Anthony Davis put the entire NBA on notice last week, after he put up an incredible 59 point, 20 rebound performance against the Detroit Pistons.
It was just the fourth 50+ point and 20+ rebound game in 40 years, and showed just what 22-year-old Davis is capable of, as he was almost single-handedly responsible for the victory, providing over half of his team’s points.
He has returned to form since the turn of the year, but instead of revelling in Davis’ performance, which was spectacular, it begged the question, where has this player been hiding all season?
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Brilliant last season
Last year, Davis was one of the most dominant forces in the entire league, dragging an average Pelicans side into the final playoff spot in the extremely difficult Western Conference.
He averaged more than a double-double, with 24.4 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, with an astounding player efficiency rating (PER) of 30.81.
That PER number was the eleventh highest single-season rating of all-time, with only three players ever beating that score, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan and LeBron James, pretty exclusive company.
After his sensational year, Davis was handed the largest contract in NBA history, a five-year $145 million extension and it is possible that too much was expected from the young superstar too soon.
It was anticipated that Davis’ stratospheric rise would continue, which it certainly still will, however, entering his fourth NBA season, what was not expected was his development to stagnate for a season.
Development has been stunted this year
Heading into the year, Davis was one of the favourites for MVP, alongside Steph Curry, LeBron James and Kevin Durant, yet the year has not materialised as planned.
What must be emphasised is that Davis has not become any worse during this season than he was last, particularly with any statistical changes, which have only regressed or improved by minor amounts.
But there has been circumstances surrounding this year’s New Orleans side that were not present during the 14/15 season, which has led to Davis falling out of the NBA limelight.
New Orleans have suffered numerous injuries to key players in their rotation throughout the season, which has hampered their consistency to progress from last season.
The Pelicans have seen two of their starting guards, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans miss large amounts of playing time due to injury after the team traded away their initial starting point guard, Ish Smith, which has severely hampered their progress.
Any team would be suffering with similar playing time missed by their starters, however, it has been doubly difficult for the Pelicans, as it has come in a season where the players are attempting to adapt to a new philosophy and style of play from a new coach.
Learning new system
Alvin Gentry, the assistant coach at the Golden State Warriors last season, was hired by the Pelicans in the offseason, and brought in a different mentality to previous coach Monty Williams.
Gentry wants the team to run the floor at every opportunity, as he is a product of learning as an assistant under Mike D’Antoni during his reign with the infamous ‘seven seconds or less’ Phoenix Suns team in the mid-2000s.
The injuries have therefore made it nigh-on impossible for Gentry to really stamp his mark on a team looking to take the next step up and compete for a championship.
Playing too well, too soon?
There is also the possibility that Davis was almost unfortunate to play so well throughout last season and that because of this, with the Pelicans playing above themselves, the expectation on the 22-year-old was just too much heading into this season.
Since New Orleans are almost certainly out of playoff contention, it seems a weight has been lifted from Davis, who has begun to play more like the explosive star we saw last season.
His performance at Detroit was not just remarkable for the statistics and the victory alone, but because he did it against one of his rivals, who would also like to be proclaimed the ‘best big man in the game’, Andre Drummond.
Drummond had no answer for Davis, as may nearly every other NBA team when, not if, he takes the final step to superstardom.
For now, Davis must use this year as a learning experience and finish the season with the goal of coming back even better next season.
If he does that, it may not be long before AD can finally claim the title of being the best player in basketball, when the spotlight will be firmly focussed on him once again.