Davis emerges as vocal leader for Pelicans
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
LAS VEGAS – Anthony Davis is only a year removed from college and won’t turn 21 until the second half of the 2013-14 NBA season. So perhaps you couldn’t fault him much if he were still apprehensive about taking on a significant leadership role with the New Orleans Pelicans.
The thing is, though, Davis is a No. 1 overall draft pick, bearing the lofty expectations that automatically come with that distinction. After a recent offseason overhaul by New Orleans, Davis is also now the fourth-longest tenured Pelican. The only New Orleans players who’ve been with the franchise longer are Jason Smith, Eric Gordon and Al-Farouq Aminu. In addition, the team’s oldest roster member, free-agent center Greg Stiemsma, is just seven years older than Davis. All but four Pelicans are 25 or under.
If you combine all of those factors, it appears to be an opportune time for the 6-foot-10 power forward to make the conscious decision to become more vocal around his teammates. It’s a version of Davis that’s been evident over the past two weeks in Las Vegas. During summer league, the second-year pro became an extra assistant coach, counseling Pelicans players and lending some of his on- and off-the-court advice.
“A lot of the guys have been joking with me saying, ‘You’re the veteran on this team now!’ ” Davis said, smiling. “I know there are guys on the team who are older than me, with more years in the league, but at the same time, you can’t be quiet. I try to tell them what I see on the floor and express my opinion, my basketball knowledge.”
“I think he’s more comfortable now,” Williams said of Davis’ adjustment to the NBA. “Obviously he played well, and everybody loves him. But he also understands that people are going to judge him differently than other players. He wants to be an All-Star. He wants to be one of the best players in the league. He wants to be a night-in and night-out guy that you can count on. So he’s put the work in. He’s also more vocal, and he’s stepping out there to show our team that he’s not going to sidestep being a leader. I’ve pushed him to do stuff in his second year that he hasn’t been asked to do. And I think that’s good for him, because he’s a special player.”
Davis finished his rookie season with averages of 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.75 blocks, excellent numbers for any first-year pro. Yet those statistics would’ve been even more impressive had Davis been thrown to the wolves (and Timberwolves) as a rookie. Instead, the 2012 NCAA champion averaged a relatively modest 28.8 minutes per game. There were six NBA rookies who logged more playing time in 2012-13 than Davis’ total of 1,846 minutes. Rookie of the Year winner Damian Lillard, for example, was on the floor for 3,167 minutes for Portland. Kyle Singler, Maurice Harkless and USA Basketball minicamp invitees Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist also registered more minutes than Davis.
As Williams explained, Davis’ moderate first-year workload was by design. Even though it may have made things more painful for team and coach from a short-term standpoint, it was an approach Williams believed was best for the budding player.
“He was the No. 1 pick – that in itself brings a different kind of pressure,” Williams said. “But that’s OK. That’s what you want. That means he’s a gifted player and people expect a lot out of him. And at the same time, it’s my job to limit that pressure and manage the expectations. I thought I did that last year, maybe to my detriment. But for him to be the best player he can be, I thought we had to tail it off a little bit. Now I think we can kind of push him out there and say, ‘Hey, let’s go.’ I think he’s more prepared for it now.”
“Unless you’re maybe LeBron James or something, it’s really hard to come in right away and (lead an NBA team as a rookie),” USA Basketball invitee and Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson said. “You can’t do it. But we have a team that is really young and guys want to listen to someone who has earned that respect. It gives Anthony the opportunity to step up and get out of that mold where he’s questioning what to say or not. He can just say it now, because he has everyone’s respect.”
Williams and Anderson both recognize how squarely the microscope can be on a No. 1 overall draft pick such as Davis. In today’s intense media climate, it can affect the way a high-profile athlete conducts himself. Davis sometimes seems a bit introverted in public, but he’s not always that way.
“He’s quiet around you guys (media members),” Williams said of Davis’ personality. “AD’s not going to host a talk show, but he’s a smart kid. That’s how you have to be when you’re in his position. Nowadays you can’t say anything to anybody, because if you say the wrong thing it might be taken out of context and (turn into a controversy). So he’s pretty careful with his words – and you have to be.”
Anderson: “There’s a lot of pressure that goes with being the No. 1 pick. He’s handled it really well. But I think he knows eventually this team is going to go on his shoulders. He’s taking that lead. It’s great to see him kind of get out of that shell and talk to guys, get in huddles. Just watching him play this summer, he’s improved so much. He’s developing in a lot of ways, but one of the biggest things is his leadership is really developing. It’s fun to be on the same team.”