Obviously Anthony Davis’ spot on the U.S. national team roster wasn’t based on an audition tape from his most recent game.
That was his not-as-good-as-it-sounds 16-point, four-rebound effort in the Pelicans’ desultory 114-97 home loss to Sacramento on Tuesday.
If they had Razzies for basketball players, Davis’ second-half performance, when he made only 1 of 7 shots, would have merited a nomination.
And coming after a recent run of sterling performances, including the 27-point, 10-rebound outing the day before at Memphis, which Davis capped with a baseline jumper to clinch the victory that broke his injury-riddled team’s eight-game losing streak, it was shocking in its atypicalness.
“From the start, I had no energy, not doing the things I usually do,” Davis said Thursday. “Why? I don’t know. But I know the rest of the team looks to me to supply energy — running the floor, rebounding and scoring to get things going. If I don’t do that, it has an effect on the team, and it looks really bad.”
That Davis would take on such responsibility, even though he’s still nearly two months shy of his 21st birthday, is typical of the face — and future — of the franchise. Coach Monty Williams rates Davis at the top of young players he has been around in that department.
“He’s right there with LaMarcus (Aldridge) and Brandon Roy as far as understanding what they want to do with their careers and being aware of their impact on and off the floor,” Williams said. “AD’s a dream to coach; there’s no question about that. He gets it. A lot of young guys don’t. He understands who he is and what he means to the game. I could talk that about forever.”
Still, it’s a frustrating time for Davis.
Going into the season, the Pelicans appeared to be a team on the rise. Not a title contender by any stretch, but a young (nobody with more than five years’ experience in the league), seemingly talented (five lottery picks) group whose only supposed malcontent, Eric Gordon, was buying into the notion that New Orleans was the best place for him.
Throw in the new nickname and colors, a new training facility, a renovated New Orleans Arena and, especially, finally having stable ownership in Tom Benson, and all signs were pointing upwards.
But injuries, especially the ones suffered by Ryan Anderson, Jrue Holiday and Jason Smith, have proved to be devastating when you lack the reserves to make up for their absence and there aren’t enough trade options out there to make a difference.
Thus, the Pelicans’ playoff hopes, which depended on relative good health, have in all practicality disappeared.
They entered the new year 14-17, coming off a victory against Portland, which seemingly proved they could hang with the best of them, and on the playoff bubble.
Now, heading into the polar vortex at Detroit on Friday night, the Pels are 16-25. That’s one game out of tying for the fifth-worst record in the league, which would return the protected first-round pick they sent to Philadelphia in the Holiday trade.
With victories over the second half of the season in danger of becoming about as rare as Pierre sightings, the Pelicans likely won’t have to tank — which is a ridiculous notion to begin with — to wind up with a shot at the magic ping-pong ball that delivered them Davis two years ago.
Through it all, though, Davis has gone from 13.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game as a rookie to 20.2 and 10.3 with a league-leading 3.0 blocked shots this season.
While he didn’t earn a starting berth in the All-Star Game and may not land a reserve spot because of the depth of big men in the Western Conference, Davis was an Olympian before he ever played in the NBA and was the second-youngest player named Thursday to the early USA roster.
That’s the kind of player a struggling franchise needs to surround with as much other talent as possible and, when the time comes, reward him.
Fellow former Kentucky player DeMarcus Cousins was given a four-year, $62 million contact to stay in Sacramento despite being suspended last season for having an unprofessional attitude. How much is Davis going to be worth a couple of years from now?
The Pelicans certainly are hopeful of things being better by then — which, by not blowing up a core group that hasn’t had a chance play together, can happen.
The reality of now is much different, though. And Davis is certainly aware of the situation.
But he’s not throwing in the towel.
“I’ve got to take even more on myself,” he said. “It all starts with me. If I’m going to be the leader on this team, guys are going to look for me to keep going.”
That attitude, Williams pointed out, serves to help Davis improve his game, even though tough times.
“Well, he likes to play,” Williams said. “And the games are still in the NBA, and we always talk about the privilege of playing in the NBA. “The tough times are not going to change just because we want it to. We still have to go out and play, and nobody understands that more than him.”
No doubt about that.