It’s weirdly easy to forget about Anthony Davis. The Pelicans big man has a fraction of the personality that DeMarcus Cousins does, he’s played in just four playoff games in his five-year career (all of them losses to the Warriors), and he’s been very good for long enough that the shine of an ascendant star is no longer on him. Consider his last week’s worth of games, then, a reminder of what a transcendent superstar Davis can be when he’s on.
After edging past the Celtics in Boston last night, the Pelicans have won their last three games. In those games, Davis has averaged 43 points, 14 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, and 1.7 steals on 55 percent shooting. His back-to-back 45-point, 15-rebound games in road wins put him in rare company. That’s a tiny statistical target to hit, and both of the road wins came in overtime, but they do accurately sum up how great Davis has been. The Pelicans have Cousins, Davis, Jrue Holiday, and handful of corpses on their team, so they only win when their best players go off. Sometimes that’s been Boogie. Lately, it’s been Davis.
Davis is at his best when he can attack the rim from a variety of angles. Rajon Rondo might not be anywhere close to his All-Star form, but at least he’s a worthwhile alley-oop tosser. Davis’s pterosaur-esque wingspan allows him to score in the paint if he gets a tiny bit of space or momentum, and when he’s canning jumpers, he’ll earn himself that space. Having a long-limbed terror like Davis shoot 10-footers seems like a gross misuse of his talents, and while he can convert from anywhere inside the arc (and, increasingly, outside of it too), he’s taking far fewer long two-pointers this season and getting to the rim more. Roughly half of his shots come at the rim or beyond the arc, up from 37 percent last year. Numbers aside, dude can make plays that nobody save for perhaps Giannis Antetokounmpo can make.
Doing it against three above-average defenses (including the NBA’s best) is truly impressive—the Celtics have shut down Joel Embiid on two occasions this season, and gave the Warriors the business in November—and while he’ll naturally return to Earth at some point or another, the Pelicans need him to maintain his current form. Davis, Cousins, and Holiday score 71 of the Pelicans’ 111 points per game. Their defense is seventh-worst in the NBA, so they tend to win by outgunning opponents. At 23-20, they’re currently on the right side of a four-team scuffle for the West’s last three playoff spots. New Orleans’ depth issues mean that if they are to make it back to the playoffs and make a compelling case for Cousins to stick around instead of wandering off in free agency, winning a playoff game or two (or, hell, a series) will be critical. That’s a long ways away, but nobody in the NBA has been better in January than Anthony Davis.