Anthony Davis ready to make leap in Year 2
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
By any objective measurement, Jrue Holiday is the most accomplished player on the New Orleans Pelicans’ youthful roster. He’s the only Pelican with an All-Star appearance on his resume, as well as the lone member who’s been a starter on a team that’s advanced beyond the first round of the NBA playoffs.
Yet when Holiday was acquired this summer in a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers, he quickly pointed out what everyone around the league has known since David Stern announced the first pick of the 2012 NBA Draft: New Orleans’ franchise player is Anthony Davis.
“Anthony is the franchise guy,” Holiday said during one of his first interviews as a Pelican.
It’s not easy for a 20-year-old to eventually carry the weight of a team on his shoulders, but it’s a nearly-unavoidable burden for every No. 1 overall draft pick, including Davis. It’s also true that when things don’t go well for an NBA team, fans and media don’t point blame at a club’s 11th man – they hold the star player accountable for what went wrong. That’s something Pelicans Coach Monty Williams pointed out to Davis while explaining the importance of the youngster becoming a team leader on and off the court.
“Coach wanted me to have that role, but not put too much pressure on me (as a rookie),” Davis said. “Coach is still guiding me down that path, because a couple years down the road, it’s going to be on me. If there’s a big game we lose that we should never (have lost), it’s on my shoulders. He’s trying to prepare me for that. I’m trying to show (Pelicans teammates) that if we keep working hard, we can be great. I’m trying to be that type of leader that he wants me to be.”
Davis assumed a vocal role with New Orleans’ summer league team and carried that into September’s voluntary workouts in the team’s new practice facility. He also benefited from a second straight year of USA Basketball participation. As a 19-year-old in 2012, he was a member of the Olympic gold medal team, which included many of the game’s greatest players. This July, he and Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving often looked like the best players at USAB’s minicamp.
“The first time I went there, I hadn’t played any basketball professionally,” Davis said of jumping straight from college into playing with the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant on the ’12 Olympic team. “They just kind of threw me into a pack of wolves. I was very nervous. It was uncomfortable for me, but those guys welcomed me with open arms and said, ‘Just play.’ Playing with those guys really helped my confidence a lot.”
By comparison to his thrown-to-wolves USA debut, Davis was brought along slowly as a New Orleans rookie, averaging 28.8 minutes per game (Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard averaged 38.6). However, his responsibility increased as 2012-13 progressed. He averaged 16.1 points and 9.8 rebounds in his final 19 appearances, covering March and April. He delivered one of the best highlights of his first pro year with a tip-in at the buzzer to beat Boston on March 20.
“The confidence that I had leaving the season – I think I played well toward the end of the season – I took that to USA (camp) and brought it back here, and hopefully into this season,” Davis said. “I’ve just been working out, working on my game.”
Strength training has enabled Davis to increase his weight from around 215 pounds at the end of last season to 230 now. One of the biggest adjustments of Davis’ transition from college to the pros was the physicality of opposing big men in the NBA. The additional muscle should help him hold his position better around the rim this season.
“In college, I could hold my own,” Davis said. “Guys didn’t have post moves in college, so it’s a lot different. (In the NBA), the physicality rises, the play rises. It was tough. That’s why I had to push myself and get stronger, to withstand the 82-game season.”
Along with his sturdier frame, Davis focused on improving his overall game this summer. At USA Basketball, many observers who hadn’t seen Davis play much last season were surprised by his ballhandling and perimeter shooting skills.
“(I’ve added) a couple post moves,” he said. “My post game got a little better. Jump shot got a lot better. I’m still going to go out there and explore, because this is only my second year. There are still a lot of things I need to learn about the league.”
With the Pelicans’ eight-game preseason schedule quickly approaching, Davis is looking forward to displaying some of his summer improvements on the court. New Orleans begins the exhibition schedule with a three-game road trip, starting Saturday, Oct. 5 in Houston.
“My mindset now is so much more prepared for what’s going to happen,” Davis said, comparing Year 2 to entering his rookie season. “I’m ready for it. I feel like I’m in great shape and ready to get this ball rolling. I’m ready to start playing. First game on (October) the fifth. Let’s go hoop.”