The Pelicans were supposed to be last year’s surprise Western Conference playoff debutante, but instead, injuries and incompetence stripped them of their chance and they pooped out an utterly forgettable 30-win season. Worst of all, Anthony Davis stagnated, got shut down in March with an injury, and cost himself $24 million by not making an all-NBA team. Davis, once the league’s premier ascendant superstar on the rise, lost the spotlight to Karl-Anthony Towns and his team lost a few starters in the offseason. There was not much cause to be excited about Pelicans basketball this year.
Except, holy shit, Anthony Davis is still an unprecedented sort of player, and he went out and had one of the very best all-around games in NBA history tonight against the Nuggets. Davis finished the game with 50 points, 16 rebounds, five assists, seven steals, and four blocks. Nobody has ever had such a stat line since 1983-84, which is as far back as Basketball Reference’s data goes for most stats. Davis became the first player to get 50 in a season opener since Michael Jordan and Karl Malone did it in 1989. Here’s a highlight reel.
I’d like to make particular note of this big dunk.
Davis was mostly matched up against either much smaller players tonight (like Kenneth Faried, but really, most players are smaller than Davis) or slower ones (Jusuf Nurkic) and he exposed the inadequacies of every defender who checked him. Davis takes a lot of jumpers, but he’s so long that almost any shot is a comfortable one for him. He’s as liable to dunk on your head as he is to pop it in your face, and he also has the wingspan of a condor, which makes defending every action that much harder.
For all of his physical gifts, Davis has yet to truly assert himself as an elite defensive player (Monta Ellis had more defensive win shares than him last year, somehow). Gaudy block and steal numbers aren’t necessarily indicative of lockdown defense, but they do show that he’s playing aggressively, which seems like it’ll help since he’s so stretchy and disruptive.
The Pelicans did not, however, win tonight. For all Davis’s heroics, the rest of the Pelicans mostly played like a bunch of turds. They are not a particularly deep team and they don’t have any dynamic players beyond Davis and I suppose Lance Stephenson, depending how in-control he is. This team won’t be good this year unless Buddy Hield is in fact the second coming of Jesus Christ, but Anthony Davis is still the shit.