The NBA offseason has brought many changes to rosters, coaching staffs, and the list of championship contenders. As we draw closer to opening night, it's time to move our focus from the potential impact of each offseason event and onto the broader issues that figure to define this season. The BDL 25 takes stock of, uh, 25 key storylines to get you up to speed on where the most fascinating teams, players, and people stand on the brink of 2015-16.
It would not be a stretch to say that Anthony Davis was the most outstanding player of the 2014-15 NBA season.
While LeBron James remained the leading force in the league and Stephen Curry stood as the best player on the best team, Davis put up stats that suggest no one was more productive — 24.4 points per game on 53.5 percent shooting from the field, 10.2 rebounds per game, a league-best 2.9 blocks per game, 1.5 steals per game, a league-best 30.8 Player Efficiency Rating, 14.0 Win Shares, a 122-100 Offensive Rating-Defensive Rating split that says the Pelicans outscored opponents by 22 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, etc., ad infinitum.
The impact carried over to team success, as well, with Davis dragging a limited Pelicans squad to its first playoff berth in four years and playing well enough in a sweep to the eventual champion Golden State Warriors to lead the postseason in points per game, minutes per game, and PER. Davis was already a star — now he's one of the sport's true superstars and the sort of player who will disappoint if he does not become a Hall of Famer with multiple championships.
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So, yes, expectations are high, but there's also no evidence that Davis is not capable of meeting them. His first three seasons have followed a path that portends well for the rest of the 21-year-old's career. While the No. 1 overall pick lost 2012-13's Rookie of the Year trophy to Damian Lillard, Davis put up very efficient stats in 64 games and showed no signs of disappointing. Season two saw the requisite jump in form, complete with a first All-Star Game selection. The summer brought a starring role on Team USA at the FIBA World Cup, the precursor to the NBA season's excellence.
Few players get so good in such a short period of time. One who did was Kevin Durant, who went from impressive rookie to notable star to full-fledged superstar for a No. 8 seed in his first three seasons, as well. Durant topped those years with another step up in individual quality in 2010-11 and a Western Conference Finals berth for the Oklahoma City Thunder. It may be too early to peg the Pelicans for a similar finish — the West was more open four years ago, for one thing — but some progress will be necessary to slot in Davis as a top two or three player rather than someone who figures to be in that position pretty soon.
Naturally, that improvement will require both player and team to take steps forward. For Davis, the areas of weakness are not so clear if only because pointing them out feels like nitpicking. However, new head coach Alvin Gentry has stated a desire to see the forward take more than the 12 3-pointers he put up last season, which is a frightening proposition for any opponents. Davis has extended his range steadily in each of his pro seasons, and he will be downright indefensible if he figures out a way to drain triples with any regularity. Otherwise, the challenge for Davis may just be to learn how to put himself in places to succeed more often. The ability is obviously there.
This description of his potential improvement is vague on purpose, because the fact is that players at Davis's level are notable in large part because they confound standard career progressions. Davis is so good that he could very well put forth one of the best seasons in NBA history — frankly, he had one of them in 2014-15 anyway. Asking him to do more is almost unfair, because he will either achieve more than anyone ever thought possible or merely play like the All-NBA First Team player he is right this minute. Davis is already someone to exclaim about — more would almost be overkill.
Like many other superstars, Davis will only gain more attention as an all-time great when the rest of his team manages to support him with series-winning performances. The Pelicans have several players who could be capable of such things, but the largest potential improvement could come from their coaching change. Monty Williams did many good things for this franchise and may have only been fired due to unrealistic expectations, but Gentry brings championship experience, considerable success as the head coach of the Phoenix Suns, and a reputation as a tactician who allows players' skills to amplify each other. It's possible that the Pelicans will be a better team and that Davis will take on greater prominence in the league even if his individual stats get worse. Gentry can empower Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, and others to make the Pelicans more formidable, to the point where Davis will be part of the attack rather than a star without much help.
Matching 2014-15 isn't the point. For Davis, the next step forward may not be his to take.
Previously, on BDL 25:
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