Anthony Davis experiences eventful week with USA team

by Jim Eichenhofer

Among the group of 20 elite players who participated in USA Basketball’s training camp in Las Vegas, New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis was often a center of attention, drawing raves from peers for the player he’s become at just 21. By the end of the week in the desert, however, the warm feelings generated by Team USA and Davis gave way to shock and sadness, the result of Indiana Pacers All-Star Paul George’s gruesome in-game leg fracture. Late Friday night, instead of relaxing after a busy week on the court, Davis spent time in a Las Vegas hospital, visiting George.

Over four practice days and portions of Friday’s USA showcase game at the Thomas & Mack Center, Davis displayed his ever-expanding game, though his role may be a bit more narrowly defined with the USA team. Due to a dearth of big men – partly the result of last-minute withdrawals by Kevin Love and Blake Griffin – the 6-foot-10, 238-pounder will likely stick more to in-the-paint duty. The American squad will need Davis to take on even bigger rebounding and shot-blocking responsibilities than usual – although his best NBA position is power forward, it appears likely he’ll start at center at the FIBA World Cup.

Regardless of how the final USA roster is comprised, it will have no shortage of prolific guards, which could make scoring less of a priority for Davis. During Friday’s showcase game that was cut short by George’s second-half injury, Davis attempted seven shots in his 16 minutes of playing time. The Western Conference All-Star finished with seven points and four rebounds, in a game that was described by many as guard-centric. The 2013 showcase game had served as a coming-out party for Davis, who racked up 23 points on 10-for-13 shooting. Over the ensuing 12 months, his NBA opponents and USA teammates have been wowed by his rapid ascension, which led to Davis earning third place in the league’s Most Improved Player vote for 2013-14.

“He’s gotten so much better,” said Dallas forward Chandler Parsons, himself a vastly improved player from his rookie year. “He’s one of my favorite players here. He’s so long defensively that he can get his hands on a lot of things. He blocks a lot of shots. Even when he’s not blocking shots, he’s altering them. He’s a great rebounder, he runs the floor, he’s athletic. There’s not much he can’t do on the basketball court. Like I said, he’s one of my favorite players here. I think he’s got a heck of a future ahead of him.”

“He’s definitely grown,” Houston guard James Harden said. “He’s gotten a lot better. Last year was definitely a big step. He’s an excellent rebounder who can score the ball, shoot the ball. He was the No. 1 draft pick, but he’s gotten so much better. He’s a great shot-blocker. He does it all.”

Harden also made an interesting comparison between Davis and Harden’s former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate, reigning league MVP Kevin Durant.

“(Davis) looks a lot stronger,” Harden said. “When he came into the league, he was still young. He was already skilled, but was frail, kind of like KD was when he got to the NBA. (Davis) just was able to put more weight on himself and get stronger. You can see his development every single day.”

USA teammate Damian Lillard, who edged Davis for the Rookie of the Year trophy in 2012-13, said he knew the University of Kentucky product’s potential while watching him lead the Wildcats to a national title in ’12. Lillard, then a relatively unknown senior guard at Weber State, realized that his upside was immense.

“His development is impressive, but I expected it from him,” Lillard said. “When I saw him play in college, I was like ‘He should be in the NBA right now!’

“I think he can be great. I think he can be one of the best, because he’s so tall and so long, but he can really move. He can put the ball on the floor, he can shoot, he’s athletic, a great defender, rim protector. And he’s young. He’s already the leader of a team, the best player on a team. He’s only going to grow and only going to get better. I think the sky’s the limit for him.”