Some players dominate with their athleticism. Some showcase their natural skills. Some impose their will with physicality and strength. Some players rely on fundamentals.
Anthony Davis has all of those qualities, and then some. He flashed his talent as a phenom at the University of Kentucky, and showed signs of what was possible while playing for the New Orleans Pelicans through his first seven NBA seasons. And he was on full display when he helped the Los Angeles Lakers win their 17th NBA championship in 2020.
It may have surprised some that the NBA included Davis among its top 75 players. But that only points to all the other great candidates in past and more recent generations. Even while struggling to stay healthy through his 10-year NBA career, Davis has shown himself worthy of such an honor because of how he has mastered all parts of the game.
At 6-foot-10, Davis can be a menace, physically. But as you’ll see in this video, it’s the footwork that sets him apart.
Davis showcased the slick footwork well before winning the NBA title in 2020, landing on four All-NBA first teams (2015, '17, '18, '20) and leading the league in blocks for three different seasons ('14, '15, '17). Those accomplishments only validated the scouting reports on Davis, who led Kentucky to a national championship in his one and only NCAA season.
No one was surprised that Davis was a one-and-done college star. Fans only raised their eyebrows over Davis’ distinguishable unibrow. As shown in this video from his rookie season, Davis, his family and friends were all smiles when they gathered to watch the 2012 NBA Draft lottery. Once they learned New Orleans had landed the No. 1 pick, Davis and his inner circle knew where he would begin his NBA career.
The footage from Davis’ first NBA game says it all. On Oct. 31, 2012, Davis offered a promising rookie debut against the San Antonio Spurs with 21 points, seven rebounds, an assist and a steal. Granted, the Spurs collected the win, but they did that often against the Pelicans. Davis held his own against Hall of Famer Tim Duncan, throwing down lobs and sinking baseline jumpers.
A year after finishing second behind Portland’s Damian Lillard for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year, Davis appeared in his first NBA All-Star game. And why wouldn’t he? Despite missing a combined 15 games because of numerous injuries, Davis – now at 21 -- still ranked first in the NBA in blocks per game (2.8) and 10th in rebounds per game (10.0), while also averaging 20.8 points on 51.9% shooting.
Known simply as “AD,” Davis was an emerging star, and everyone knew it.
Davis was an instant hit in New Orleans, on the court and off. He was an NBA star in a city that desperately needed one, even drawing NFL idols to the front row of home games. His incredible skill and competitiveness were on display every night, from the opening tip, and his connection to the New Orleans people came naturally.
A playoff team in Davis’ third season (2015), the Pelicans were outgunned by the mighty Golden State Warriors in a first-round sweep. But Davis showed signs of what was ahead, averaging 31.5 points and 11 rebounds in the series while shooting 54% from the field.
The following year, Davis put together the best regular-season performance of his career. On Feb. 21, 2016, Davis posted a career-high 59 points on 24-of-34 shooting against the Detroit Pistons.
And for good measure he also grabbed 20 rebounds. Just watch the video below. Davis goes old school with powerful dunks, but also showcases his modern-day skills with fall-away jumpers and a pair of 3-pointers. And the love? Teammates Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson provide the love on live TV.
Two years later, Davis displayed those same qualities, but this time in a high-stakes game. With star teammate DeMarcus Cousins out for the second half of the season with a ruptured left Achilles tendon, Davis built off of his own resume while mitigating Cousins’ absence.
Davis and the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers 4-0, their first playoff victory since 2011. Davis set the tone in Game 1 with 35 points, 14 rebounds and a playoff career-high four blocks. Scoring from seemingly every spot on the floor, Davis overwhelmed the Blazers from the start. They simply couldn’t do anything to stop him.
In the decisive Game 4, the Blazers again lived through the Davis nightmare. The New Orleans star set a postseason franchise record with 47 points. Amid the numerous dunks, jumpers and blocks, there was an even more impressive play: After catching an entry pass, Davis drew a foul and converted a left-handed layup before falling to the ground. He flexed his muscles afterward, a symbolic gesture that suggested Davis had become unstoppable.
With James constantly feeding the ball to the giant, youthful forward, Davis totaled 29 double-doubles and five 40-point games in his first season as a Laker. James and Davis became so amicable that the two likened their dynamic to the characters in the comedy movie, “Stepbrothers.”
But it wasn’t all rosy. The Lakers experienced significant rough patches that season: They had a disrupted training camp in China, they navigated through the tragic deaths of Kobe and Gianna Bryant, and then, in March 2020, the entire season was put on hold because of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
When play resumed four months later at a quarantined campus in Florida, James and Davis saw an opportunity to bond with teammates and focus on a championship.
Davis elevated his dominance to a level never seen in New Orleans. He secured Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals against the Nuggets by making a game-winning 3-pointer and crediting the late Kobe Bryant for inspiring him. In the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat, Davis sought more inspiration from the late Lakers legend.
Davis became an early favorite for Finals MVP by averaging 33 points, 11.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in Games 1 and 2. Following an off performance in a Game 3 loss, Davis ensured a Game 4 win by delivering a dagger 3-pointer and holding Heat star Jimmy Butler to 1-of-7 shooting. After nursing injuries in his right heel and left ankle in a Game 5 loss, Davis shook off the aches and pains and excelled well enough in a decisive Game 6 win. Afterward, Davis showed both elation and tears while celebrating his first NBA title through hugs and champagne baths.