such a massive load is even more impressive.

We’re in an era flooded with advanced stats. Soon, there might be a metric that tracks a player’s efficiency after one swig of Gatorade compared to two. But the numbers surrounding Davis and his impact on the Pelicans are almost unbelievable.

Davis’ influence goes beyond statistics, too. He’s a highlight-reel machine, and his length and freaky athleticism allow him to play above the rim on both ends. Pretty soon, regardless of the Pelicans’ standing, Davis is going to become a LeBron James-sort of attraction to opposing crowds.

Few 21-year-olds possess the ability to single-handedly fill stadiums, and even fewer draw comparisons to all-time greats. Dec. 31, the San Antonio Spurs topped the division rival Pelicans in a showdown that pitted the past (Tim Duncan) against the future (Davis).

Davis flushed home a go-ahead dunk with .7 seconds left in the game, but a wild lob pass to Duncan out of the Spurs’ timeout poetically sent the game into overtime. San Antonio pulled away for a 95-93 win.

While Davis, who tallied 21 points and 12 boards compared to Duncan's 16 and 10, might not be able to push the Pels over the top against elite teams, he sure can get close.

Pelicans coach Monty Williams addressed comparisons between AD and the Big Fundamental, unarguably the greatest power forward of all time.

"They have similar demeanors," Williams said, via Jennifer Hale of Fox Sports Southwest. "There is no fake emotion. They both look at the game as a sanctuary and always look to make the right play. They never put themselves above the team, even though they could."

"Make no mistake, AD is blazing his own trail," he added. "Let's see where he is in another [five] or 10 years."

Coming up big when it matters most is a huge part of stardom. Against the Spurs, Davis rose to the occasion, just as he's done all year in crunch time.

Nov. 23, SB Nation’s Paul Flannery captured how thoroughly Davis has fascinated the league just three years into his pro career:
In pregame bull sessions and off-the-cuff conversations, they talk in almost hushed, reverent tones. These men of basketball who have seen them come and seen them go are reduced to whispers whenever his name comes up, as it often does in these circles.

"He’s going to revolutionize the game," one says. "We’ve never seen anything like him," another offers. When asked the time honored question: Who would you take to start a franchise, a third responds, "You mean, besides Anthony Davis?" …

We have no idea how good Anthony Davis is going to be because he’s only scratching the surface of his talent. What he offers is a tantalizing mix of length, athletic ability and timing. He needs to be seen to be believed.

A few years down the line, with James in his mid-30s, it’s hard to imagine that Davis won’t be sitting comfortably in the NBA’s individual throne, even with other superstars still around.

But what about now? As in right now, this very second. Is there a player out there truly superior to the Brow?

The Top Dogs

LeBron, Harden, Curry, Westbrook and a healthy Kevin Durant are the only players who can realistically challenge Davis’ claim to No 1.

Sure, the 17-16 Pelicans are not as good as the Cleveland Cavaliers, Rockets, Warriors or Thunder are at full strength. But that’s not on AD.

In Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, Cleveland has two bona fide stars playing alongside LBJ, who will miss the next two weeks with back and knee tweaks. The Cavs haven’t been consistently dominant, but James’ track record (his rings are sparkling as you read this) speaks for itself.

Westbrook missed time early on with a broken hand but has gone on a rampage since his Nov. 28 return, averaging a career-high 27.3 points and dishing out 7.1 assists. Now Durant is back from his second injury of the year and just dropped a combined 78 points in his first two game since Dec. 18.

“Gulp,” said the Western Conference.

Harden has blossomed into a legitimately elite star on a stacked Rockets roster that also features Dwight Howard. At 22-9, Houston is the fourth-best team in the West. And the Dubs? They're the class of the conference at 26-5, with Curry and Klay Thompson shooting the lights out on a nightly basis.

In a league full of superstar duos and trios, Davis is left alone with only Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson—all respectable players, just not studs—by his side as he leads New Orleans into battle.

It’s a situation very similar to LeBron’s first go-around in Cleveland. Back in 2004-05, a 20-year-old LBJ had an explosion similar to that of Davis’, racking up 27 points, 7.4 boards and 7.2 assists a night. However, as is the case for the Pelicans, the Cavs straddled the .500 line and eventually finished 40-42.

The next year, James’ stats continued to climb (31.4 points, 7.0 boards, 6.6 assists). Cleveland finished 50-32 and went all the way to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Davis is traveling a comparable route. Like James was (and still is), AD is a talent great enough to carry an undermanned team and make it relevant.

"I think he's one of the elite players right now," James said back in November, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com. “If he continues to stay healthy like he's been doing and continues to keep growing, he can be a superstar in our league for sure.”

Dec. 13, James’ praise of the lanky beast expanded even further.

“For him to be as young as he is, he plays above his age and that's part of the reason he can continue and probably be one of the greats to play this game," James said.

Barring injury, Davis’ road to greatness is paved. As long as he continues to improve and eventually finds success in the postseason, he’ll be a perennial All-Star and a potential Hall of Famer.

The NBA community—fans, media and players alike—has always appeared very reluctant to recognize a passing of the torch from one great to the next. Maybe it's out of respect, or perhaps it’s a testament to just how much talent the league has flowing through its veins.

It’s difficult to say that Davis is the absolute best player in the league when Harden, Curry, Durant and Westbrook are also playing out of their minds. And LeBron is still LeBron, after all.

But Davis, with less than three full years at the professional level under his belt, has already launched himself into that class of top players, all of whom are battle-hardened veterans.

An argument could be made for any one of those six, and that doesn’t even take guys like Marc Gasol into consideration.

“It makes you smile to see yourself becoming the player you want to be,” Davis told Sports Illustrated's Lee Jekins in a feature that ran on Dec. 9. “When people talk about the greatest ever, I want to be in that conversation. I’m nowhere close to it. No . . . where . . . close. But it’s where I want to go.”

In order to race ahead of the pack, AD's jumper needs to improve—according to NBA.com's Tracking Function, he's shooting 71.6 percent from shots within five feet of the cup but less than 43 percent on attempts beyond that.

Over the summer, he talked about adding a three-point shot to his massive arsenal, but he's 0-7 from distance this season.

Davis also needs to become more aggressive. While he can fill up the stat sheet like few others, there are nights that he's too quiet and passive, failing to demand the ball and display the pit bull mentality that makes players like Westbrook and James so special. On the year, he's averaging just 16.8 shots but shooting 56.5 percent from the field.

"I still have a lot more to do," Davis said over the summer, via Nakia Hogan of NOLA.com. "I still have things that I want to work on to take that next step and become [an] even better player and do more for the team."

He's got a smooth-looking jumper as it is, so expanding his range won't be atom-splitting work. Aggression can't be taught, but it can be developed from within—Davis needs to bring the "I'm the best" mentality every night, both in regard to his teammates and those who dare to cover him.

How long it will take for AD to definitively dethrone the rest of the league’s elite, no one person can answer. But that moment is coming very soon, perhaps as early as next season.

It’s truly a matter of "when," not "if," Davis becomes the NBA’s undisputed best player.

All stats are accurate as of Jan. 2 courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

Read more New Orleans Pelicans news on BleacherReport.com

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