New Orleans Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis isn’t mincing words anymore.
Not only did the 25-year-old phenom make known his career goal of becoming the greatest basketball player ever from Chicago — a city that has produced countless Hall of Famers, including Isiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade and (for a short time) Kevin Garnett — but he clarified his belief that he is already the best player in the NBA during a sit-down interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols that aired on Thursday.
“Honestly, I see myself as the best player in the league, the most dominant player in the league,” Davis told Nichols to start an eye-opening seven-minute segment. “I just think it’s time for that step. You only get a short window, and I don’t want that window to close, so I think my time is now.”
This is not the first time Davis has made this claim. The five-time All-Star looked into a camera last month and said, “In my eyes, I’m the best player in the game. I really feel that way, and nobody can tell me different.” But he couched that a bit on media may, telling reporters, “I think I’m very close. I think I am the most dominant player, but it’s my job to try to convince you guys [in the media].”
“Don’t get me wrong. Those two are great players, but I think I bring something unique to the table. My game is different from both of those guys — both ends of the floor, MVP candidate and Defensive Player of the Year candidate — so that’s why I feel like my name should be at the top of that list.”
This is true. It’s been nine years since James finished a distant second to Dwight Howard in DPOY voting and five years since he made the All-Defensive First Team. Durant obviously believes the only reason he doesn’t have a DPOY award is because, “It’s just pure hate for me,” but after some early buzz surrounding that possibility last year, he fell short of making any All-Defensive team once again.
What James and Durant have on Davis, besides playmaking ability, is a proven track record of winning. James has three championship rings and eight straight NBA Finals appearances to his name. Durant’s résumé includes two titles, two Finals MVPs and three Finals appearances with two different teams.
Davis said he understands that winning means everything. What he didn’t say, and clearly still understood, was that LeBron and KD didn’t do it alone. James won two rings with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and a third with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Durant made the Finals with Russell Westbrook and James Harden and two more with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
The Pelicans outscored opponents by 5.3 points per 100 possessions with Davis on the floor last season and were outscored by 5.6 points per 100 when he moved to the bench — a net rating difference of 10.6. LeBron finished with an on/off rating of 3.6 last season, and Durant’s was 2.8, which sort of lends credence to the whole more “dominant” thing, because Davis had to be more dominant.
He averaged 28.1 points (second only to James Harden), 11.1 rebounds (fifth-best in the NBA) and a league-leading 2.6 blocks per game, and he ranked among the league leaders in almost every advanced statistical category. And the Pelicans needed every bit of it to eke into the playoffs in a wild seven-team race for the Western Conference’s final six seeds. When Davis says he’s “the best” and “most dominant player in the league,” sometimes you get the sneaking suspicion he’s not wrong.
Still, the winning is what eats away at you. Davis carried his team out of the playoffs for the first time last season after failing to make the postseason in four of his previous five years. Meanwhile, LeBron and KD have met in the Finals the past two seasons and share 16 conference finals appearances between them. They are always on our TV screens and as a result deeper in our NBA consciousness.
They’re probably better basketball players, too, if only because they can create for themselves, but they’re both past their 30th birthdays, and there will likely be a point when Davis crosses a threshold and seizes the mantle of Best Player In The World. Who’s to say this won’t be that season, really.
Even still, it’ll take more than eye-popping statistics to fully convince us of it, and there’s a pretty good chance that the team success part of becoming the NBA’s alpha won’t come in New Orleans. If that moniker matters to him — and from the sound of his ESPN interview, it really matters to him — then the chatter about Davis pushing his way out of town (a la Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving and seemingly every other star in this generation) is only going to grow louder than it already has.
Even as Davis has been careful not to rock the boat too much in New Orleans, he has continued to drop hints that the Pelicans — for all their ability to offer him a super-max contract and make him the NBA’s highest-paid player next summer — better make some changes if they want him to stay beyond 2021, when he can become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his still-fledgling career.
There was the “Does this organization really have my back?” in December 2017 and the self-realization a few months later that he might be walking the same path that led Garnett to regret not asking out of Minnesota earlier in his career. And then there was Thursday, when during his discussion with Nichols, Davis intermittently dropped, “whenever that time comes, I have a great team behind me who advise me on some decisions,” and, “I want to win, but when that time comes, we’ll get to that point.”
This was all under the guise of Davis leaving longtime agent and New Orleans native Thad Foucher for Rich Paul of Klutch Sports and LeBron friendship fame — and the natural ensuing speculation that this link to LeBron’s bud is a signal AD is Los Angels Lakers-bound. Whether that’s true or not, the optics of hiring an agent that has orchestrated high-profile exits before should and does, as one source close to the Pelicans front office put it over the summer, make the organization awfully nervous.
It seems like we do this dance every year, wondering whether the new cast of characters the Pelicans surrounded Davis with will be any different than the last; whether, given their financial commitments to the good-but-not-great core they’ve built around him, all that small-market tinkering will ever really change anything; and whether this will finally be the season that leads Davis to be as vocal about his team’s inability to piece a contender together as he is about his belief in his own ability.
But, as Davis reminded us during an ESPN interview in which he declared himself the NBA’s top dog, “AD is playing for the Pelicans this year.” While he’s busy trying to convince us of that this season, the New Orleans brass is still fruitlessly trying to prove to him the franchise can help him make his case.
If they can’t, we’ll surely hear about it, because Anthony Davis isn’t mincing words anymore.
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