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Pelicans Playoff Berth Would Pave Way for Anthony Davis to Make MVP History

this is a discussion within the Pelicans Community Forum; History tells us that Anthony Davis' MVP case, tall though it stands, is marching fruitlessly forward, resting on a whim so impossibly small it may not actually exist. Leading the New Orleans Pelicans to an improbable playoff berth would change ...

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Old 03-20-2015, 01:31 PM   #1
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Pelicans Playoff Berth Would Pave Way for Anthony Davis to Make MVP History

History tells us that Anthony Davis' MVP case, tall though it stands, is marching fruitlessly forward, resting on a whim so impossibly small it may not actually exist.

Leading the New Orleans Pelicans to an improbable playoff berth would change everything.

Cases against the legitimacy of Davis' candidacy are twofold. First and foremost, he's contending within an unpredictably deep field, with as many as five other players staking their claim in this chase.

Stephen Curry is the best player on the best team. And not only is he the best player on the best team, but he's indispensable. The Golden State Warriors' net rating equates to that of a lottery team without him on the floor.

Chris Paul continues to be Chris Paul, creating points for both himself and others. He has kept the Los Angeles Clippers afloat through injuries and almost single-handedly ensured their implosive defense avoids bottom-10 designation.

LeBron James is in this discussion because he lives in this discussion. The Cleveland Cavaliers are a disastrous 2-9 when he doesn't play and post a net rating worse than that of the Los Angeles Lakers when he's riding pine.

Russell Westbrook is making a mockery of box scores everywhere. The Oklahoma City Thunder are struggling to make the playoffs, yet he's collecting triple-doubles like they're made free throws. If not for him, the team would be out of playoff contention entirely.

Finally, there's James Harden, who is carrying the Houston Rockets toward title contention. That they're in play for the Western Conference's second-best record despite the absences of Dwight Howard and a second proven playmaker is absurd.



Every one of these stars, including Davis, has a leg stand on. The field is so competitive that the search for a favorite, for clarity, has become a matter of mudslinging, as CBS Sports' Matt Moore describes:



This is where Davis begins to diverge from his MVP-worthy brethren. History is working against him more than anyone else.

Not one of the last 30 MVPs has missed more than 11 games. Davis has missed 13 thus far, the second most of any MVP contender this season (Westbrook).

Twenty-eight of the last 30 winners played for teams that ranked first or second in their respective conference; all 30 have come from squads that finished no worse than third. The ceiling for Davis' Pelicans is eighth place, just as it is for Westbrook's Thunder.

Most importantly, no MVP has been as young as Davis. Wes Unseld (1968-69) and Derrick Rose (2010-11), the youngest recipients ever, turned 22 on or before Feb. 1 of their winning season. Davis didn't turn 22 until March 11, and he's at least four years every other candidate's junior.



If we're to take past trends as gospel, not even a playoff appearance would seem to help Davis. Aside from the age disparity, this essentially puts him in the same company as Westbrook, and few are using Oklahoma City's eighth-place run to fuel his cause.

Why, then, should Davis be any different?

Because the Pelicans aren't supposed to be here, a mere one game off a playoff spot.

Nor are they supposed to earn that No. 8 seed now that they're here.

On paper, even with Davis, they're the clearly inferior team. And on top of that, their list of personnel problems is worse than the Thunder's. As Moore writes:
Of course, on the flip side, the good news for OKC is that somehow the Pelicans have had worse luck. It's becoming more and more apparent that they're not getting Jrue Holiday back this season, and Ryan Anderson is still weeks away. Tyreke Evans and Anthony Davis have had to battle through injuries, and their bench is depleted. Their healthiest key player right now is probably Eric Gordon. Think about that.

Evans, Anderson, Holiday, Gordon and Davis have missed a combined 83 games this season. Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Westbrook have totaled 60.

While that number is rising with Durant and Ibaka still out, the Pelicans are missing two key players themselves in Anderson and Holiday without any concrete timetable for their returns. That's in addition to Davis sitting out Thursday night's loss to the Phoenix Suns with a rolled left ankle.

The schedule isn't helping things. Nine of New Orleans' final 14 games come against teams above. 500 compared to eight for Oklahoma City.

Durant is the real kicker, though. He's been removed from all basketball activities after experiencing soreness in his surgically repaired right foot, per ESPN.com's Royce Young. If he's able to return this season, he is a weapon, a superstar, the Pelicans do not have no matter how healthy they end up.

Edging out the Thunder in spite of all that sends a poignant message, speaking to everything Davis can do and how much he, one player, one kid, means to an entire team.



Remember, this playoff berth would be on top of everything he already has going for him. Davis is still flirting with the best player efficiency rating in league history. As it stands, he's on pace to join Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and James as the only players to record marks north of 31—and doing so at least three years before any of them could.

Should his per-game numbers hold, Davis will be just the second player in league history aged 21 or younger by Feb. 1 of that season to average at least 24 points, 10 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. The other: Shaquille O'Neal.

"My thing is, I don't take plays off, and I do my best to help the team," Davis said, per NBA.com's Shaun Powell. "When you put the team first, good things usually happen."

Good things indeed.

New Orleans is outscoring opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions when he plays, a net rating better than plenty of championship contenders, including the San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets and Cavaliers.

Relative to the rest of the MVP field, Davis represents more of his team's victories. His 11.6 win shares rank fourth in the league—a feat itself knowing that number surpasses James' 8.7, even though Davis has appeared in fewer games and plays for a team with far fewer victories.

This also means Davis accounts for 31.4 percent of New Orleans' victories, by far and away the most of any other candidate:



Said Davis, per Powell: "We know what's at stake."

A playoff berth.



And, by association, an MVP award.

Something as ostensibly trivial as New Orleans' record shouldn't disqualify him from consideration given everything else. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won the honor in 1975-76 while playing for a sub-.500 Lakers squad, and Davis is doing now what he did then: pushing boundaries.

Testing limits.

Transcending the value of a team's record to historical significance—a process that, should it end with a once-improbable playoff berth, stands a real chance of reinventing the fabric from which decades of MVPs have been cut.



*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com and are accurate heading into March 20's games.

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